Philosophy 230
Lecture outline:  Rachels, Chpts. 1-4

I.  Rachels' Introduction

    --Cases:  Baby Theresa
                    --Organ Transplant?
            --Arguments for and against organ donation.

    --Tracy Latimer
            --cerebral palsy, 12 years old
            --arguments against killing

    --Key features of moral philosophy (according to Rachels)
            --The role of reasons in moral decisionmaking
            --The importance of both “facts” and “values”
            --The role of impartiality
                    --Moral point of view is impartial:  interests of each count equally
                    --An account of moral equality:  In virtue of what are we morally equal?

II.  Cultural Relativism
         --Pinning down the theory of cultural relativism
                  --Rachels’ 6 claims (# 5 is the essence of relativism)

        --Implications of  cultural relativism
            --relativism does allow that moral judgments can be true or false—relative to a culture.
                  Example:  Slavery is wrong! (in 21st century America)

            --relativism does not entail tolerance for the practices of other cultures.

        --Arguments for cultural relativism (arguments for 5)

                --cultural differences?  (appeal to 1 above)
                        --What is the best explanation for such differences?

                --cultural influences:  Cultural forces do in fact determine the way in
                     which people view what is morally acceptable and unacceptable.  (Culture is a
                     powerful force in shaping its citizens’ moral values).

                --Compare with religious belief:  same cultural differences, influences, yet there are
                       clearly matters of fact at issue

        --Problems for relativism

                --A mistake to morally condemn (or praise) the practices of another culture?
                       Example:  The systematic persecution of Jews in Medieval Europe was wrong.
                            (This is simply an error?  ‘Persecution’ of the Jews was likely regarded widely
                            as acceptable).

                --Is there no practice which is morally unacceptable even if tolerated or encouraged
                        in a particular society?

        --A mistake to criticize our own culture and its practices?
               Example:  Early feminists argued that the practice of allowing only men to vote was
                    morally unacceptable.  (Simply mistaken?  The practice was widely accepted in the culture.)

        --A mistake to believe that moral progress is possible?
            Example:  “America in the year 2000 has not become a morally perfect society; but we
                    have made progress from the days when women and minorities were 2nd class
                    citizens or not citizens at all."  (Simply a mistake?)

        --The possibility of underlying agreement
                --Some norms are necessary for society to exist:  lying, murder, etc.
                --Often surface disagreement is caused by disagreement over empirical facts,
                    not moral values. (Does God exist?  Are people reincarnated as animals?)

        --Lessons of cultural relativism
                --beware of mere prejudice masquerading as moral judgment.
                        Example:  The Chinese practice of eating dogs is disgusting and wrong.

III  Morality and Religion

        --Divine command theory
            --Right actions are right in virtue of being commanded by God; wrong actions are
                    wrong in virtue of being forbidden by God.
            --Thus God, our omnipotent creator, is the source of the authority of moral imperatives 
                    (what greater source of authority could there be?)

                    Problem:  Are God’s commands arbitrary? (The "Euthyphro" problem)
                            --If God had deemed murder and deception to be morally permissible,
                                    even virtuous, would they thereby be permissible (virtuous)?
                    Problem:  Is God Himself good and just?
                    Problem:  How can we know what God had commanded?
                            --Is appeal to faith or divine revelation necessary?

        --Natural Law Theory
            --Right actions are those which are in accordance with the natural laws of the universe,
                    including laws regarding the ultimate purpose of all things.  Wrong actions are those
                    which go against these laws

                Example:  Homosexuality
            --Moral laws can be discovered by reason alone
                    --Just like physical and chemical laws, we discover moral laws by investigating
                        the nature of the universe--the natural purposes of all that is in it.

                Problems:  Do all existing things have an ultimate natural purpose
                        --Evolutionary explanations for apparent purposiveness in nature

                    Are unnatural acts morally wrong?
                        Examples:  Diet soft drinks;  violin playing; singing; kissing