Contemporary Ethical TheorySpring 1998

First Examination: Questions

[Be sure you are familiar with the format and ground rules for this exam.]

Questions will be referred to by their "names," listed to their left.

S-DESExplain the differences among "descriptive ethics," "normative ethics," and metaethics. What sorts of questions does each address?
S-ACTWhat is utilitarianism? Delineate several varieties of act utilitarianism and explain how they might lead to different answers to moral questions.
S-E&RJ.J.C. Smart draws a distinction between what he calls "extreme" and "restricted" utilitarianism. Explain as fully as you can what this distinction is. What is the role of rules in each? Which does Smart favor? What are his arguments against the other form of utilitarianism? Critically discuss and evaluate.
S-UNIWhat two forms of the universalization principle does Smart distinguish? Explain the difference between them. What, if anything, do they have to do with the distinction between extreme and restricted utilitarianism? Explain.
S-PRAUnder what circumstances, according to J.J.C. Smart, should an utilitarian praise some action? What does moral praiseworthiness have to do with moral rightness on Smart's theory? Critically discuss.
B-STAWhat "standard" does Richard Brandt expect an acceptable normative moral theory to meet? (Lay out this standard in some detail.) Is this a reasonable standard? Critically discuss? Does his own theory meet that standard? Critically discuss.
B-I&ARichard Brandt distinguishes rule utilitarianism that appeals to "ideal" rules from rule utilitarianism that appeals to "actual" rules. Explain the differences between these views. Which seems more plausible and why? Critically discuss.
B-IDEDescribe Brandt's "ideal moral code" theory. What is the theory? How does Brandt "fill out" his proposal? Does the theory seem plausible? Why or why not? Critically discuss.
W1-NRWhat does Bernard Williams mean by "negative responsibility?" Is the doctrine of negative responsibility correct? Critically discuss.
W1-EXExplain the details either of Bernard Williams' "George's job prospect" example or of his "Jim and the Indians" example in his critique of utilitarianism. What kind of consideration, according to Williams, does a utilitarian analysis of Williams' "George" and "Jim" examples leave out which ought not be left out? How can utilitarianism best be defended against Williams' critique? Critically discuss.
W1-JIExplain the details of Bernard Williams' "Jim and the Indians" example. What should Jim do in these circumstances? Why? Explore answers that might be given by various ethical theories or principles.
W1-EFBernard Williams writes "Now there is one version of this effect in which, for a utilitarian, some confusion must be involved, namely that in which the agent feels bad, his subsequent conduct and relations are crippled and so on, because he thinks that he has done the wrong thing ..." ("A Critique of Utilitarianism" 4 CH p.467) What is Williams talking about here? What does he think the confusion is? Is there a confusion here? Is he right?
W1-SQBernard Williams talks about "the `squeamishness' appeal." What does he mean by this? What does it have to do with utilitarianism? What does Williams have to say about it? Is he right?
W1-INWhat does Bernard Williams mean by "integrity" and how is this, on his view, relevant to morality? Is he right? Critically discuss.
P-2BF Derek Parfit writes, in "Later Selves and Moral Principles," "If we change from a Simple to a Complex View, we acquire two beliefs: we decide that a certain fact is in its nature less deep, and that it sometimes holds to reduced degrees. These beliefs may have two effects: the first belief may weaken certain principles, and the second give the principles a new scope." (I CH p. 477) Carefully explain what Parfit means here.
P-PUNWhat implications does Parfit's "Complex View" have for the morality of punishment? Critically discuss.
P-3SUDerek Parfit considers "three suggestions" concerning why utilitarians "disregard the boundaries between lives" ("Later Selves and Moral Principles" VII CH 486). Explain these three suggestions and the differences between them.
P-REVWhat does Parfit, in "Later Selves and Moral Principles," mean by the "Reverse view?" Compare and contrast it with the Simple and Complex views. How might the reverse view tend to support utilitarianism (if it does)? Explain.
W2-AGBernard Williams writes of Parfit's Complex view "So far as the problems of agency are concerned, Parfit's treatment is not going to help Utilitarianism." ("Persons, Character and Morality" II CH 638) Explain the "problems of agency" Williams in referring to. Why does Williams think Parfit's treatment doesn't help utilitarianism to avoid those problems? Explain. Is Williams right? Explain.
W2-MRWilliams asks "How am I to mirror, in my action and my thought about it, A*'s scalar relations to A?" ("Persons, Character and Morality" II CH 638) What does he mean by this question and by "scalar relations?" Explain the three answers he considers to this question. Critically discuss.
M-INTIs G.E. Moore an intuitionist in ethics? Why or why not? If so, in virtue of which aspects of his theory is he an intuitionist? If not, in what ways does his theory differ from intuitionism?
M-R&GHow does G.E. Moore think the questions "What is good?" and "What is right?" are related? Is he correct?
M-ETHWhat does G.E. Moore think Ethics is? What questions is ethics concerned with? What questions is it not concerned with? How does Moore's understanding of what "ethics" is differ from that of many other philosophers?
M-DEFWhat does G.E. Moore mean when he says that `good' is indefinable? What other sorts of terms are indefinable? What terms are definable? In what sorts of ways would Moore not insist that good is indefinable?
M-INDExplicate and critically discuss G.E. Moore's argument that goodness is indefinable.
M-NATWhat is the "naturalistic fallacy" identified by G.E. Moore? Critically discuss.
M-OQACarefully lay out the details of G.E. Moore's "open question argument." Does the argument work? (I.e., is it sound?) What does the argument establish?

Richard Lee,, last modified: 29 July 1998