Tag Archives: Ethics

A Fantastic Introduction to Philosophy Video!

I have show all of my 120+ students this semester this video. Luckily for those who don’t have the textbook yet (but better be getting it soon), this video covers most of the same vital information!

Some Closing Thoughts on Moral Complexity – Part 5 of 5

     Recall that my intention from the beginning was to construct a basic outline of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl’s moral systems based on excerpts of their respective works. Following the outline, I sought to point out some general objections to each moral system and analyze each one based on how well it can handle moral complexity.

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Moral Complexity and Viktor Frankl’s ‘Logotherapy’ – Part 4 of 5

This is the fourth part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


Viktor Frankl’s Moral System (based on Logotherapy)

            As far as the deontological/consequentialist debate goes, Frankl’s moral system seems to straddle the middle. Frankl’s moral system is derived from aspects of his logotherapy, a specific school of thought within modern psychiatry. Frankl believes that logotherapy is a useful tool in that “the patient is actually confronted with and reoriented toward the meaning of his[/her/their] life” (104). This meaning is the primary drive motivating conscious human beings; it is future-oriented (towards some potentiality that is, as of yet, left undone), extremely subjective (as it changes from one individual to the next), and dependent upon the responsible care and efforts of the individual for its realization.

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Moral Complexity and Andre Comte-Sponville’s ‘Spiritual Atheism’ – Part 3 of 5

This is the third part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


Andre Comte-Sponville’s Moral System (based on Spiritual Atheism)

     Comte-Sponville’s moral system, in contrast to the Dalai Lama’s is more consequentialist than deontological. His moral system is more concerned with states of affairs and consequences that affect them than purely motivation/intention. Take, for instance, the fact that he decries certain moral actions such as “rob[bery], rape, and murder” (42). He does this, presumably, because of the immensely harmful consequences that each one brings about. Robbery can shatter a person’s sense of security within their own home or environment. Rape forcefully objectifies a person’s existence, conflating the meaning of their life with the desirability of their physical traits. Murder almost inherently involves pain and suffering, not to mention its permanent duration. As a result, Comte-Sponville’s moral system is more consequentialist than deontological.

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Moral Complexity and the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhism – Part 2 of 5

This is the second part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


The Dalai Lama’s Moral System (based on Tibetan Buddhism)

We can categorize the Dalai Lama’s moral system as one that is deontological in nature. Deontological ethics, recall, has two key interpretations. One interpretation defines deontological ethics as a method that helps us to understand what is morally required, forbidden, and permissible in a particular situation or event. Morally required actions, insofar as they are completed, are morally good; these are often referred to as obligations or duties. Morally forbidden actions, however, ought to be avoided and are morally bad. Morally permissible actions, then, are neither morally good nor morally bad; they are either morally void or morally neutral actions.

A second interpretation defines deontological ethics as a method that focuses on whether or not specific and explicit moral rules or principles were followed in completing a particular action or set of actions. Deontological ethics then uses these specific and explicit moral rules and principles to determine the moral worth of an action or set of actions (henceforth referred to as ‘set’). If the specific moral rule or principle is observed during the action or ‘set,’ then the action or ‘set’ can be said to be morally good. If the specific moral rule or principle is not observed during the action or ‘set,’ however, then the action or ‘set’ is morally bad.

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Making the Acquaintance of Moral Complexity – Part 1 of 5

This is the first part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


     Moral complexity is both a fact of reality and an obstacle that persistently bedevils the formation and function of our moral systems. By moral systems, I mean the totality of methods, assumptions, principles, rules, and obligations that are meant to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments. Moral systems come in a variety of different forms and can be either secular (natural, material) or sacred (religious, supernatural) in composition. They also have varying degrees or levels of comprehensiveness in content and scope. That is to say, some are more developed or nuanced than others. Examples of some moral systems include Divine Command Theory, the Golden Rule, Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, the 10 Nonvirtues of Tibetan Buddhism, and so on.

     Given that at least one purpose of moral systems is to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments, we can assess the worth and utility of a moral system insofar as it is relatively more adept at handling complex moral situations than its competitors.

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A Summary (of the first portion) of “Frontiers of Justice” by M. Nussbaum

     Martha Nussbaum sets out in “Frontiers of Justice” to challenge the Social Contract tradition, the current paradigm in political philosophy insofar as it relates to theories of justice, by defending her own approach which she refers to as the “capabilities approach.” She begins by describing the historical development of the Social Contract tradition, focusing on certain writings of philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and most recently, John Rawls.

After briefly describing how the Social Contract tradition has come to exist in its contemporary form following the influences of John Rawls, Nussbaum levels some very strong criticisms against this philosophical tradition. In particular Nussbaum focuses on how proponents of the Social Contract tradition have (not) responded to the needs and interests of disabled individuals, the global community/nationality, and non-human species.

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Contra Ainslie: Multi-variable Measures of Akrasia

Throughout his explanation of akrasia as hyperbolic discounting, Ainslie focuses on the temporal dimensions of the discounting process, noting that when the possibility of experiencing satisfaction from a particular reward is less delayed, then the agent is more likely to engage in akratic actions or be swayed by akratic behavioral dispositions.

Ainslie uses the term “imminent” to describe how strongly an agent may feel an internal pull towards a particular reward and its accompanying satisfaction (Ainslie 30). “Imminent,” when properly understood within hyperbolic discounting, includes but should not be limited to temporal considerations. Akratic actions involve internal calculations guided by desire or emotion with an emphasis on, or at least a preference for, the likelihood of certainty in obtaining satisfaction from a reward. This aspect of certainty is what some psychological experiments mentioned by Ainslie fail to properly take into account.

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An Introduction to Akrasia

Skele Akrasia has traditionally been defined as “incontinence” or “weakness of will” and occurs when an agent, endowed with certain rational and volitional faculties (deliberation and free will), chooses a poorer course of action. Akrasia has wide-reaching implications for topics such as motivation (what causes akratic actions?), impulsiveness (how does one prevent akratic actions?), moral accountability (is akrasia similar enough to addiction or compulsion to warrant lesser moral culpability?), and the like. As scholar George Ainslie points out, the practical application of akrasia has been, and is currently being, studied by scholars coming from numerous disciplines including philosophy of mind, sociobiology, economics, neurophysiology, and cognitive psychology (Ainslie 7). The importance of understanding the concept and what it means for human beings should not be understated.

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Contra Haidt: A Short Critique of Schwitzgebel and Rust’s Empirical Studies

From Haidt’s impassioned rejection of the “rationalist delusion,” it is difficult to discern why Schwitzgebel and Rust would place such significance on the aforementioned behaviors as they pertain to ethicists versus non-ethicists. There are more morally egregious behaviors that ethicists could engage in would serve to overwhelmingly confirm the fact that they do not act more morally than others despite their professional status as moral philosophers. Yet, in the various articles published by Schwitzgebel and Rust, very little explanation is provided as to why these are truly relevant to determining whether moral philosophers behave better than those who may not have as extensive training or education in moral reasoning. In an article about the library habits of ethicists versus their non-ethicist counterparts, there is only one sentence provided as to why failure to return library books is bad (Schwitzgebel 714). Rather than justifying their choice of moral behaviors to research, Schwitzgebel and Rust spend most of their published articles explaining the methods they use.

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