PHI 208 Week 3 Discussion Question Prompts
Instructions: Please select one of the prompts from the set below and post it as an initial post in the discussion this week. Attached reading information also.
1. Think of someone real or fictional whom some people regard as a “hero” for helping others, stopping something bad or evil, and so forth, even though by doing so they violated what would normally be considered a moral rule (focus on morality; don’t simply think of someone who broke the law). For example, they may have lied, broken a promise, stolen, harmed someone innocent, or even murdered, but done so with good intentions. (Note: this last part is crucial: make sure you explain what it was that they did that would otherwise be morally questionable. Also, it need not be someone you think is a hero.)
Try to think of any example that we would either all be familiar with, or something we can easily look up (in other words, don’t just make something up or describe something generic). Many examples are given in the guidance and the readings, including people like Robin Hood, Edward Snowden, etc. Please don’t use an example that someone else has already used!
Now here’s the fun part: once you have thought of your example, evaluate what they did according to Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Is what the person did moral, or immoral, according to the CI?
Do you agree with this evaluation of the action? If you agree, how would you explain to the person in your own words why what they did was wrong? If you don’t agree, and think that what they did was morally right, how would you respond to the question, “what if everyone did that?”
When responding to your peers, consider whether they have correctly applied the Categorical Imperative, and if they agreed with Kant, consider what a consequentialist might say; if they disagreed with Kant, consider what a Kantian might say, and use those considerations as a springboard for dialogue and discussion.
2. One of Kant’s ways of formulating (i.e., expressing in words) the Categorical Imperative says that “one should always treat humanity, whether in oneself or in another, always as an end and never merely as a means”. This is often called the “Formula of Humanity” (or sometimes the “Formula of the End-In-Itself”). Briefly explain in your own words what you think Kant means by that. Consider a specific example from the world of business, either one that you have directly encountered or one you heard about, in which a company honored this principle, and consider an example in which a company failed to honor this principle. Be sure to clearly explain your example with respect to Kant’s theory, and refer to the other readings on business ethics when appropriate. If you find the example from a source on the Internet or in an article be sure to share that with your classmates. Discuss whether or not you believe that businesses could actually run according to a Kantian moral framework or if they must necessarily break Kant’s laws in order to function according to business principles.
3. Is it ever morally permissible to lie to someone? Describe a circumstance in which it seems that lying might make more people happy than telling the truth. Would lying be the right thing to do in that circumstance, or is it our moral duty to tell the truth, even then? Consider what Immanuel Kant would say, and explain that with reference to this week’s readings. Then, offer your own perspective. If you agree with Kant, consider and respond to an objection to his view. If you disagree with Kant, explain why. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of deontological theory as it relates to another of the theories you have encountered in this course.
4. Can acting out of a sense of one’s duty be the wrong thing to do? Think of an example in which someone (perhaps you) acted out of a sense of duty, even though by doing so one caused greater harm than if one had not acted, one failed to prevent harm from occurring, or one failed to bring about greater happiness. Then, explain whether you think that (a) this person was right to do that despite the negative consequences; (b) it was wrong for this person to act in this way, despite the fact that it was their moral duty to do so; or (b) this person was mistaken about what their duty really was. Be sure to back up your answer with argument and references to the text. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of deontological theory as it relates to another of the theories you have encountered in this course.
5. Kant famously states that the only thing good without qualification is a good will. On this basis, he holds that we can do the “right action” but not out of a good will, and that only actions done from a good will are morally praiseworthy. Do you agree with Kant? Provide an example (real or made up) of someone doing a good thing but out of a motive other than that of a good will, and give reasons for why you think Kant is right, or why you think Kant is wrong that this action lacks moral value. Discuss the importance of the will and how one can attempt to create a good will. If you do not think a good will is important discuss your reasons for believing that the will is not important in ethical action.
6. One of Kant’s formulations of the Categorical Imperative says that one should always treat humanity, whether in oneself or in another, always as an end and never merely as a means. Consider a specific example from the world of business, either one that you have directly encountered or one you heard about, in which a company honored this principle, and consider an example in which a company failed to honor this principle. Be sure to clearly explain your example with respect to Kant’s theory, and refer to the other readings on business ethics when appropriate. If you find the example from a source on the internet or in an article be sure to share that with your classmates. Discuss whether or not you believe that businesses could actually run according to a Kantian moral framework or if they must necessarily break Kant’s laws in order to function according to business principles.
7. Using at least one quote from chapter six of Understanding Philosophy, describe the core principle of utilitarianism and discuss the problem of the “tyranny of the majority.” Find a real example of a current or past social practice, (or create your own fictional example) that illustrates this problem. Complete your post by evaluating whether the overall good generated by the practice outweighs the suffering caused by the practice.
8. After watching the videos “Drones are Ethical” and “Drones are Not Ethical,” and taking note of the different considerations they make, identify one argument made in the videos that is clearly a utilitarian argument, and explain what makes it utilitarian. (It can be an argument for or against the use of drones).
Also identify an argument that would not be a utilitarian argument (this can also be an argument for or against the use of drones). Explain how this sort of argument differs from a utilitarian one (you do not need to identify what kind of argument it is instead, just to point out how the considerations are different than utilitarian ones).
Discuss with your peers whether the arguments they make are utilitarian or not, and the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches.
9. After watching the 9-minute Films On Demand video “Religion, War and Violence: The Ethics of War and Peace,” provide an example of a war waged on the basis of retaliation against an aggressor, and a war waged on the basis of humanitarian intervention. Discuss the differences between the ways in which these two kinds of war apply the utilitarian principle of the greatest good. Be sure to identify whose greatest good is being served in each kind of war. Complete your post by discussing which of these kinds of war is easiest to justify using utilitarian principles.
10. After watching Michael Walzer’s video on Just War Theory, explain his idea of the “moral equality of soldiers on the battlefield,” and discuss the ways in which this equality might complicate the utilitarian goal of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number.