Introduction to Ethics Phil 140 @ Binghamton University, Win '11

21Jan/11Off

prompt 3

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Descriptive

Deontology states that one’s will is morally relevant, and that is the only thing that is “good” in and of it self.  Which means, in order to reach morality, one needs to do things for the good intentions and not for the outcome.  In following this one must be able to have the capacity to follow through on what is understood as a universal standing.  Kant with in his reading makes sure he discusses his idea on what the definition of reason is and its tie to Deontology. The idea Kant shares about reasoning helps defend his categorical imperative, which expresses the idea that an individual must do things and act in ways that allow them to think what they are doing is understood as a universal law.  Reason being when one is able to have the knowledge, capacity and experience to reason it allows for the duty of that person to change the standard considering the circumstances.  Yet, Kant then continues to prove instinct is therefore better than reason to achieving happiness.  Yet, Kant does make it clear he finds that happiness is not a moral concern.

Evaluation:

Although, during the time of Kants writing his ideas could seem somewhat rational it is clear that as time passes things change and this whole statement could be argued against in today’s world.  An example, the reading by Eva Kittay, On the Margins of Moral Personhood, according to Kant in his theory the idea of moral personhood is the contribution to those whom are known as rational and independent.  As this reading is based on the mentally challenged individual whom have been pushed into being considered a minority of some sort, and not being capable of rationality and independence Kittay makes it clear she feels these individuals are people too, and does not agree with Kant.  Unlike Kant she argues that they deserve to be treated as equals, and so they should be able to get the help necessary in order to live a normal, and moral lifestyle, which could help allow these individuals to be considered under the moral personhood definition coined by Kant.

In having read these two readings it is sensible to understand how the moral standard given by Kant, can be understood as inadequate.  One can look at Kant’s moral standard of personhood to be an issue, because it views the mentally retarded as animals and not as individuals who are capable of feeling some kind of emotional attachment, or have an understanding on how to reason.   By belittling the mentally challenged one comparing them to animals, many could argue animals have no good will to them, which would mean that these individuals too have no good will to them concluding to no good intentions because they are not capable of reaching a good will.

To leave personhood as only a description that consists of rationality and autonomy could end in many harmful results. It allows to separate people in a way that helps to prove they are better than the other is simply because they are capable of reasoning with something which could direct them into a good will.   Whereas, the mentally challenged does not know and is not capable of doing the same thing, even though they still feel they still have emotions and they still deal with people against them.

Although many would agree that mentally challenged people are able to receive respect and can be treated the same, with Kant’s argument it is hard to treat someone the same when they are under personhood not considered to be treated the same as other humans, therefore expressing the idea that they are not human.  The standards for moral, personhood should be based on is the emotional content an individual is capable of reaching.  People hurt, and those who do not, can still be considered people because of the effect they have on those around them.  In this case, no one looses and all are treated equal, except for how they act towards one another.  The idea is, people who are able to have a role in something and for those who do know their duty and those who don’t should both have a place in society for themselves to feel happiness in.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3- Virtue Ethics (Group 2)

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Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is a moral theory that is different in its structure than the other two ethical theories: deontology and utilitarianism.  Instead of focusing on the specific actions and decisions of the agent, or the outcomes of these actions, virtue ethics focuses on the moral character of the rational agent as the critical morally relevant element.  One first needs to properly develop his/her moral character, a process that should be desirable in itself, not done for certain ends.  One is able to properly develop his/her moral character by encompassing the various intellectual and moral virtues and by finding a mean amongst each individual virtue, which can only properly be found through wisdom and reason.  Wisdom is properly developed through intellect and knowledge, while reason is properly developed through experience.  These factors, when developed properly, then help to form the proper habits.

To be a truly virtuous being, one’s actions must be consistent; acting virtuously in one instance does not define one as a virtuous.  Virtue ethics is also not as sweeping as deontology or utilitarianism and understands that different circumstances call for different sets of actions and approaches. When one has properly developed their virtues, it is argued that they will make the correct decisions.  Understanding and acting appropriately under any given situation through wisdom and reason and also finding a specific balance amongst the individual virtues allows one to achieve eudaimonia (a flourishing state), more or less, the goal of human existence.  Aristotle explains that this flourishing state is only accessible to those who follow and fulfill the aforementioned criteria.

However this pillar upon which virtue ethics stands is its greatest stumbling block.  The theory focuses on the individual acquiring specific virtues through wisdom and reason and then finding the mean of every virtue because being too deficient or excessive will not allow one to reach their full potential or this flourishing state.  But this entire approach is completely speculative and biased towards Aristotle's elite class (ex: claiming that the slightly boastful man is more virtuous than the humble man).  For one, other cultures and societies may not value the same virtues in the same perspective as the Nicomachean Ethics lays forth.  The mean Aristotle describes is completely speculative and a reflection of the admired values of his time.  Second, certain circumstances, whether social, economic, or cognitive, may prevent certain individuals from acquiring these virtues.  These issues leave Virtue Ethics unable to provide a universal standard that all groups and individuals can follow, and simultaneously excludes certain groups and individuals from consideration.

This specific issue is presented when discussing cognitive impairment.  Aristotle mentions that children are not included in those who are fully rational agents because they have not developed their wisdom or reason.  This same argument excludes the cognitively impaired from those capable of finding a virtuous existence and achieving eudaimonia because they are not fully rational agents, and as the argument concludes, are therefore incapable of achieving this state.  However, the acquisition of wisdom, reason, and the virtues, should not be the only criteria upon which one is judged.

Eva Kittay argues against this moral standard and explains that other factors must be included when evaluating individuals.  Eva Kittay explains that, "rationality and autonomy are not requisites for claims of justice, a good quality of life, and moral considerations of personhood."  She explains how her daughter, who is cognitively impaired, is able to experience a good life through interests, experiences, and personal relationships of her own; her life is not as different as one may intitially have imagined.  Kittay argues that her daughter’s life “contains a great deal of good in it-- possibly more good than other individuals who qualify as persons worthy of a high degree of moral respect.”  Kittay espouses that although her daughter's life may not be as rich as her own, that should not disqualify her from being included in those capable of achieving eudaimonia.

Kittay’s argument demonstrates that the method virtue ethics uses to determine one’s ability to become a virtuous individual and achieve eudaimonia are negligent, biased, and unfair.  Her argument demonstrates that virtue ethics is flawed because it is incapable of finding a means in which to measure individuals that can be applicable to all peoples and groups.  The current standard is antiquated and can lead to severe consequences such as complete exclusion or an “us vs. you” mentality, as exhibited through the cognitively impaired.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3: Virtue Ethics (Group 2)

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In virtue ethics good character is considered most morally relevant. This theory differs from the others because it involves choice. While utilitarianism stresses the consequences of one’s actions (in terms of being moral or not) and deontology discusses fulfilling duties, virtue ethics focuses a person’s character and how that shapes their morality. A virtuous person is someone who possesses positive and ideal character traits; they strive to do good in order to achieve eudaimonia – a “flourishing”, “happy” state. This theory stresses that morality is not only dependent on a good action, but good intentions as well. For instance, a moral person would donate money to the poor because they are looking to help someone; it is not moral for one to donate money because they want to be recognized as charitable.

The moral standard for judging virtuous characteristics is based on a “middle ground” between extremes. By finding this middle ground one can be most virtuous. For example, being confident is a virtuous characteristic. It is the mean between arrogance (too much confidence) and insecurity (not enough confidence).

After reading the materials in the second half of our class, I have decided that a significant problem with virtue ethics is the lack of well-defined guidelines. Without giving clear rules as far as how to act, virtue ethics is a bit hard to interpret. Instructing people to act “virtuously” in any given situation does not really tell them what is right or wrong – which can become very problematic in certain situations when defining what is moral. Discussing rational suicide was what made me realize how problematic virtue ethics truly is. In the case of rational suicide, one is caught between two extreme decisions which both seem to be immoral to me. Without universal guidelines, it seems as though there is no moral decision.

Looking at rational suicide through the eyes of a virtue ethicist is incredibly difficult because there is no universal moral code telling you what is virtuous and what is not. The only moral standard given is to try and find a comfortable place between two extremes. Because this theory is so incredibly vague in terms of guidelines, there seems to be no moral decision when it comes to rational suicide. On one hand, ending one’s life is an incredibly severe decision to make. Aristotle explains suicide to be wrong because it gives in to extreme cowardice. This would mean that, no matter what, suicide is wrong because it ends a life that could be spent flourishing and being virtuous (in a state of eudaimonia). On the other hand, a person who is sick or disabled staying alive could make them no longer able to act on their virtue and unable to flourish – making them ultimately immoral by virtue ethics standards. Here is an example similar to those given in the readings: A woman has spent her entire life being virtuous and good-natured, and one day she is diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. After undergoing numerous treatments and surgeries, her quality of life has been severely diminished. She can hardly walk, talk, feed or bathe herself. It is safe to say that although she still has the same virtues she did, they are no longer able to be acted upon and all flourishing has ceased. She turns to rational suicide but is deterred by her family, friends, and doctors who urge her to reconsider because "suicide is not the right answer". I feel as though this is also immoral because the woman is subjected to a life that is nearly unbearable. She is no longer able to act virtuously because she can hardly act at all and achieving eudaimonia will be impossible for her at this point.

Because virtue ethics fails to point out clear and definite universal moral standards, there seems to be no way to truly decide rational suicide - and many other issues - are moral /virtuous or not. Leaving this theory so broad and open to interpretation can be problematic when determining a course of action is situations much like those we see in cases for and against rational suicide.

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21Jan/11Off

Prompt #3 – Group 1 by jkwak

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Deontology is the ethical perspective that focuses on morality as it pertains to moral duty.  Meaning that the measure of the morality behind one’s said moral act is determined by the intention to conform to moral duty.  Moral duty not as it pertains to society’s laws and regulations, but an ethical law that is the standard.

In Kantian deontology the focus of a moral act is its intention and its conformity to that moral duty/standard.  What determines the quality of a moral action is the intention or inspiration behind the said moral act.  In the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant expresses his theory which explains morality as a rational concept.  What is meant by this is that moral truths are not some noumenal concepts that are received via some divine inspiration or some cultural byproduct, but are founded on principles based on reason.  What this implies is that all rational beings should be able to understand and achieve a universal concept of morality/ethics.

By approaching morals with a logical outlook, Kant arrives at the conclusion that moral principles are absolute and universal.  This standard of universal moral principles is called universal law and it is from this concept that Kant believes that all moral duties and obligations are derived from it.  What is central to this moral philosophy is something he calls the Categorical Imperatives.  The formulation of these imperatives necessitates from a need for a method to evaluate the motivations behind moral acts in any given situation.

The Categorical Imperatives is a syllogism and they go as follows: (Ground Works - Kant)

  1. “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
  2. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
  3. “Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.”

And the main purpose of these imperatives is to allow for an absolute moral ethics that can be universally and unconditionally be applied to all circumstances.

Despite the strengths behind this ethics, it is flawed in that it cannot be applied to all situations.  Despite that Kant wishes for a universal application of his ethics, they do come aground when applied to complex and specific situations.  Specific circumstance may arise that may force a breaking away from the universal law because circumstance may dictate to find it moral to compromise Kant’s ethical guidelines.

Concerning the topic of Women and Beauty these deontological ethics are relevant to explain the immorality of the situation.  Firstly for this deontological perspective to work, one must first ignore Kant's work Observations on the Feelings of the Beautiful and the Sublime.  The reason why this aspect of Kant’s philosophy must be ignored is that this work devalues women and should be understood as Kant’s own personal views on the subject matter of viewing woman as rational equals to men (forgive him for it was part of his culture during his time to view women in this manner and he was peculiarly partial to his man-servant Lampe).

In the article Gynocide: Chinese Foot Binding by Andrea Dworkin sought to explain the flaw behind the established notions of proper female physical beauty.  Although in the 21st century women are no longer subjected to extreme physical procedures such as Chinese foot binding, the main goals are still prevalent.  The transition has gone from a mutilating process to an evolution backed by an industry of cosmetics and clothing that still objectify women as sexual objects of pleasure.

Kant’s deontology would not disregard the manipulation of the female form as immoral because it utilizes a person as a means to an end.  However, the issue that persists is that given a specific set of circumstances Kantian deontology fails to justify its ethical perspectives. Dworkin does not wish for an extreme case where the female form is completely naked (unadorned with labels that society has determined as markers of beauty), but seeks to find a balance between a physical female beauty that is not motived by male perspectives and geared towards male sensual gratification.  Take for example a woman who decides to mask her status and wealth by dressing in a manner that is appropriate for lets say to have come from the middle-class.  She has adorned herself to some degree, but not in manner to bring about sexual arousal, but a proper appearance that is attractive nonetheless.  Her intention is to seek a man that will not be blinded by her wealth (greed), but appreciate and cherish her for who she is as an individual.

Kantian deontology would say that this is immoral because of the deception and does not conform to moral duties.  The action is immoral not only because of the deceit, but also because she fails to take pride for the status allotted to her in life (Kant place emphasis on a sense of pride if one belonged to the upper echelons of society).  However, this deception has a somewhat virtuous and moral goal.  The goal being to find a man that will not be blinded by greed.  Here she is using herself and physical pretenses as means to an end, but that end is moral justifiable as it brings about a secure and stable coupling between two persons.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 – Utilitarianism

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The moral element in Utilitarianism is that the only good is pleasure and the only evil is pain.  “The Greatest-Happiness pleasure holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.  By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”  Mill helps to define what pleasures are considered good and which are considered bad.  He does this by saying that an action can be judged to be morally good or bad based on the outcome, not the intentions or motives behind it, as well as the quality of said action.  The way in which we can determine this is though experience; that is how we can differentiate between higher and lower pleasures.  Those who have experienced more are greater judges of pleasure than those who haven’t.

"it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question."

Mill’s principle of utility is natural because it is grounded in the psychological faculty of desiring pleasure and avoiding pain.  Mill seeks concrete happiness.  The principle of utility establishes what is good because what is good brings about pleasure, while what is bad brings about pain.  Every human being desires happiness because every thing a human being desires is desired for its pleasure.  Mill shows that the principle of utility is necessary and that those things that are desired are parts of happiness and not a means to happiness.

The reason I believe motive is something important that is lacking from Utilitarianism is because we could have one person with good intentions, and another with bad, and they could end up with an equally morally good result.  I think the person with good intentions should be commended on their actions, while the person with bad intentions should not be praised for what he has done, despite the goodness of the outcome.  To “confound the rule of action with the motive of it.”  Ethics is supposed to tell us what our duties are, “but no system of ethics requires that the sole motive of all we do shall be a feeling of duty.”

Because I feel that motive should be more heavily considered when determining moral goodness, I think the discussion of foot binding is relevant here.

While foot binding was introduced as a practice with the intentions of doing good for all parts involved, it has not turned out to be as such.  In fact, it is to my understanding that Mill began to write in favor of greater rights for women, so he most likely would argue against the practice of footbinding.  He talks about the role of women and how it needs to be changed.  Mill believed that there were certain facets of a women's life that were hindering them: society and gender construction, education and marriage.  Society and gender is particularly relevant because of the injustice it creates in the balance of roles in society.

The way in which I see the topic of foot binding relevant is because it has to with the moral element, which is the only good is pleasure, and the opposite of pleasure is pain.  Mill would argue that foot binding is not morally good because of the way it effected women.  Granted, the society that these women who were put through foot binding looked upon it as a beautiful thing, but at what price will we put on beauty extremes?  As someone pointed out in another post, if the Chinese society were to change their ideals of what they considered beautiful, then the issue of foot binding could possibly no longer be an issue.  The moral standard here is that the Chinese society has a skewed view of what they consider beautiful.  The more they come to experience, the more likely their image of beauty will change, and the more likely it will effect the women of their nation in a more positive manner.

The moral element in question here is that of pleasure/pain.  Women are without a doubt in pain over this practice, with the motive behind it being "beautiful."  The problem with this moral element is that it is varying across the board for who it is effecting.  As noted, women are in pain because of it (meaning it is not of moral goodness), while for the men in the society, it is aesthetically pleasing to them (morally good, but of a low value, for they have no other ideals of what is beauty, and beauty itself is of low value to begin with anyway).  But then we also have to consider the relevance of the practice in regards to the time period and cultural values.  Back when it was heavily practiced it may have been seen in general as morally good, but today when we have reevaluated gender roles in society, we see that it is not.  In today's time, reflecting on the practice of the past, the moral standard, which is the ability of one to experience pleasures of lower and higher utility is not that helpful.  In the Chinese society in the past, it was not open to introducing new ideals and aspects of what beauty is, and therefore the experience level for these pleasures was quite low, which means their ability to judge was impaired.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3- Deontology

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Deontology states that one’s will is morally relevant, and that is the only thing that is “good” in and of itself. In short, this means that an individual’s good intentions, as opposed to the outcomes of one’s actions, is a more accurate measurement in regards to morality.  One’s will must adhere to a universal standard, as opposed to situational applications, and morality is independent of one’s fortune, i.e social standing, and one’s physical and mental capabilities (i.e. strength and intelligence).  Kant also emphasizes the importance of reason as a means of conjuring good will, as opposed to providing means for an end.  One’s will is measured by how well it conforms to one’s duty. For one to truly have a good will, one’s duty must conform to the categorical imperative, mentioned previously as a “universal standard”. Kant’s categorical imperative states that one must act in a way so that they believe their actions should be established as a universal law. If one’s duty adheres to the categorical imperitive, it is possible for one to think rationally, in which an individual can think independently of circumstances and experiences. This rational thought stands in contrast to empirical thinking, in which courses of action are determined based on knowledge one has gained from experience. By thinking empirically, one’s duty conforms not to the categorical imperitive, but to hypothetical imperitives, which determine courses of action for particular circumstances.

Euthanasia is at ends with Deontology on a variety of topics. For one, Deontology’s emphasis on the importance of rational thought, and the way in which one’s duty must conform to the categorical imperitive, leaves no room for circumstance. Circumstance, in this case, can include the extent to which one is disabled, as well as the extent to which one is autonomous. In addition, one’s circumstances may encompass how one has been treated by others, as social barriers can arise in the case of extreme disabilities. I believe that in the moral evaluation of euthanasia, these circumstances are important, despite the fact that they are empirical in nature. In regards to euthanasia, I believe good will is important, but that the right hypothetical imperatives can be justified. If the disabled individual is subject to extreme disabilities to which the majority of the population will never be subjected, then a hypothetical imperative in which an individual seeks to help a disabled individual solely because it may alleviate the pain of a disabled individual may be justified.

The elimination of hypothetical imperatives in Deontology proves problematic in the evaluation of euthanasia. In the reading, “Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination versus Social Protection” much is said about the social interactions between disabled individuals and the general public. In short, the author denounces the grouping of disabled individuals when making the case against euthanasia, stating that “I submit that the denial of individual differences among people with disabilities is an equal or greater form of discrimination.” (Paragraph 15, “Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination versus Social Protection”).  In this way, the author makes a case for the use of hypothetical imperatives, in which, generalizations aside, one uses an individual’s characteristics to make a decision on the use of euthanasia. This statement is indicative of the importance of empirical thought in this situation, as disabled individuals who have considered euthanasia have been subjected to experiences to which the general public will never be exposed.

In essence, the application of the categorical imperative with regards to euthanasia undermines one’s right to self determination. Though the choice to commit suicide violates the principles of deontology, namely the treatment of life as an end as opposed to a means, to deny one’s right to self determination is to “lose an essential quality of what defines us as human” (Paragraph 17, “Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination versus Social Protection”).  For the sake of conserving one’s right to self determination, I believe hypothetical imperatives can be justified morally, though this perspective opposed Deontology as a whole, and is more similar to views presented from the utilitarian perspective, in which ends, in this case the well being of a disabled individual, are considered to be relevant morally.

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21Jan/11Off

Week 3 Extra Credit

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http://dailycaller.com/2010/11/19/topless-protesters-gain-fame-in-ukraine/

This article explains how a “group of young activists is gaining popularity here for staging topless protests that involve sexually charged gestures, obscene slogans and scuffles with security guards and police. Often, the point seems to be just getting naked.” These women claim they are promoting women’s rights, and fighting for democracy. They campaign against prostitution and discrimination of women, yet at the same time they are using their sexuality, and objectifying themselves to fight for these causes. I found this to be very interesting regarding our discussion of morality, in particularly through a virtue ethics standpoint.

Although these women are fighting for a good cause, are these methods justified in doing so? Since virtue ethics mainly deals with a person’s character, and not with the end results of certain actions, I would have to say these women are not acting virtuously. They are gaining attention by using their sexuality, and this is not virtuous, nor is it a feminist idea. As the article mentions, this seems to undermine the feminist cause. These women say that “if sexuality is used to sell cars and cookies, why not use it for social and political projects?” As feminists however, they should understand that sexuality should not be used to sell anything, and find another method. They seem to be under the impression that two wrongs make a right. Although the end result may be successful and lead to a certain happiness, their actions contradict what they are fighting for, and are anything but virtuous. However, if it is only the end result that one is concerned with when defining morality, the means to this end can be overlooked, and these women can be considered moral.

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21Jan/11Off

1/21: Kant and the flaws of rationality

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Immanuel Kant believed in the power of reason and believed morality should be based on reason instead of circumstances or situations. Kant believes that the maxim, or motivating principle or intention, of an individual is the element that matters morally. Kant devised a moral standard by which to judge maxims and determine morality. The moral standard is called the categorical imperative, which is an imperative that says some action is necessary in and of itself, a duty.  The categorical imperative judges maxims in this way: act in such a way that you would want the maxim of your action to become a universal law. In other words, act as if your motivation for performing an action would be established as a universal law of nature. This alludes to the fact that moral laws shouldn’t have exceptions; if you are about to do something immoral you would ask yourself if your motivation would be a contradiction to the standards in nature. If so, you are wishing yourself to be an exception to the moral law of nature, which is immoral. The categorical imperative can also be summed up in this way: one should always think of others as ends in themselves instead of mere means to an end. In other words, you shouldn’t use others for your own purposes.

A potential flaw in Kantian Deontology is manifested in the fact that universality can’t always be applied in certain situations. Certain circumstances may make it moral to break the categorical imperative and require the application of judgment above reason. Circumstances and individuals should be accounted, for our power of decision is important for our autonomy. Disability and Euthanasia is topic that provokes ethical discussions on this topic of which Rational suicide is a member. Suicide is something that Kant would think is immoral because it violates the categorical imperative. Kant believes people want to commit suicide to end their suffering, about which they would care only if they loved themselves. Kant believed the idea that someone could kill themselves out of self-love was logically contradictory, because Kant was of the opinion that if one loves oneself, one has a natural desire to continue living. Because of the logical contradiction between self-love and killing oneself, Kant believed suicide was immoral. Nonetheless, is it an imperative that self-love and suicide must be contradictory? Is it not possible someone could love themselves so much to decide that by ending their life they bestow more love upon themselves than by continuing to fall into deeper pain and suffering? Kant’s categorical imperative is inadequate in this situation because it can’t account for differences in circumstances and personal preferences. Can one truly deprive death to those who would find peace and fulfillment in it?

The categorical imperative is problematic because it does not allow for difference in circumstances in which it may be immoral to act out of a sense of duty to the moral law. Kant wanted to base his entire theory on reason, something all morally relevant beings possess, which he believes transcends circumstances and situations. Kant believes suicide is immoral because of the logical contradiction between self-love and the desire to take one’s life. Kant believes if someone loves themselves it is contradictory that they would also want to kill themselves. Karen Hwang disagrees. Hwang rationalizes suicide as a way for an individual to exert their rights and have a fuller quality of life. She believes situations should be considered, especially when someone is contemplating taking their own life, as suicide is a very personal decision. Hwang is frustrated that some people discount the decision to commit suicide made by disabled people. People generalize about the situation of disabled people and the pressures upon them, and this is precisely what is immoral. According to Hwang, each situation is very important and should allow for the person to make the decision not an ‘all-encompassing’ standard. “If we are not allowed the right to define the terms by which we want to live, then we lose an essential quality of what defines us as human.” (Karen Hwang, Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination Versus Social Protection, 17) Hwang believes it should be a right of every individual to make a rational decision to commit suicide despite outside pressures. In certain circumstances it may be unbearable for someone to continue their life. Should someone be forced to continue living if their quality of life is much lower than they would like their life to be? It is possible that self-love may not always mean someone wants to continue living. “The “value” of life should not be so cheapened as when it is extended past the point at which it is no longer treasured or desired. From this perspective, the choice must be that of the person living the life.” (Karen Hwang, Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination Versus Social Protection, 17)

In Kantian Deontology, the moral standard and duties have little to no regard for special circumstances. Incidents may require the acknowledgement of situational differences in practice, rather than being based solely on reason. The flaw in the categorical imperative is demonstrated in the fact that differences in circumstance and character of the moral agent are not acknowledged. What makes us meaningful as rational beings is our ability to be rational and empirical at the same time. One should not discount this. In certain circumstances it might be acceptable to violate the categorical imperative (act so that your maxim could be made a universal law and never use others as means to an end, but as ends in themselves) in order to preserve our autonomy as rational beings and the autonomy of others.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 Utilitarianism

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Utilitarianism seeks to maximize pleasure, which involves  seeking to find the greatest happiness and avoiding  pain. Utility is happiness, and utility is  an end in the ethics of Utilitarianism.  The morality of actions are based on the good they produce from their outcomes; therefore Utilitarianism is consequential.  The greatest Happiness Principle of Utility states that moral actions are those that produce the greatest happiness for the most people, which means it can't necessarily be applied to individuals. The more good and less pain an action results in, the more moral it is considered. In short, happiness is the element that is morally relevant to the world, and the Greatest Happiness Principle is is the moral standard used to determine happiness.

One flaw of Utilitarianism is morality in terms of this ethical theory is based strictly on the greater good of the majority, and can not aptly describe what good is. What may be good for one, may not be good for another. Utilitarianism is unable to define good in a way that everyone can relate to. This is a problem in the sense that utilitarianism considered the greater good of society, but what exactly is this greater good? In some cases, most people can agree upon what is good, however not all the time. Good can also vary cross culturally. What is considered better for the greater good during one time period, may change over the years as well. In short, good is something that can't be concretely defined, so how can it be truly measured?

The topic of Women and Beauty covers foot binding in China. Looking at foot binding as on outsider to the culture, and many years after it has lost its prominence in Chinese culture, it is difficult to consider it as good. In respect to the greatest Happiness Principle, men were pleased with women who got their feet bound, and some women were happy to comply with the standards of men because it was a means to finding a desirable husband. Marriage was seen as a further means to utility; therefore, one could consider foot binding as a greater good for society, regardless of the fact that it caused women years of agonizing pain and suffering. Thus, one could say that foot binding contributed to the greater good of society in respect to that specific culture and time period. In contrast with the current time period however, foot binding would not satisfy the greatest happiness principle.

When foot binding was a popular practice in China, society as a whole considered it as good. This is because men as a whole found women with bound feet to be sensually appealing, and women were able to find husbands to support them through such beautification. Beauty is therefore a means to utility. Foot binding caused women great pain, and although some women were not happy to comply to the cultural values of their, others were. Since all the men were happy, and some of the women were happy, society as a whole saw foot binding as good, because the majority was happy. All women who underwent the procedure endured great pain, but they did it for the greater "good" of society, which was to please the eyes of men, which lead to marriage, which ultimately lead to reproduction and the continuity of society. Foot binding was seen as a greater good because it was the primary standard of beauty within that culture. What isn't considered is that what is good for one society is not necessarily good for the other, due to different values and the changes in the standards of beauty over time.

Foot binding in todays world wouldn't contribute to the greater good of both woman and men. For one, the standards of beauty have changed throughout the world. Even amongst the Chinese, the foot is no longer the general standard of beauty. Furthermore, foot binding is extremely impractical in present day China, where woman are working jobs, as opposed to staying home. Many people need two incomes to make ends meet in todays world, and it would not allow women to travel to and from work. It would also make operating a motor vehicle extremely painful for a woman with bound feet. Our society requires people to travel farther than when communities were smaller during the age of foot binding. Travel is necessary to obtain higher pleasures such as education, which are means to utility that women are now able to pursue. If the practice of foot binding continued, women would have even less means to pursue the same happiness that men have the freedom to pursue, due to the disability inflicted by foot binding. If all women in China were to go through foot binding today,  it would lead to the unhappiness of society as a whole, due to the fact that a females mobility contributes more to society as a whole than the beauty of her feet. Women are a part of the workforce in this day an age, and anything preventing them from working is to the detriment of the wellbeing of society as a whole. Work allows people to acquire currency, which Mills says is a means to utility. It is also necessary to have workers to sustain our current economy and the everyday things we use, such as buildings and parks. Without people to sustain the things we have come to depend on, a greater good can not be achieved.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 – Deontology

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Writing Prompt #3
Descriptive:
In Kant's deontological ethics, the morally relevant elements are the actions of rational individual moral agents and the intentions accompanying the actions of rational individual moral agents. Moral personhood is ascribed only to rational and autonomous individuals. For an action to be moral, an agent must intend to act from duty imposed by universal moral principles, given by reason, from the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative commands the agent: to act according to a maxim that they could will as universal law, and to always treat other humans as ends and not as means. In willing universal moral law, the agent wills moral law that is binding unconditionally. It is impossible for an agent to will a law universal if it results in contradiction by undermining autonomy, rationality or a good will. In asserting that actions have to be from duty, Kant means to say that the action cannot be merely in accordance with duty (e.g. because it is favorable to one's preferences). Instead, the action has to be done because it is good in itself. The idea of pure duty stems from Kant’s claim that the only thing unconditionally good is a good will; so in order for an action to be good, it has to be done with a good will (from pure duty).

Evaluative:
Eva Kittay’s At the Margins of Moral Personhood, poses a serious challenge to Kant’s deontological moral theory. In Kant’s theory, moral personhood is ascribed to those who are rational and autonomous. Since congenitally severely mentally retarded persons cannot be said to possess rationality or autonomy, they are not ascribed moral personhood, and thus are pushed to the margins of Kant’s moral theory. Kittay, rightly so, thinks that this is a quite counter-intuitive conclusion to reach; she offers the example of her daughter, Sesha, who is classified as congenitally severely mentally retarded. Sesha brings joy into the life of her family. She is appreciative of those around her and has strong emotional bonds and ties to many people. She has a strong appreciation for music, especially Beethoven, and expresses joy when she anticipates her favorite parts of a musical piece. She certainly has memories of people, persons, places and events. However, it is not clear she has a rational faculty organizing her experience into a narrative, and she certainly does not qualify as autonomous. Nonetheless, she has many well developed human qualities and strong human ties, but in Kant’s theory she is not morally significant as other humans who are defined as persons.

The categorical imperative expresses as a universal law that one ought to always treat humans and humanity as an ends and not as a mere means. However, on Kant’s account, humanity only refers to those who posses certain attributes (rationality and autonomy). One can see how this becomes problematic. The categorical imperative issues no first order duty to respect the congenitally mentally retarded (and others who fall below the threshold of rationality and autonomy) as an ends. Of course, one might have a second order duty to care about the congenitally severely mentally retarded, stemming from duties of charity and love towards their family members and close friends who have close emotional relationships with the cognitively severely mentally retarded. However, it is unclear exactly how this second order duty would be that much different than a second order duty to care about a pet which a family has a close emotional relationship with. Many find Kant’s standard of moral personhood to be extremely problematic, because it puts the congenitally severely mentally retarded on similar moral footing to animals and many people consider it morally sound to kill animals for some other good, using them as a means and not as an end (e.g. nutrition). Defining moral personhood solely in terms of attributes such as rationality and autonomy results in the exclusion of those humans who may have incredibly meaningful and positive relationships with other humans, as well as, well developed human capacities for emotion and compassion. The privileging of rationality and autonomy, while they are incredibly important attributes, is done to the defect of the emotional, creative and passionate qualities in humans.

Most people deem the congenitally severely mentally retarded as worthy of equal respect and treatment as fully humans (as ends in Kant’s philosophy), however, since they do not fall under the normative categorization of moral personhood they are not entitled to the same normative treatment as other humans, leaving them open to all types of exploitation. Moral standards for personhood should not be based exclusively in terms of cognitive abilities because this strips many fully human but cognitively impaired of equal moral status to all humans. This does not mean that we ought not treat animals better as well, but that we ought to treat humans capable of playing meaningful social roles the same as those with higher cognitive endowments.

21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 03 – Utilitarianism (Norman da Nubcaek)

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Utilitarianism is based off of the Greatest Happiness Principle which states that actions are considered moral when they promote utility and immoral when they promote the reverse.  Utility itself is defined by Mill as happiness with the absence of pain.  The main elements of this philosophy are one's actions and their resulting utility.  A person is considered moral when their actions tend to promote utility of the general public in accordance with the Greatest Happiness Principle.  However, just an action increasing utility does not necessarily imply a moral action.  In order for the action to be moral it must be the optimal choice in increasing utility and minimizing pain.  Since it is difficult to determine the superior of two vastly different results, Mill provides us with a system to determine which choice would have the higher quality.  This system has the proper judges of the actions determine which they prefer.  Whichever is preferred by a majority is considered the action with a higher quality result and thus would be more moral to perform than the action with a lower quality result.  In the result of a tie, both choices are considered equally moral.  The judges for the actions are those who have had sufficient experience to be able to give a preference.  They must have experienced the utility of outcomes to a certain extent in order to properly weigh them.

There are many issues with Utilitarianism, mainly on the Greatest Happiness principle, including the inability to see the future and perfectly determine the consequences of any action, the allowing of malignant practices for the sake of increasing overall utility, the allowing of defying of societal laws for the sake of increasing overall utility, and its disregard of motive.  The last one we can discard for now as it would turn this into a Deontology post instead.  An example taken from our readings is that of foot binding or bodily mutilation for the sake of beauty.  Depending on the views of society, this can be considered moral.  Imagine if the world's population were split 50-50, but with one side have 1 or 2 more people.  If everyone on the side with the extra people preferred mutilation for the sake of beauty (assuming that everyone was capable of proper judgment), then no matter what the other people thought, Utilitarianism would allow it.  This is also true even if there was a law placed by society as society's happiness is more important than its justice for Utilitarians.  As for the indeterminate future, when considering foot binding, it is generally done by mothers to ensure their daughters attain a proper husband.  The assumed utility produced would be caused by said attainment, but in the case that she is incapable of doing so, the mother's choice has become immoral as the utility desired was never attained and excruciating pain was inflicted upon the daughter.

The Greatest Happiness principle in general is good, but it has many flaws as any ethical systems does.  Due to our inability to perfectly predict the future according to our actions (assuming he future is capable of being altered with our actions), the results we desire are capable of, and often do, fall short of what was intended.  If unforeseen parameters caused all of our actions to backfire, even though we were attempting to act in accordance with Utilitarianism, we would all be considered immoral as our results only caused pain.  If this happened to everyone in the entire world, then no man could be considered moral.  The Greatest Happiness principle also allows for us to cause pain to others as long as a majority of the people become happier.  We could essentially just steal resources from smaller foreign countries and drive them to poverty as long as more people benefit than lose.  Things such as slavery, bullying, rape, racism, and murder could be justified under Utilitarianism as long as the majority prefers it.  Murderers could justify their action by simply killing all of those who opposed them.  Once their numbers became the majority, murdering became justifiable as moral.  Lastly, the Greatest Happiness principle eliminates the usage of the laws provided  by our government.  As long as the person's actions increase general utility, then it does not matter how many  laws are broken in the process.  We could all go speeding down roads and ignoring traffic signals/signs to our full enjoyment despite there being speed limits as long as few people cared and most people would be having a blast.

All of these examples display cases where the Greatest Happiness principle would "fail".  It fails in the sense that the standard of what is/isn't moral can be easily changed in society's eyes, and as long as the results produced are in accordance to what the majority prefer, then all preset laws and individual preferences would be considered invalid and can legitimize practices that we currently see as immoral.

21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3: Virtue Ethics

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Aristotle emphasizes the importance of an individual's character and virtues. A person is not virtuous based off the actions that are committed, but they are virtuous based off the act itself and what sort of quality it shows about the person's moral character. Virtues cannot be determined from any specific actions of an individual because that is not how an individual is represented, but rather from the choices that are made. Unlike other ethics, it is not about determining what is the greater good or figuring out an individual's duties, but virtue ethics is more about the virtues of a person. It is believed in this ethics that the highest and ultimate goal of a person's life is to reach eudaimonia, or happiness. According to Aristotle, achieving eudaimonia requires an individual to be virtuous in character and in their acts. Therefore, the important element in virtue ethics that needs to be ethically judged is an individual's actions to determine whether or not they are virtuous.

The action's that are done by an individual are due to the choices that they make. The way an individual generally makes a decision or choice is based off their experience and knowledge. So in order to judge a person's action one must have experience and knowledge about the action that is being judged. An individual with more experience and knowledge are usually the one's that are better off making a virtuous decision and judgments, than an individual who is less experienced, like a child. Another way to judge a person's actions is through two extremes. Aristotle uses two extremes to figure out the middle point of what is being judged in order to help determine and judge a person's virtues. Once an individual makes a virtuous choice does not mean that they will be virtuous forever. You need to keep on making virtuous choices in order to maintain a virtuous character and make it somewhat a habit. In this theory, by continuously being virtuous, an individual can achieve eudaimonia.

It says that in order to reach eudaimonia or happiness, an individual must be virtuous in character and in order to be virtuous they must be able to make choices based off experience and knowledge. According to this ethics, this means that people with cognitive impairment cannot reach eudaimonia because they are not able to make decisions to be virtuous due to their lack of knowledge and reason. It shows that this theory doesn't consider people with certain disabilities to be fully functional to make rational and moral decisions, and so they cannot choose to act in a virtuous manner. So this idea is flawed because it cannot be applied to every being alive, it only applies to those who are capable of knowledge and reasoning.

This theory is problematic because of the fact that it doesn't apply to everyone. As discussed about people with disabilities, this ethical theory suggests that those with cognitive impairment aren't capable of reasoning and so they are not capable of reaching eudaimonia. What makes people with certain disabilities less qualified to reach a state of happiness? Eudaimonia, or happiness, should be attainable to all regardless of their circumstances or situation. While a lot of what virtue ethics says can be a used as a very good guide, achieving eudaimonia isn't bound to only those guidelines. A person's happiness can be attained in many ways, and most of the time they are different from others. There is no right way to achieve happiness because of the fact that everyone is different. A person with cognitive impairments is different from a normal person, so their form of achieving happiness is also different.

The flaw also lies with not assuming everyone is being capable of virtue, which means that some people are not capable of doing virtuous acts. The moral element in virtue ethics is based off the acts an individual commits and to determine whether or not the act itself is virtuous, but what happens when an individual cannot act virtuously due to disabilities? Just because a person cannot be virtuous does not mean that they are not capable of reaching happiness. Virtue is not the only method and theory that should be followed in order to reach happiness, it is only one way that can be followed. So while virtue ethics lays important guidelines on how one can reach eudaimonia it doesn't mean it is the right way for everyone to follow because each individual is different and has different ways of reaching eudaimonia or happiness.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 – Utilitarianism

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John Stuart Mill argues that happiness, or utility is the sole basis of morality and humans never desire anything but happiness. Utility is defined as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Utilitarianism follows the Greatest Happiness Principle which suggests actions are morally right if they tend to promote happiness and morally wrong if they produce the opposite of happiness. This principle further states that happiness, or intended pleasure, needs to be promoted among the greater majority for an action or event to be considered moral with little to no attention paid to the individual’s utility. A person’s actions are judged as morally correct or incorrect based only on the outcome of an action while ignoring all intentions or motives. Having said that, the moral element of Utilitarianism is the feelings of the greater majority of affected people by an action and moral standard is their overall happiness/utility, or greatest happiness principle.

The concept of Utilitarianism is inadequate to me for two reasons. First, no universally accepted explanation of the term happiness exists. Various philosophies make assumptions about what makes someone truly happy and the entire theory is based on this assumption. Next and more importantly, even though motives can never fully be uncovered, if someone has the universally accepted wrong reason to do something but it happens to turn out for the greater good (such as situation 3 of writing prompt 1) I don’t think it should be considered morally right. This idea is assisted through other ethical philosophies, such as virtue ethics, which argues that development of morally desirable virtues for one’s own sake will help aid in moral actions when decisions need to be made.

One topic of discussion to further my second critique concerning motives is women and beauty. For centuries women have been objectified and judged based on their beauty. There are extreme cases of the beautification of women, such as Chinese foot binding, and less extreme, such as wearing provocative clothing and having your hair and nails done. No matter which way beautification happens, the woman’s goals usually are to increase the amount of happiness produced in both her and those who encounter her. Utilitarianism according to Mill, however, does not worry about intentions or motives and only cares about the end result of an action. For example, say a woman’s goal is to beautify herself strictly to promote happiness and she takes all the necessary steps to achieve this goal for the given time period in which she lives. Still, she can never find a date and does not make anyone happy. According to Mill this is viewed as having committed an immoral act. I believe this is an example of a major flaw in Utilitarianism. If one has the correct motive to promote happiness among the majority but does not achieve it, it should still be considered moral. On the contrary, if someone has the intention of promoting the opposite of happiness but for some reason their action creates utility, it should not be considered moral.

Mill does believe that an individual’s character plays a role in Utilitarianism. One’s intentions are considered important, but they are not relevant in determining morality. Therefore, one should not value their own happiness over the happiness of all people but that does not necessarily mean that one’s motives should be to serve the greater good. How can intentions be important but still not have any consideration whatsoever in determining morality? I believe that Utilitarianism should consider actions whose intentions are to promote the greatest happiness principle, but ultimately produce the opposite of happiness, as moral. Consider the works of Janet Richards and John Stuart Mill. Richard’s believes that beauty is one of the pleasures of life, but should not be considered the top priority. Beautification is considered moral if it does not diminish the contributions from other aspects of women. Mill would believe that as long as women’s beautification created the most happiness for the greatest number of people, it is moral. What if a woman wanted nothing more than to become beautiful to please as many people as possible, but lacked necessary qualities to accomplish this feat and promoted no happiness? According to Mill, this woman has now committed an immoral act by seeking beautification. I think this is a crude assessment of the situation. I’m not arguing that motives should be the main consideration in morality, as this would move away from Utilitarian principle, but they should have some merit. Utilitarianism should incorporate some of the beliefs of Richard’s and virtue ethics and take into consideration when people have the supporting motives to promote happiness.

Mill also believes that both internal and external sanctions can govern the actions of individuals, and aid the use of his philosophy. The appeal to inner sentiments is what creates a binding effect between the individual and this philosophy. I’ll use Chinese foot binding as an example here. These mothers fear for their daughters’ acceptance into a society so badly that they are willing to inflict severe physical pain to obtain beauty. Even though in modern times we would see this act as brutal and immoral, consideration must be given to the standards of the time period. Their motives are only for the best and to create as much happiness in the end as possible. I am sure, however, that some of these girls never ended up creating happiness for anyone, and therefore got down on themselves too. Again, this action is seen as immoral because no happiness was created in the end even though the intention was only to create as much happiness as possible. How can the right intentions to promote happiness, which is what we all desire, be considered immoral while situation 3 of writing prompt 1 can be arguably moral, according to Utilitarianism? Mill should have allowed motives to create happiness to be a factor in determining morality instead of  dismissing them entirely.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt #3- Virtue Ethics

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Virtue ethics focuses on the element of character that one embodies. One’s character can be good and bad and is only decided by the moral standard. According to Aristotle, this moral standard is that any character trait should lie at the mean between two extremes; excess and deficiency. For instance, courage is a means between the extremes of cowardice and foolhardiness with respect to the emotion of fear. Finding this middle ground will yield maximum potential for virtue. Possessing certain virtues is what truly makes one moral, and one’s actions are only a reflection of one’s intrinsic morality. Virtues cannot be based on a single action because a single action does not represent who someone is. Virtue ethics lies around three central concepts: virtue, practical wisdom and eudaimonia, which means happiness or flourishing. Possessing a virtue means finding that intermediate point between two extremes in any situation, ultimately leading to eudaimonia.

The problem with this moral standard is that, according to Aristotle, a person cannot be considered truly virtuous unless that person possesses all the virtues, and if a person is not virtuous then he or she will not be able to reach eudaimonia, or the good life. Several of the virtues that he mentions, however, apply only to people of considerable wealth and honor. These include Magnificence, Magnanimity and Liberality. Magnificence is the virtue of properly spending large sums of money on public gifts. Magnanimity is the quality of the person who knows himself to be worthy of great honors; and Liberality is defined by generosity. These three virtues could only be applied to the aristocrats who had both wealth and honor, and therefore, it seems as though only the wealthy could be truly virtuous. However, because Aristotle was an aristocrat himself, he didn’t have a problem with this. He enjoyed a much higher standard of living, and therefore was able to live the good life and reach eudaimonia. As we can see, there is an obvious class bias in Aristotle’s arguments, and those worse off are unable to reach the good life. Living well requires good fortune, and because of this, not everyone has an equal chance to be virtuous, and achieve the eudaimonia that Aristotle was able to attain.

This problem portrays itself with the cognitively impaired. Aristotle believes that the cognitively impaired are unable to live a virtuous lifestyle and achieve eudaimonia because of their character, the moral element. Because morality is measured by one’s character, these people cannot be seen as moral. Living a virtuous life and achieving eudemonia is based heavily on intellectual virtues and the ability to reason, and therefore this marginalizes the cognitively impaired. Why should character be based upon virtues that for some are impossible to attain?

Eva Kittay emphasizes in her article, “At the Margins of Moral Personhood,” that although her daughter is severely cognitively disabled, she is able to bring happiness and love into the world, and contrary to popular belief, this is what’s most important. Kittay explains that philosophers “have understated the critical role other capacities play in our moral life, capacities that we would want to encourage in the members of a moral community, such as giving care and responding appropriately to care, empathy, and fellow feeling; a sense of what is harmonious and loving; and a capacity for kindness and an appreciation for those who are kind.” Attributes that are attainable by everyone, such as kindness, love and compassion, should decide morality and a virtuous existence; not virtues such as Magnificence, Magnanimity, Liberality and many others that are unattainable to many.

Kittay argues “against the view that such intrinsic psychological capacities as rationality and autonomy are requisites for claims of justice, a good quality of life, and the moral consideration of personhood,” but according to Aristotle this seems to be the case. He agrees that some people are capable of achieving a more virtuous and fulfilling life based on one’s fortune and circumstances. Although Kittays’ daughter may not be able to embody most, or all of Aristotle’s virtues, why should she be less qualified to attain happiness? Why shouldn’t she be able to achieve eudaimonia through a different means other than virtue? Just as the lower class was unable to achieve the good life because of their misfortunes, here the cognitively impaired are unable to as well.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 – Deontology

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In regards to deontology, the moral standard that is used to judge the morality of an act involves duties. In deontology, duties are extremely important, the word itself means science of duty. Therefore it is important that one follows their duties. We have to know what our duties are and when we follow these duties, the act is considered moral. However, it goes deeper. To decide whether or not we are following our duties involves our intentions. This is the element of the world that is morally relevant to deontology, rather than consequences. If a person has good intentions, then the act is moral. If their intentions are bad, then the act is immoral. Kant says that the only truly good thing is a good will, but it is not that simple. The whole morality of an act combines these two. We act according to our duties, but we also have to have good intentions. Intentions are only good if they were done because the person had a duty to do so.

However, this is not the end. Even when intentions and duties are combined, it is still not quite enough. The act must also follow the categorical imperative. Kant said that an action follows the categorical imperative if it is objectively necessary in and of itself. Basically if it can be logically made into universal law, therefore not bringing chaos to the world, it could be considered moral. An act must follow these three things to be considered moral. We have intentions based on our duties and our duties must conform to the categorical imperative.

A flaw that I think exists in deontology is that it doesn't allow for any gray areas. The whole philosophy of it is objective and it is based on absoluteness. The gray area that I consider to be a very important gray area is the clashing of duties. This is the moral standard of this ethical theory and it has a big hole. Things nowadays are not as black and white as they used to be. With the increase in technology and intelligence today, moral dilemmas also increase. Knowledge may give us power, but it also gives us a greater responsibility to do the right thing with that knowledge. Also, with our advances in everything, are the duties of our ancestors really the duties that we have to follow? Times have changed and how do we choose which duties are relevant to our lives anymore? Which duties do we keep, and which do we decide are no longer important? Another gray area.

Here's two common duties most people probably share: not lying and keeping others from harm. What happens when a situation presents itself where we either must lie to keep others from harm or tell the truth and endanger the lives of others? Do we choose? If we were to choose, most people would probably choose the one that had the better consequences. But this is not what deontology is about. It is not about consequences at all, and choosing one over the other undoubtedly makes it so. Because of this lack of a gray area, we don't know what to do when these situations present themselves. We have to make black and white choices in an era that is all sorts of different colors. In regards to the second related gray area, deontology doesn't provide a system for what we do with outdated duties. This isn't surprising to me one bit because Kant was writing in his present, I don't think it is his job to make assumptions for the future. There is no way he could have known we would make all these advancements.

I think the article we read about footbinding involves these flaws and somewhat combines them. Footbinding's been around for a thousand years. Back then, it made sense to do this horrible practice because it was the woman's duty (in that time!) to please the men. In today's era (it's lasted until the early 1900s), women have developed an increasing respect for themselves, creating a duty to stand up for themselves and not let themselves be used (an example: for the sexual pleasure of a man). That duty to please a man by doing whatever (in this case, subjecting yourself to torture) perhaps may have become outdated. First of all, do they choose to keep to their new duties, or is it more important to stick to the old already established one? This in turn, creates a conflict of duties. In the new times, women cannot deny themselves freedom from the outdated practices and dehumanization of themselves. But how do they choose between these two duties without straying from deontology?

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 – Virtue Ethics

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Aristotle describes the ultimate goal of a person's life is to achieve eudaimonia. This is roughly translated as a "flourishing" state and is dynamic in that it can be attained but must be maintained through virtuous or "beautiful" action. Aristotle writes that having a virtuous character is necessary for attaining eudaimonia, and this is broken down into several other virtues. However to achieve a virtuous character it is necessary for one's actions to be virtuous and intentionally so. I think that action is therefore the key element to focus on here.

The standard for judging virtue in action is interesting in this case. Aristotle describes it as a "golden mean" between extremes. These extremes are not fixed but vary from person to person depending on their individual nature. Consequently, the golden mean varies from person to person as well. The only way to learn what the golden mean (and thus the virtuous choice of action) is in any given scenario is to have wisdom and to use reason. Aristotle considered the ability to use reason to be the most important characteristic of humans. Wisdom is gained through intellect and knowledge. Knowledge comes from experience. Therefore younger or generally less experienced individuals may need help making virtuous decisions. Once you make the virtuous decisions, you can form habits out of these, and if you have the wisdom to understand what the virtuous choice of action would be, these habits become voluntary choices and are indicative of a virtuous character. It is this virtuous character that will lead you on the path towards achieving and maintaining eudaimonia.

Not all of the extremes are completely variable from person to person, however. Aristotle does make a couple of distinctions of extremes and in this way sets up very broad guidelines for what is virtuous and what is not. In doing so, however, he does rule several things out as not being virtuous or moral. One of the issues that he singles out is suicide. According to Aristotle, suicide is a cowardly act and a crime against the state. Basically he considers it to be a lack of two separate virtues: courage and justice. I think that this is an idealistic and outdated philosophy and that it shouldn't apply in modern society.

According to Aristotle in Book III of Nicomachean Ethics: "But to die to escape from poverty or love or anything painful is not the mark of a brave man, but rather of a coward; for it is softness to fly from what is troublesome, and such a man endures death not because it is noble but to fly from evil." In Book V Aristotle also writes: "...he who through anger voluntarily stabs himself does this contrary to the right rule of life, and this the law does not allow; therefore he is acting unjustly. But towards whom? Surely towards the state, not towards himself. For he suffers voluntarily, but no one is voluntarily treated unjustly. This is also the reason why the state punishes; a certain loss of civil rights attaches to the man who destroys himself, on the ground that he is treating the state unjustly."

Essentially he's saying it is cowardly to commit suicide and someone possessing the virtue of courage would not make such a decision. Aristotle is also implying that since suicide is against the law and is therefore unjust, someone must be being treated unjustly. He doesn't believe that by definition one can be voluntarily treated unjustly and suicide is voluntary so it must be the state that is being treated unjustly. Therefore the virtue of justice is not being satisfied and the victim of the injustice is the state. Theoretically, this makes sense. Practically, I don't believe that it does, especially in our contemporary society.

In our readings and discussions we learned about the disabled and the choice some of them make to commit suicide or request assistance in killing themselves. Today, people are living longer than ever before, definitely much longer on average than in Aristotle's time. We have modern medicine to thank for this. However, because of this many people are living longer than they normally would with severe disabilities and terminal illnesses. For some people modern medical practices just lengthen their period of suffering instead of improving their actual quality of life. For this reason, I don't think it is necessarily cowardice to want to quicken the inevitable if it means shortening what would otherwise be a very prolonged period of suffering. Additionally, in many modern societies the state shoulders the cost of medical care for the severely disabled. Terminally ill people and severely disabled people are not exactly providing much benefit to the state. Therefore, I don't see it as an injustice to the state for these people to take their own lives if they should so choose.

Aristotle's views on suicide are remnants of a time and culture that is no longer existent. While I believe that in general Aristotle's emphasis on reason and wisdom to act virtuously in accordance with the golden mean can still apply, some of the specific virtues (such as courage, pride, magnificence) do not hold as much weight in our society as they did in his. Additionally, some of the specific examples he gives (such as his views on suicide as I have mentioned) should also be taken with a grain of salt as they were written in a much different historical context from today's society.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt 3 – Virtue Ethics

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Virtue Ethics can be summarized to say that knowledge and experience are what allow a person to be moral or immoral. These two things make up a person's character and that is what makes someone moral or immoral. To be moral, a person must be in a virtuous state of mind which will lead to them acting morally in a situation. With that said, morality in Virtue Ethics is about judgement. A person who is in a virtuous state must be well versed in the details of a situation and have the experience to know what is moral or immoral. This is why no everyone is capable of being moral in a situation because some have not had the life experiences to make them a good judge. Happiness comes from being in a virtuous state. If someone is virtuous, they will continue to do things that put them in a happy state of mind and that is what makes their actions moral. There is no universal set of guidelines for a person to follow and morality is not judged by the outcome of a situation, instead morality comes from being in this virtuous state.

One aspect of Virtue Ethics that can be critiqued is that there are no clear guidelines for any specific situation. Euthanasia of mentally disabled patients is an excellent example of why this is not an idea ethical theory. Euthanasia is a touchy subject and since it involves the medical world and more than just one person performing the action a simple yes or no is needed.

Without a simple yes or no in certain situations it opens the door for people to act immorally and make judgments without being in a virtuous state. Many things are not always moral or immoral such as lying or stealing, but some still need a definitive answer to their morality. Stealing can be moral if a person steals to survive, doesn't take any more than they need, and it does not significantly effect the livelihood of the person they are stealing from, however it must be said that stealing is immoral otherwise people would grow up experiencing the benefits of stealing and think it was a perfectly moral thing to do.

Same with euthanasia of mentally disabled patients. There are arguments on both ends of the spectrum about these people ending their lives to escape their pain and suffering. While it can be a moral decision if a person has exhausted all of their options to improve their quality of life, it can be just as immoral if a person has not done that. Something like this cannot be left to moral uncertainty. A medical professional needs to know whether or not it is acceptable to assist a person in ending their life otherwise they can easily make many immoral decisions involving the act. The patient also needs to know because if they're not sure that they're making the right decision they could end their life when they could have improved and enjoyed it. Without a universal guideline to something like this then it is possible for people to act immorally and never achieve a virtuous state.

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21Jan/11Off

Writing Prompt #3

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Elements that are morally-relevant to Kantian deontology are intention, and the completion of duty.  The intentions and motivations inspiring an action determine if it is ethical.  One must intend to do good for the others involved.  If a person does something with the intention of making themselves look better to others, that is unethical, perhaps because that could be considered using others involved as a mere means instead of an end.  Using other humans as a mere means (or using them for what they have) instead of as an ends (acting in a way that intends to improve their quality of life) is a duty of deontology.  Duty is the second morally-relevant aspect of Kantian deontology.  In addition to the duty to not use other humans as a mere means, there is also a duty to preserve humanity.  This means that we have a duty to perpetuate the human race and not let it become extinct.  It would be immoral to do anything that, if made Universal Law (something that everyone in the world does), would cause the end of the functioning of society and the human race.  Universal Law is related to the Categorical Imperative.  To Kant, one must use the Categorical Imperative to determine if an action is moral.  One must find an action, think about what would happen if that action became Universal Law, and then decide if society and the human race could still exist should that occur.  If an action could be Universal Law and society and the human race would still function, then it is moral according to deontology.  If a given action being Universal Law would lead to society and the human race's downfall, then it is immoral.

An aspect of Kantian deontology worth critiquing is the Categorical Imperative.  Many situations can be resolved through many actions, and many of those actions could be Universal Law.  However, not every one of those options is as ethical as every other one.  An ethical theory is supposed to tell us what is moral to do in all circumstances, and Kant's Categorical Imperative does that.  However, it does not take into account that some situations can have more than one solution that is moral.  It does not provide a way to judge which one is more ethical than the other.  One can argue that if using the Categorical Imperative yielded more than one moral answer, then either would be equally moral.  I agree that both would be moral, but that there is a way of determining which is more so.  Rather, there is a spectrum of what is moral.  A spectrum of morality is based in Virtue Ethics.  This involves judging the thought process leading to the decision.  This differs from deontology because a deontologist views an action to be moral if it was derived from doing one’s duty.  A virtue ethicist considers an action to be moral if the doer acted virtuously.  With deontology, a person is considered to be acting virtuously if he or she acted according to the categorical imperative. This becomes a problem when the Categorical Imperative yields multiple options that are ethical.

Combining the two approaches would be straightforward.  First, actions would have to be able to be universal law.  If that criterion was fulfilled, then the virtue ethics approach would be applied, but again, only if the action in question could be universal law.  That step would determine how ethical the decision was.  Using virtue ethics adds the detail and precision to deontology that it was lacking.  Deontology would say that any option that is in accordance with the categorical imperative is equally moral, but I disagree.

In Cognitive Disability, Misfortune, and Justice, author Jeff McMahan outlines a way of compensating the congenitally cognitively impaired.  It says that we should compensate them because of what they mean to their cognitively normal family members and friends.  Out of providing utility for their relations, we should do good for the congenitally cognitively impaired.  This is acceptable according to deontology because the intent is to do good and the act could be Universal Law.  My objection is that if one compensates the congenitally cognitively impaired for the sake of causing utility for their relations, then that is using the impaired individual as a mere means.  Although it could be Universal Law, there is an immoral aspect to compensating the congenitally cognitively impaired as a way to increase the utility of the individuals who care about them.

The course of action that McMahan encourages could be Universal Law, but there is another option that could also be Universal Law.  Eva Kittay's piece entitled, On the Margins of Moral Personhood outlines another philosophy regarding the congenitally cognitively impaired that could also be Universal Law.  She advocates an approach that treats these individuals as people.  She believes that they cause joy for their family, friends, and caregivers, and are moral beings.  Kittay believes that these impaired individuals should be compensated for their own sake, although I'm sure that the fact that their care brings utility to the family, friends and caregivers of the impaired individuals would not be discounted.  Kittay's approach could be Universal Law, and does not treat the congenitally cognitively impaired as a mere means to achieving utility for those who care about them.

This situation poses a problem for deontological ethics, and the application of the Categorical Imperative.  Both options could be Universal Law, but one treats some of those involved as a mere means, and one does not.  This is where the virtue ethics aspect becomes relevant.  A virtuous person would not use another person as a tool to increase the utility of others.  A virtuous person would treat an individual morally for the sake of treating that individual morally, while understanding that the result of that action would also increase the utility of others.  The second option involved a thought process that was more virtuous than that of the first.  With only deontology to rely on, a person deciding between the two choices could have picked either and have acted morally.  With the addition of virtue ethics, the chooser now has a way to determine which is more ethical, and then decide based on that knowledge.

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21Jan/11Off

Extra Credit Week 3

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http://www.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/01/20/siu.selling.girl.next.door.backpage/index.html

In this post, Underage prostitution is exposed a 13 year old girl who was sold for sex through a website. Most of the underage girls that are sold are usually those who run away from home and picked up by pimps. In this article, young women are portrayed as a means for men to fulfill their sexual desires.

The problem with underage sex and prostitution is a pretty big issue in today's world. Many young women these days are not aware of all the opportunities and options they have in life, and so they resort to prostitution. Virtue ethics would consider forced underage prostitution as immoral. These young women go into prostitution because they have no other choice, and are enslaved and abused with drugs by the so called 'pimps'. They generally are young girls who have run away from home looking for an escape to freedom. It is considered moral and virtuous if a person has good morals takes care of the young girls. But taking in a young girl to be used for sex is immoral because they are taking advantage of young women who do not know any better.

In the case of virtue ethics, taking advantage of underage girls is not virtuous at all. Being underage generally means you do not have a lot of experience and need guidance, so when a person forces and takes advantage someone who is underage and guides them to a life of prostitution then it is considered immoral. Being underage also means that you are not experienced enough to make fully rational decisions which is why there are a lot of laws that prohibit individuals of certain age from doing certain things, such as drinking. Another fact that questions the morality of underage prostitution is the use of drugs. By using drugs as a leverage, these already inexperienced and underage women are influenced in their decisions , which is immoral, because when are drugged they have no power to choose. Therefore, I cannot see anything virtuous with underage sex prostitution mainly because these individuals are still young and taken advantaged of.

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20Jan/11Off

Extra Credit Week 3 – Breast Ironing

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Here's the article.

There's a video about it too. (Warning: Contains nudity)

Since we were on the subject of female adornment/disfigurement this week I looked for other cultural examples. I already knew about female genital mutilation occurring in some parts of Africa, but I did not know about this. Basically breast ironing is something that happens in rural parts of Cameroon, and in those areas it's pretty pervasive, with one study done in 2006 finding that 24% of girls surveyed had undergone breast ironing. The process, usually carried about by the mother of the girl when she is reaching puberty, involves using hot stones, coconuts or plantain leaves which are pressed firmly against the girl's breasts. The goal is to prevent her breasts from growing while the girl is still young. Some girls start getting their breasts ironed at 9 years old. It might seem strange that the mothers are trying to make their daughters less attractive, as opposed to the Chinese mothers that sought to increase their daughters' attractiveness, or contemporary American mothers buying training bras for their little girls. The problem is that in Cameroon, teen pregnancy rates are very high. According to one doctor quoted in the article, it is rare to see a 13 year old girl that is still a virgin there. Basically, when the girls are very young, if they get pregnant, their mothers will have to take care of the child, and that is one more mouth to feed in a place where food is hard enough to come by.

The problem of HIV and teen pregnancy is a serious one, but this practice is not the way to solve it. This is especially true because, according to an anthropologist quoted in the article, it doesn't even work most of the time. This practice is emerging as a response to the dangers posed by HIV and teen pregnancy and the fact that sexual and reproductive education levels are low to non-existent.  The mothers are trying to make their daughters less attractive so they won't have sex, consensual or otherwise.

Breast ironing can lead to serious health complications. According to the article, these can include "abscesses, infection, deformation, lactation problems, cysts, possible links to breast cancer and emotional stress." This is by definition harming another person, and apparently usually doesn't even have the intended consequences of preventing HIV transmission or preventing teen pregnancy. I think this is a barbaric and foolish practice. According to another article I found, the parents can be punished by up to three years in prison.

As far as virtue ethics is concerned, I don't think this would be considered a virtuous action (clearly). This is harming another person, albeit with good intentions, but these are for the most part selfish good intentions. The mothers are trying to prevent having another mouth to feed, this is more of a benefit for themselves then it is for the daughters. Ironing can ruin the girl's future life and prevent her from finding a good husband in the future.  I don't really see how this can be considered a virtuous activity by any means.

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20Jan/11Off

the true beauty and kant

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Today’s topic from the reading Gynocide: Chinese Foot binding by, Andrea Dworkin touched on the facts and hearsay of what Foot binding is and how it has effected the Chinese woman who follow this ritual.  Along with touching on the topic of Foot binding, the reading also goes into depth about how both men and woman have allowed for society to critique and to dictate how they should look, and what they need to do in over to reach the standard of beauty that society has set a bar for.  As Dworkin is completely against the idea of Foot binding, and tries to express the idea that “women must stop mutilating their bodies and start living in them” (paragraph 25) in order to end this tradition that society has built.  As for Kant he would be in much agreement with Dworkin, in the sense that females should not be allowed to do Foot binding as a means of satisfying the tradition in a family, along with being more attractive to the other sex.

The reason as to why Kant would be in an agreement with Dworkin when it comes to Foot binding is simple.  The fact behind what the reason for Foot binding is, is simply so that woman can be seen as more attractive to the opposite sex.  There is nothing natural about this idea, along with the fact that Kant believes the morality of a person is within their ability to reason, and in this Foot binding situation there is no sense of reasoning. Obviously there is nothing natural as there is no sense of women being them selves and being proud of who they are and how they are.

As for the reasoning there is none involved because these woman know what they have to do in order to have a successful Foot binding experience, and so they do all that is possible to hurt and place fear into their next generation with this process.  They do not reason with the following generations to understand that woman are born the way they are supposed to be (natural) and they end up changing themselves for the satisfaction of others and not themselves.

This is just completely unmoral and unethical, especially when discussion how society has molded woman into believing they need to change in order to find a good man who is going to love her.  Lastly, the idea of Categorical imperatives express that an action is what is important in whole of itself and from this reading it is not needed that these woman need to become beautiful, but it is when they are looking for some sort of companionship.  Deontology would completely be against this foot binding idea as it is no allowing any good will from it.  There is no true happiness with the woman and none with the men, as they are finding a woman’s sexuality their happiness and not their actual beauty.  There is nothing pure in the idea of foot binding and there is nothing pure or good will in women trying to change up anything about them selves in order to find happiness from a man.

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20Jan/11Off

Extra Credit Week 3

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jul/25/female-circumcision-children-british-law

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure practiced by mainly African cultures, although some in other countries, including the US, "participate" as well.  "There are four types of female circumcision identified by the World Health Organisation, ranging from partial to total removal of the external female genitalia" (paragraph 11).  The procedures are a combination of or one or more of the following: removal of the clitoris, removal of the labia majora and/or minora, and sewing the vagina partially or completely closed.  It was a way to guarantee chastity for a woman's future husband.  Chastity is very valued in the cultures that practice FGM, and it is more likely that a woman who underwent the removal of her clitoris and or labia will be chaste, and guaranteed if the vagina was sewn shut.  It also was a way to help women earn power.  "It is a power negotiation mechanism, that women use to ensure respect from men. It prevents rape of daughters and is a social tool to allow women to regain some power in patriarchal societies." (paragraph 24).  It would help women during negotiations because they would not be viewed as sex objects, but as people.  The article goes on to say however "with girls living in the UK there is no need to gain the power – it has to be understood that girls can be good girls without FGM." (paragraph 24).

This practice is similar to foot binding in China.  Both involve the physical modification of young women who are unable to consent the procedure.  They undergo it because of societal pressures stemming from the male-female relationship: in China, because it makes a woman more likely to secure a spouse who will be able to provide for her; and in cultures that practice FGM, it makes a woman more attractive to men because of her chastity, and also makes her more powerful because she is not viewed as a sex object.  FGM is viewed as something that binds a culture together, according to Naana Otoo-Oyorley.  She is head of Forward UK, one of the leading anti-FGM charities in the UK.  It is a coming out of sorts, a way to introduce the girl to the community.

The problem with FGM in the UK is that women do not need to take measures like FGM to have power in society.  To me, this means that in the UK, the moral issues of FGM are very similar to the moral issues surrounding foot binding.  Both procedures cause physical changes that negatively effect the subject's ability to perform physical tasks.  The Chinese girls cannot walk properly, and subjects of FGM may become ill or die from the procedure and may also suffer psychological damage from the trauma of the procedure, have problems menstruating, or become infertile.  Utilitarian ethics find that unacceptable because it decreases the girls' utility.  Their bodies are being altered to fit the preferences of men, without the subjects' consent.  These procedures maintain a status quo of men in control of the relationship, and the woman being treated like a sex object.  A virtuous person would not agree with a procedure done to those that cannot consent, for the purpose of maintaining an oppressive status quo.  Therefore, FGM and foot binding are immoral according to virtue ethics, as well.

Deontology provides a dilemma when it comes to FGM in the UK.  FGM in the UK is performed to conform to cultural norms regarding how a woman should be for a man.  This treats women like objects, and thus as a means instead of as an ends.  Although FGM in the UK treats women as a means, it could be Universal Law.  Not all girls who undergo FGM in the UK die, and not all of the survivors are rendered infertile.  The human race would still go on should girls continue to have their genitals cut, so that act could be Universal Law.  In addition, many of the British families genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing for their daughters by having their genitals cut.  They intend to make their daughters' lives better, which is moral because they are intending to do good.  Some aspects of Deontology consider FGM to be moral, while other aspects consider it immoral.

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20Jan/11Off

Prompt 3

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Deontology means the science of duty. This being said it isn't hard to conclude the elements of the world that are morally relevant in view of deontology are your moral duties . The moral standard on which these elements are judged is based on the motivation behind your action to carry out your moral duties. This means if you preform an action in which you believe is moral, but it is not your moral duty to do so, there is no basis to consider your action of moral value in deontological view, as duties must be established objectively and absolutely, not subjectively. These rules come from the categorical imperative, of which has three formulations.

To be considered moral, one would have to do his duty for the correct reason regardless of consequence. But what I see is an inconsistency where if two duties are presented and create an ultimatum, on what basis does the individual choose a duty. This decision is easy to make when one duty requires harm of another individual, but when faced without the harm of others in either of the two decisions deontology does not give sufficient ruling to differentiate between the two options. You could say choose the less harmful option, but that would be viewing a consequence as a source for moral certainty and according to Kant, being moral is only possible if we know with absolute certainty what is right and wrong. So, the consequences cannot be used as a tool, as they do not have any part in moral judgment.

I would like to take a second to say that the categorical imperative is not the end all in Kant's view. While it may seem an absolute on certain scenarios, such as murder and suicide, Kant does state in specific scenarios where the categorical imperative would otherwise conflict how these situations should be handled in supplementary material outside of Groundwork. Such an example of this is we are supposed to appreciate the ability to be part of humanity, but Kant says in this specific scenario, "The preservation of one's life is, therefore, not the highest duty, and men must often give up their lives merely to to secure that they shall have lived honourably.... If, then, I cannot preserve my life except by disgraceful conduct, virtue relieves me of this duty because a higher duty here comes into play and commands me to sacrifice my life." I found this quote accidentally, then researched it had to do with a woman being raped. Kant believed such dishonor was 'gained' during the act of rape, that suicide was permissible. In addition, it seems like we could also use the categorical imperative to justify a complete abstention from killing, but Kant says that capital punishment carried out by the State is an exception. Capital punishment is thought permissible as an instance of respecting a killer as an end in himself and following through on his own maxims. Keeping these examples in mind is key to understanding Kant's ideals in hard to judge situations, that the categorical imperative is not the end in all situations, nor is it a means to an end.

Relying on the categorical imperative in a situation such as euthanasia will allow you to come to an ultimatum, assist the death, or do not assist the death. While it may seem as these are the only two options, this is a false dilemma. There are many more options and paths that can be taken other then absolutism. Such an example would be, increasing medication to the point of a comma in a patient, therefore keeping the patient from dying without pain (if of course that was a cause the option of euthanasia presented itself.) In the article we read in class on disability and euthanasia, the author, Gill, takes a stance not really to judge the morality behind suicide of the disabled individuals, but to shed light on the social forces that pressure such an individual to see suicide as rational. From the point of view of the disabled quadriplegic that has no knowledge of choices outside the false dilemma presented before, the individual would feel he would have to choose between the two. This is the main point behind the article Gill has presented to us. Although this is not the point of the article, we can take the examples discussed in the article and provide a Kantian outlook on the situation, whether or not the ultimate decision would be considered morally permissible. Since we know that Kant would have allowed in situations for the categorical imperative to be supplemented with additional rules, we can from the start see an opportunity for Kant to allow such an act. We may not, for an arguments sake, allow suicide of a disabled individual so we are not bugged or pestered by his wishes, as that would be using the person as a means to an end. If the disabled person is asking for death, upon which we grant him that right, then are we not treating the person as an end in him/herself. Although this example complies with the categorical imperative, it is important to understand that Kant had more complex views other than what we read in the Groundwork. The moral element that is incomplete is the catagorical imperitive itself, but only because it encompasses such a general idea of morality that conflicting arguments, such as allowed suicide or assisting suicide (euthanasia) ending a person that we are supposed to hold a gift to be apart of humanity due to the will of the individual, cannot be judged by such general law. A solution to this problem would be to understand all of Kantian ethics (which I have learned is not possible without the understanding of all things Kant.)

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20Jan/11Off

“Genocide: Chinese Foot Binding” and Virtue Ethics – Group 2

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I definitely do not think that virtue ethics would agree with Chinese foot binding. In Nicomachean Ethics Artistotle mentions an “in-between” (as we have been calling it) element when it comes to virtue. Chinese foot binding is far from this. It is not only extreme, but also painful and debilitating – all in the name of vanity. Forcing this degrading practice on anyone is not virtuous and immoral.

Virtue ethics would disagree with Chinese foot binding because it makes beauty a higher priority than one’s well being. Not only that but it is oppressive. It does not lead to eudaimonia of the females who are forced to it – it actually does the opposite causing them pain and distress. It strips them of their natural freedom of their own bodies. It also does not lead to any flourishing state. I think although Aristotle often favored the aristocracy and some of their practices, stripping someone of their dignity and inflicting a lifetime of pain and deformity on them is not something a virtuous man would do. Also – I don’t think he would support the incredible importance that Chinese foot binding puts on appearance; virtues are personal beliefs that are upheld in order for people to act morally.

I would agree with the author in the fact that this is an oppressive tradition that belittled women. Not only were they second-class citizens to begin with but also they now had to have physical evidence (their 3 and 4 inch feet) of this fact.

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20Jan/11Off

Gynocide: Chinese Footbinding (Virtue Ethics) Group 3

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Being part Chinese I can understand and see how footbinding can be immoral, but I also can understand why many also consider it moral. Virtue ethics in today's world and much of our culture, footbinding can be looked at as immoral and not virtuous since it inflicts pain and agony to the little girls that undergo it. The view of it being moral and virtuous comes from the culture. To the mother's doing the act to the daughter's, they see footbinding as a virtuous and moral because back then it was suppose to help the women become more attractive to the men. I believe that the fact footbinding was generally forced upon is what virtue ethics considers to be immoral, but I do not believe virtue ethics is against improving one's image if the end goal is to reach eudaimonia. Because what difference is footbinding to say plastic surgery? They both require pain in order to look beautiful, and yet people still do it.

There are many views to look at footbinding. It is hard for virtue ethics to determine whether it is considered moral or immoral because of the different views mainly due to culture. In most of our culture today, we would agree that most form of pain, forced pain for that matter, can be seen as immoral and not virtuous. Virtue ethics doesn't agree on forced pain because when someone is forced to do something their freedom of choice is taken away from them. The act of footbinding itself can be considered moral in virtue ethics. In virtue ethics, experience and knowledge is required to be a good judge whether something should be considered moral or not. The mothers who footbinded her children was most likely experience because she was most likely footbinded themselves or from experience saw that footbinding brought success. Footbinding back then used to be practiced only by the elite and wealthy people, and being wealthy can be a form of happiness, so to continue being wealthy or to achieve wealth many people practiced footbinding.

My position in this article is kind of against what Dworkin says about, that there should be no pressure on changing how you need to look and that women have to stop inflicting pain on themselves to measure up to society's standards. I believe that it is only considered immoral if the act is done forcefully and that the individual has no choice in it. I do not see anything immoral about trying to make oneself more beautiful or trying to live a better quality of life. I believe that culture has a lot to do with looking at virtues because we all have different beliefs that help determine virtues.

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20Jan/11Off

Group 2 (Deontology)

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Deontology would disagree with the social institution of footbinding as a whole. A philosophy that focuses on good will, and stresses the importance of motives over ends, could not justify a practice in which women were objectified in such a way. In the case of footbinding, women were treated as a means of sexual pleasure, an attitude that is opposed to Deontology, in which people are to be treated as ends in themselves. Treating women as a means of sexual pleasure reflects on a cultural standard that is “ends” oriented, where individuals seek an end, in this case sexual pleasure, instead of seeking a will that is pure.

The case of footbinding in China reflects the importance of Kant’s emphasis on rational thought. Rational thought, which is free of one’s worldly experiences, will also be free of a society’s social constructs. It is safe to say the concept of footbinding is not universal in nature, and can’t be thought of rationally. By thinking empirically, that is, by making assumptions and decisions based on one’s experience, it is possible for unjust policies to be perpetuated through a society. China’s citizens were entrapped by the social norms of their era, and, by thinking empirically and acting in a way so as to conform to these social standards, the footbinding process was passed from generation to generation. Though in the past I have argued that empirical thinking has been undervalued, I see now that, in regards to an entire culture, empirical thought can instill values that are arbitrary, if not absurd, in an attempt to promote “happiness”.

The author’s point of view is similar to the views of Kant in certain aspects. The author opposed the ways in which women were objectified. This is similar to Kant’s belief that people should be treated as ends instead of means, women in this case being treated as a means of obtaining sexual pleasure. The author also see’s the value of rational thinking, though this is not stated directly. Stating that “The male response to the woman who is made up and bound is a learned fetish, societal in its dimensions.” effectively states that the male response to female “beauty” is empirical in nature. The author continues by advocating  a position of rational thought by stating  “Perhaps the notion of beauty which will then organically emerge will be truly democratic and demonstrate a respect for human life in its infinite, and most honorable, variety.”, where “organic” represents thought that is free of social constructs.

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20Jan/11Off

Extra Credit Week 3

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http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9504E2D91F31F936A15757C0A9669D8B63&ref=plasticsurgery&pagewanted=2

The most recent articles we have read focused on women altering their natural bodies.  For the most part, it seemed to be agreed upon by ethical theories, such as Utilitarianism, that it was morally good; as long as nobody it harmed, there is no harm done in making oneself more appealing or more aesthetically pleasing.  The second article we read on the subject discussed, what is in my opinion, the extreme side of altering one's body.  It was usually done as an obligation to a culture, or sometime's due to force by family members, so that they would fit a certain ideal.  However, the end result was always intended to be one that promoted general happiness; all would be more happy if the world was a more beautiful place.

Recently, in the United States, more and more people are leaving this idea that altering one's body is considered beautiful (Richard's approach) and moving closer towards what would seem like Dworkin's approach.   Dworkin felt that altering one's body was not the right thing to do, and felt that people should appreciate natural beauty more.  It is interesting that in this day and age, especially in the United States, more and more are agreeing with Dworkin's ideas.

In the movie industry, as the new article says, casting directors are often looking for more natural actresses.  They are not interested in the women who have had breast implants, or noticeable plastic surgery.  While the intent of these surgeries was to make oneself look better, people are beginning to go to extremes.  Sometimes they go so far as to making themselves look completely different then how they originally were.

As we know, Hollywood is a large determinant of the standard of what we consider beautiful, and as their opinion is changing, so might the publics.  If people are feeling less pressure to live up to a certain standard of beauty, they may be able to focus their time on other pleasures, and still remain happy.

So while Utilitarianism might have said that altering one's body image is morally good, I think if the standard of beauty changes, so that there is less pressure, then a Utilitarian would agree that this is good as well.  Less pressure on beauty means going to fewer extremes to fit a certain mold.  It could also mean spending more time focusing on higher utilities.  I think that Kantian Deontology would feel that less of a focus on beauty would be good as well, as long as the entire standard shifted along with this shift in focus.  And virtue ethics would probably agree as well, as time could be devoted to more virtuous acts.

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20Jan/11Off

Group 1/Deontology – Gynocide: Chinese Footbinding

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It is easy to assert that deontology would consider that the oppression and subordination of women to be immoral.  According to today's moral standards of duty it is simple to say that all rational beings must be treated equally no matter physical or religious differences.

For this course we have read Kant's Groundworks and it says that the proper moral action to take when dealing with rational beings is to treat them as an ends in and of themselves and not as the means.  However, Kant was not from our time and viewed woman not as rational beings, but beings that seemingly acted and appeared rational through their senses.  Simply put, Kantian deontology cannot be applied to woman because Kant saw the differences (inequalities) between man and woman as something natural.  In fact, Kant also believed that the education of women is a tedious affair that is counter-productive to the nature of their sex.  This sentiment is best captured in the following statement from Kant's Observations on the Feelings of the Beautiful and the Sublime: "Laborious learning or painful pondering even if a woman should greatly succeed to it destroys the merits that are proper to her sex."  The rest of this literature goes on to assert Kant's views of masculinity and femininity and how the woman lacks any capacity for philosophy/reason as she is a being that is only capable of sensing the virtues appropriate to her sex.

To say that Dworkin would be at odds with Kant is an understatement.  The point of her article is to criticize how a male dominated society since the ancient times have sought and continues to label woman as nothing more that mere objects of sex to lust after and not as rational beings equal to man.  Society in essence places immense pressure on women to mold to views of feminine beauty defined by men and this is all for the sake to simply be acknowledged.

Dworkin's article begins by citing a list of materials necessary to complete the procedure of Chinese footbinding.  Then it is followed by the personal account of a woman from 1934 and her terrible experiences with the footbinding process.  Following this is a series of questions concerning the immoral injustices that were inflicted on groups of people because of their ethnicity and that is compared to the plight women must go through to appear attractive to men.  With Chinese footbinding as the catalyst for Dworkin's argument, she seeks to figure out why women have subjected themselves to painful procedures simply to appear sexually arousing to men.  Dworkin believes that society has unjustly placed pressures on woman to conform to false standards of beauty that at is core is unnatural to the true form of beauty that the female form should be.

However, if we as a class were to ignore Kant's personal views of woman and accept the premise that women are rational equals to man, then Dworkin's article and Kant's ethical philosophy harmonize with each other.  In a succinct version of Dworkin's article, she is saying that the subjugation of women by man is an immoral justice that has continued since the dawn of human society.  And that this subjugation of woman continues today with its modern forms of Chinese footbinding (waxing, shavinge, and etc.).  Kant based his morals on rational and that moral duty must be applied equally amongst all rational beings.  Lastly, to voluntarily do bodily harm to oneself is simply using the self as a means to an ends.  In an extreme stance that Kant takes here is this quote concerning suicide (as it is the most sever example a person is capable of doing harm onto themselves):

"Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself. I cannot, therefore, dispose in any way of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to damage or kill him." - Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals

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20Jan/11Off

Gynocide: Chinese Footbinding Group 3 Virtue Ethics

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This is a very interesting read. I have never thought of foot binding in this extreme of a light before. I always thought it was a cultural tradition that was adopted by children, not forced upon them. I do not think that this tradition could be looked at as virtuous and moral. Especially not from the male perspective. Since this is a tradition that men forced upon women for their pleasure without them doing it as well or experiencing it, it cannot be virtuous because the men are not good judges of the pros and cons of the tradition. To be a good judge one must experience something thoroughly, and since men did not bind their feet, they cannot be a good judge and forcing women to do this is not virtuous. From the women's perspective this tradition is also not virtuous because they have not lived enough of life to make a decision about whether or not to bind their feet. Instead this is forced upon them by their mothers, meaning the person binding their feat did not make the decision from their own experience.

The author makes an interesting comparison between female "requirements" in modern day culture to the practice of footbinding. When looked at simply, footbinding seems to be much worse than the modern practices that women participate in. However in this reading the author brings up many examples of modern day grooming techniques that would cause pain and suffering such as a nose job or learning to walk in heels. While these don't seem to be as severe as footbinding they still cause discomfort in order for a woman to be considered beautiful in our culture, and are therefore similar to the act of footbinding.

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19Jan/11Off

Foot binding-GROUP 2-Utilitarianism

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I believe that Utilitarianism would have a varying say about the topic of foot binding, or more broadly, going through pain to alter one’s body in the name of beauty.  I believe it can vary depending on the perspective it is being looked at through. For the most part however, I believe that a Utilitarian would say that it is generally good.  In the example of Chinese foot binding, I believe that the Chinese society would consider it morally right, because, despite the women being in pain and unhappy (and not all women are unhappy; some are happy to comply with their culture and nation’s traditions), the purpose of this tradition is to increase the general happiness of the society.  By this I mean that it fits into the Chinese standard of what is beautiful, makes the males in the society happy as well as the elders in the society.  The practice of foot binding was intertwined with the concept of gender propriety, civility, and lastly the ethnic identity of the Chinese people.

The reading focuses on women in a traditional sexist culture.  These women are taken to be theorized and rescued, as they are often displayed as victims of a culture that in unjust to different genders.  It is interesting when thinking about the women in a society where culture and tradition dates back so far and holds so strong, in comparison to a more western society where women are presumed to be autonomous, moral subjects, not constricted by local tradition.  Interesting enough though, women in western societies put pressure on themselves, or allow society to put pressure on them to alter their bodies and images.

I think that a Utilitarian would be in support of altering one’s natural beauty, because as the first reading suggests, there is no harm done, essentially, in improving one’s image.  Granted, there are extreme cases, such as foot binding where it is hard to comply with the idea of happiness at the cost of such pain, especially when we live in such a developed society, but despite this pain, I feel that many would argue that the pain leads to pleasure, and that pleasure lies in aesthetics.

My position on the subject of altering or enhancing one’s beauty is probably more similar to Richards than to Dworkin’s.  While I definitely do not disagree with the point Dworkin is making, which is we should not feel the pressure to alter our image, it is hard for me to imagine going through such an extreme measure such as foot binding, therefore making it difficult for me to relate.  Fortunately, that problem is a result of the more liberal society I have grown up in.  The reason why I am more swung by Richard’s position is because I don’t see anything morally wrong with improving one’s beauty.  As long as there is no harm done to anyone, it can sometimes be a good thing.  Self-confidence is improved, and the general happiness of a society is improved.  I can’t really see one disagreeing with the idea of having something more “beautiful” to look at.

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