UNIT: Is Moral Relativism Correct?
Issue: Is Moral Relativism Correct?
YES: Torbjörn Tännsjö, from "Moral Relativism," Philosophical Studies, 2007
NO: Louis P. Pojman, from "The Case Against Moral Relativism," The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature, 2007
Torbjörn Tännsjö distinguishes among several types of relativism and argues in favor of one of them, which he calls “ontological relativism.” According to this view, two people may disagree radically on a moral question, and yet both may be right, because each of them inhabits a different socially-constructed moral universe. Louis Pojman carefully distinguishes what he calls the diversity thesis—that moral rules differ from society to society—from ethical relativism. The diversity thesis is a straightforward description of what are acknowledged differences in the moral beliefs and practices of various human groups. But he argues that moral relativism does not follow from this diversity.
Issue: Does Morality Need Religion?
YES: C. Stephen Layman, from "Ethics and the Kingdom of God," The Shape of the Good: Christian Reflections on the Foundations of Ethics, 1991
NO: John Arthur, from "Religion, Morality, and Conscience," Morality and Moral Controversies, 1996
Philosopher C. Stephen Layman argues that morality makes the most sense from a theistic perspective and that a purely secular perspective is insufficient. The secular perspective, Layman asserts, does not adequately deal with secret violations, and it does not allow for the possibility of fulfillment of people’s deepest needs in an afterlife. Philosopher John Arthur counters that morality is logically independent of religion, although there are historical connections. Religion, he believes, is not necessary for moral guidance or moral answers; morality is social.
UNIT: Sex, Marriage, and Reproduction
Issue: Must Sex Involve Commitment?
YES: Steven E. Rhoads, from "Hookup Culture: The High Costs of a Low ‘Price’ for Sex," Society, 2012
NO: Raja Halwani, from "Casual Sex," Sex From Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia, 2005
Steven Rhoads offers evidence drawn from a variety of sources, including surveys of sexually active college students as well as research in evolutionary anthropology, to support his two main contentions: (a) casual sex is bad for society in general, and (b) casual sex is especially emotionally damaging for women. Raja Halwani first discusses the difficulties involved in defining casual sex precisely. He next examines a number of objections to casual sex, and concludes that casual sex need not be morally wrong because each of these objections involves factors that are not, for the most part, specifically intrinsic to casual sex.
Issue: Is Abortion Immoral?
YES: Mary Meehan, from "Why Liberals Should Defend the Unborn," Human Life Review, 2011
NO: Amy Borovoy, from "Beyond Choice: A New Framework for Abortion?" Dissent, 2011
Meehan argues that the unborn are exactly the kind of vulnerable population traditionally defended by liberals. She discusses a number of factors in support of this connection, such as scientific claims about when life begins, the obligations that arise from the act of conception, the disproportionate impact of abortion on poor women and women of color, and issues relating to disability rights and the environment. Borovoy argues that the traditional defense of abortion, which opposes the choice of the woman against the life of the fetus, does not effectively capture the unique experience of pregnancy, and finds inspiration for a more satisfying approach in Japanese culture, where the decision whether or not to have an abortion is contextualized in the woman’s responsibility not only to her fetus but to her family.
Issue: Is It Morally Right to Prohibit Same-Sex Marriage?
YES: Helen M. Alvaré, from "Brief of Amicus Curiae Helen M. Alvaré in Support of Hollingsworth and Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group," Supreme Court of the United States, 2013
NO: The American Psychological Associations, et al., from "Brief of Amici Curiae in Support of Affirmance," United States Supreme Court, 2013
Law professor Helen Alvaré argues that the state’s interest in promoting opposite-sex marriage stems from its interest in the procreation of children by opposite-sex married couples. Moreover, Alvaré traces the decline of marriage to the loss of traditional connections among marriage, sex, and children. State recognition of same-sex marriage would further undermine these connections and thus contribute to the destabilization of marriage, with negative repercussions to society, especially among the poor. Therefore, she argues, the state has an interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage. The American Psychological Association joins together with a number of other groups to argue that the substantial benefits that accrue to married couples should not be denied to same-sex couples. Citing evidence in favor of the ability of same-sex couples to form stable, long-lasting committed relationships, they argue that denying marriage to same-sex couples unfairly stigmatizes and discriminates against them.
Issue: Should Human Cloning Be Banned?
YES: Michael J. Sandel, from "The Ethical Implications of Human Cloning," Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 2005
NO: John A. Robertson, from "Human Cloning and the Challenge of Regulation," The New England Journal of Medicine, 1998
Political philosopher Michael J. Sandel argues that much of the talk about cloning revolves around a few limited concepts (e.g., rights, autonomy, and the supposed unnaturalness of asexual reproduction) that are inadequate and fail to express what is really wrong with cloning. We need, instead, to address fundamental questions about our stance toward nature. Law professor John A. Robertson maintains that there should not be a complete ban on human cloning but that regulatory policy should be focused on ensuring that it is performed in a responsible manner.
Unit: Law and Society
Issue: Is It Moral to Buy and Sell Human Organs?
YES: Michael Gill and Robert Sade, from "Paying for Kidneys: The Case Against Prohibition," Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 2002
NO: Kishore D. Phadke and Urmila Anandh, from "Ethics of Paid Organ Donation," Pediatric Nephrology, 2002
Michael Gill and Robert Sade argue that since there are no moral prohibitions against donating kidneys for transplantation or selling blood plasma, there should be no moral prohibition against selling kidneys for transplantation. They further argue that selling a kidney does not violate a person's dignity and that a system in which a person can receive payment for a kidney is not inherently exploitive. Kishore D. Phadke and Urmila Anandh argue that the commodification of human organs in the developing world has led not only to exploitation of the poor who sell their organs, but to impaired outcomes for the wealthy recipients. Moreover, the availability of organs for sale actually reduces the availability of organs from other sources.
Issue: Do Anti-Smoking Policies Violate Smokers' Autonomy?
YES: Lewis Maltby, from "Whose Life Is It Anyway? Employer Control of Off Duty Smoking and Individual Autonomy," William Mitchell Law Review, 2008
NO: C. R. Hooper and C. Agule, from "Tobacco Regulation: Autonomy Up in Smoke?" Journal of Medical Ethics, 2009
Lewis Maltby analyzes the growing trend among employers to reduce health-care costs by regulating their employees' off-duty behavior, including requiring employees not to smoke. He argues that this trend is intrusive and unfair, and links it to national anti-smoking policies, which, he also believes, intrude on people's right to do what they want in their own homes. Hooper and Agule address the question of whether global tobacco regulation violates the autonomy of those who choose to smoke. They argue that regulating the tobacco industry actually protects people's autonomy, since higher-order autonomy requires conditions that are only available under regulation. Indeed, they argue, nicotine addiction itself is a threat to autonomy.
Issue: Should Drugs Be Legalized?
YES: Vanessa Baird, from "Legalize Drugs - All of them!" New Internationalist, 2012
NO: Theodore Dalrymple, from "Don't Legalize Drugs," City Journal, 1997
Vanessa Baird argues that the legalization of drugs would provide many sorts of benefits: for example, crime would fall, the quality of life in inner cities would rise, and taxpayers would no longer have to pay for an unwinnable 'war on drugs". Legalizing drugs would also benefit countries where cocaine and heroin production are currently controlled by organized crime. Theodore Dalrymple stresses the harm that drugs can do and the danger of “giving up” in the “war on drugs.” He takes issue with most of the claims of the supporters of legalization, and more generally with Mill’s “harm principle”: the idea that in a free society, adults should be permitted to do whatever they please (provided that they are willing to accept the consequences of their own actions, and those actions don’t cause harm to others).
Issue: Is Affirmative Action Fair?
YES: Albert G. Mosley, from "Affirmative Action: Pro," Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Unfair Preference? 1996
NO: Roger Clegg, from "Affirmative Discrimination and the Bubble," Academic Questions, 2011
Professor of philosophy Albert G. Mosley argues that affirmative action is a continuation of the history of black progress since the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He defends affirmative action as a “benign use of race.” Roger Clegg argues that affirmative action as it is now practiced—which he calls “affirmative discrimination”—has contributed to unsustainable rapid growth (“the bubble”) in higher education as well as the reduction in quality of college education. Affirmative action in the form of preferences for minority groups, he argues, is a form of discrimination that is unfair, has negative consequences for both white and minority students, and fails to address the true problems that challenge minority students today.
Issue: Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?
YES: Robert Grant, from "Capital Punishment and Violence," The Humanist, 2004
NO: Ernest van den Haag, from "The Death Penalty Once More," UC-Davis Law Review, 1985
Robert Grant, an attorney and history instructor, argues that the death penalty does not discourage violence but instead contributes to it an escalating cycle. Retributive justice, Grant asserts, should be replaced by restorative justice in order to heal the disease of violence that afflicts our society. Professor of law Ernest van den Haag argues that the death penalty is entirely in line with the U.S. Constitution and that although studies of its deterrent effect are inconclusive; the death penalty is morally justified and should not be abolished.
Issue: Is Torture Ever Justified?
YES: Mirko Bagaric and Julie Clarke, from "Not Enough Official Torture in the World? The Circumstances in Which Torture Is Morally Justifiable," University of San Francisco Law Review, 2005
NO: Christopher Kutz, from "Torture, Necessity, and Existential Politics," California Law Review, 2007
Bagaric and Clarke remind us, first of all, that torture, although prohibited by international law, is nevertheless widely practiced. A rational examination of torture and a consideration of hypothetical (but realistic) cases show that torture is justifiable in order to prevent great harm. Torture should be regulated and carefully practiced as an information-gathering technique in extreme cases. Christopher Kutz examines the reasoning intended to justify torture in a memo produced by the Bush administration and concludes that even in extreme hypothetical cases, such reasoning is not valid because the right not to be tortured is a pre-institutional right that cannot be revoked under any circumstances.
Issue: Is Physician-Assisted Suicide Wrong?
YES: Richard Doerflinger, from "Assisted Suicide: Pro-Choice or Anti-Life?" Hastings Center Report, 1989
NO: Anthony Back and Robert Baker, et al., from "Appellate Brief of Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondents in Vacco v. Quill," Supreme Court of the United States, 1996
Admitting that religiously based grounds for the wrongness of killing an innocent person are not convincing to many people, Doerflinger argues on mainly secular grounds having to do with inconsistencies in the arguments of supporters of physician-assisted suicide. He examines the idea of autonomy, and the tendency for something like physician-assisted suicide to spread once it becomes initially accepted in a limited way. Back, Baker, and their co-authors argue that the physician’s ethical duty to relieve pain and respect patient autonomy not only justifies, but sometimes even requires, physician-assisted suicide. In order to avoid negative connotations associated with the term “suicide,” they propose using the term “physician-assisted death.” Physician-assisted death, they claim, is a right that should be available to mentally competent, terminally ill patients, while safeguards must be enacted to ensure that it is not practiced on anyone else.
Unit: Does Morality Require Vegetarianism?
Issue: Does Morality Require Vegetarianism?
YES: Nathan Nobis, from "Vegetarianism and Virtue: Does Consequentialism Demand Too Little?" Social Theory and Practice, 2002
NO: Beth K. Haile, from "Virtuous Meat Consumption: A Virtue Ethics Defense of an Omnivorous Way of Life," Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 2013
Nathan Nobis argues that utilitarianism, an ethical theory in which the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its consequences, requires us to be vegetarians and avoid the consumption of meat. According to Nobis, meat and other animal products are produced under cruel conditions, and utilitarian principles require that we should not participate in or support activities that are cruel or inflict unnecessary pain on animals. Beth Haile argues that the consumption of meat can be part of a life that seeks to cultivate virtue and avoid vice. Although the way in which our society produces meat for consumption is morally unacceptable, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about the consumption of meat. Once meat is produced in a morally acceptable way, a virtuous life can include the consumption of meat.
Issue: Is It Right to Produce Genetically Modified Food?
YES: Ronald Bailey, from "Dr. Strangelunch—Or: Why We Should Learn To Stop Worrying and Love Genetically Modified Food," Reason Magazine, 2001
NO: Michael W. Fox, from "Killer Foods: When Scientists Manipulate Genes, Better Is Not Always Best," Killer Foods, 2004
Ronald Bailey is a strong supporter of genetically modified food (GMF). He argues that it is feared by many activists, but there is no strong proof that there are any problems with it. In fact, he suggests that there are great benefits that can be provided by GMFs, especially to the world’s poor and to those suffering from natural calamities. Michael Fox is cautious about the spread of scientism and the morally blind push for technological development. This scientism, when combined with an aggressive spirit of enterprise, threatens to upset the balance of nature. We may try to rearrange natural things (including plants and animals) to serve our own purposes, but Fox believes that in this way we end up alienating ourselves from the natural world.
Issue: Are We Morally Obligated to Conserve Resources for Future Generations?
YES: Ben Dixon, from "Sustainability and Future Generations," Original Work, 1972
NO: Martin Golding, from "Limited Obligations to Future Generations," Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application, 2001
Ben Dixon describes the goals of sustainable development and argues that we are morally obligated to work toward these goals on behalf of future generations by a modified version of the Golden Rule. Martin Golding argues that obligations to others who are outside our immediate moral community would have to rest on a shared understanding of what constitutes the good. Since we cannot know how future generations will characterize the good, we cannot have obligations toward them.
Issue: Is it Ethical To Employ Service Animals?
YES: Teresa A. Savage and Nora Wenthold, from "Ethical Issues with Service Animals," Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, 2007
NO: Randy Malamud, from "Service Animals: Serve Us Animals: Serve Us, Animals," Social Alternatives, 2013
Savage and Wenthold consider the overall use of service animals to be justified. They describe, however, a number of situations in which ethical treatment of service animals requires careful consideration of the animal's strengths, limitations, and well-being. Understanding and respecting the animal's nature is a crucial and sometimes overlooked ethical requirement. Randy Malamud argues that our current attitudes toward service animals spring from speciesism, an attitude that members of certain species (such as humans) have greater value or more rights than certain other species (such as nonhumans). He is especially concerned about the extension of the practice to animals such as monkeys, parrots, and dolphins, which may derive little benefit to themselves from their association with humans.
Issue: Does Morality Require Us to Switch to Driverless Cars?
YES: Ronald Bailey, from "The Moral Case for Self-Driving Cars," Reason Magazine, 2014
NO: Will Knight, from "Driverless Cars are Further Away Than You Think," MIT Technology Review, 2013
Ronald Bailey cites studies that purport to show that the use of driverless cars will drastically reduce the number of accidents, bringing about a great reduction in injuries, deaths, and financial costs that result from accidents. Driverless cars will also revolutionize the transportation system, bringing economic and environmental benefits. For these reasons, we are morally required to change over to driverless cars as soon as they become feasible, or we will waste both money and lives. Will Knight visits a number of carmakers who caution that driverless cars are not yet ready for the consumer market. In addition to the need for smaller, less-expensive, and more capable sensors, the artificial intelligence required to make driving decisions is not yet capable of the required complexity.