What Would a
Moral Theory
Look Like?
PHIL 2525
Lec 22
Derek Parfit
Some people believe
that there cannot be
progress in Ethics,
since everything has
already been said...
I believe the
13.1 Morality
without Hubris
Timothy Vermeulen 2002
“Ah, but a man's
reach should exceed
his grasp, or what's a
heaven for?”
Carl Sagan 1934 - 1996
Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Time Charts
Pre December Dates (approximate, of course)
January 1
May 1
September 9
September 14
September 25
October 2
October 9
November 1
November 12
November 15
Big Bang
Origin of the Milky Way
Origin of the Solar System
Formation of the Earth
Origin of life on Earth
Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth
Date of oldest fossils (bacteria and blue-green algae
Invention of sex (by micro-organisms)
Oldest fossil photosynthetic plants
Eukaryotes (first cells with nuclei) flourish
From The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan
“The life of man is
of no greater
importance to the
universe than that
of an oyster.”
David Hume
Charles Darwin
We are rational beings...
We consider options
 We weigh consequences
 We choose to behave one way rather than
 We can articulate the reasons for our
Ethical Egoism:
 Psychological Egoism:
Rachels says that
egoism is not
true...we do not
always act only for
our own self
P 193: Pleasing theoretical fit...
A) What reason requires: impartiality
B) The requirements of social living: the golden
C) Our natural inclination to care about others
13.2 Treating People as They Deserve...
Remember Kant’s ‘respect for persons’
If we don’t adjust our actions to reflect
our judgments of others’ actions we may
be denying their status as free agents...
13.3 Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism
Our lives will go better if...we love our
children, enjoy our friends, take pride in
our work,
keep our
13.4 The Moral Community
13.5: Justice and fairness
The Trolley Problem...
Harvard’s Moral Sense Test
If when a man writes a
poem or commits a
murder, the bodily
movements involved in his
act result solely from
physical causes, it would
seem absurd to put up a
statue to him in the one
case and to hang him in the
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and II took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Carl Jung…
Without freedom
there can be no
Challenges to the existence
of free will
The challenge from Logic
The challenge from Theology
The challenge from Science
Daniel Dennett: Elbow Room:
The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting
Nature has
played a
trick on us.
suggests we
should grin
and bear it.
Barry Schwartz on Practical Wisdom
Jonathan Haidt o
Jonathan Haidt on
Marc Hauser on Moral Minds