Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Caucus Q's Answered: 12 PM Section

1. According to Strawson, are we morally responsible for the pre-determined circumstances that we are born into?  Should we assume responsibility for what we cannot control?
Note that Strawson is working with a very strong kind of moral responsibility such that heaven or hell can be justified.  Strawson thinks that we lack such moral responsibility exactly because we cannot cause ourselves enough.  We are not the cause of the circumstances that we are born into, for example.  Because we cannot cause ourselves in important ways, we lack moral responsibility for these things.  In short, no, we are not responsible for the circumstances that we are born into.

2. Can you explain incompatibalism and determinism?  I am unsure about incompatibalism and compatibalism.

This question was addressed in #6 from last week's questions.  I have added some detail to my answer from last week!

3. What is the difference between the formal and informal argument for the different principle?
Rawls gives two arguments for the Difference Principle.  First is his formal argument.  This is the argument that when we are in the original position, it is only a matter of rational choice that we will choose the difference principle.  According to the maximin rule, which says that we should make the worst position in society as good as possible, it is only rational to choose the difference principle.  Because we could end up in the worst position, it is only rational to want any differences in power to benefit that worst position in society.  Second is is informal argument.  Because where in society we are born is arbitrary from a moral point of view, we should not give our rewards and benefits based on lucky facts about when and where we are born.  Extra power and wealthy should thus not be distributed based on lucky factors.  Benefits should be distributed in ways that benefit everyone, not just lucky people.

4. What is a utilitarian definition of well-being?
The classic forms of utilitarianism focus on happiness as well-being.  A simple version is that our pleasures outweigh our pains.  We want to maximize net pleasure and minimize net pains.  On a historical note,   John Stuart Mill thought that there were two ways to decide what the best kinds of happiness were.  First, the best pleasures are those that are associated with the mind.  For example, it is better to have pleasure while playing sudoku than to have pleasure while eating ice cream.  Second, we can determine which pleasures are best by performing a democratic poll.  The pleasures that the most people like are the best pleasures.  Of course, these two methods may end up with conflicting details.  

5. Would a Kantian theory of a good will be an adequate rebuttal to Scanlon's view that having reasons for your actions makes you morally responsible?
It seems to me that these views are actually very similar.  They identify moral responsibility as having a certain kind of mental state.  For Kant, you must have a good will and act in ways that follow universalizable laws.  You are morally responsible because of a certain mental state you have.  Similarly, Scanlon says that if you have reasons for your actions, you can be held morally responsible.  If you have reasons to do a good thing, you are morally good.  If you have reasons to do a bad thing, you are morally bad.  

But we can imagine an instance where someone has both a good will and they perform a bad action.  For example, if you honestly tell a Nazi officer that you are hiding Jews in your attic.  You both have (a) a good will and (b) reasons to do a bad thing.  According to Kant, you are morally good because you had a good will.   According to Scanlon, you are morally bad because you have reasons to perform a bad action.  The two certainly disagree.  Whether this is an adequate rebuttal depends on whether you can accept that we can be morally good even when we perform actions that have terrible consequences.  

6. Do we give credit to people who do good?  We focus so much on the negative.  Also, do we consider a person's successes or also on the opportunities given to them?
Well, we often focus on negative cases because they are often very clear.  Perhaps we can try to work with some positive examples.  It seems that we would consider not only success but whether that success came as a result of ample opportunities or whether it came in spite of very little opportunity to succeed.

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