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Contemporary Moral Issues

Terms in this set (355)

Louis Pojman does not think that rational persons should stick with conventionalism (i.e. cultural ethical relativism). Instead, the cultural relativist should move to individual ethical relativism, or subjectivism. He gives two reasons why this is the case. In the following list, choose the one which is not one of the reasons he gives for this move.
(Pojman, 34-35)

a. NA
b. Conventional (Cultural) ethical relativism entails disturbing judgments about the law. On this view, civil disobedience would be morally wrong, since you are acting against the norms decided by the culture. Also, if my subculture (say, the KKK) is substantial enough and if it does not like the laws in question (say, the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s) it has the moral mandate to disobey the laws. (Pojman, 33-34)
c. The conventionalist (cultural ethical relativist) has a difficult time defining the boundaries of a culture. It is simply too difficult to define "culture" or "society" to make this view of ethics reasonable. In fact, it is so difficult that a mini-subculture could be made up of five or ten people. If that is the case, a sub-culture could be made up of two people and if my partner dies then I could claim I was carrying on our moral code. (Pojman 34)
d. The moral princinciples of a culture are decided by choice. There is no other reason. If this is the foundation of morality, it seems that I should just pursue my own moral choices. What makes the culture's moral decisions better than mine? I should become a subjectivist (individual ethical relativist), since I might as well follow my choices instead of someone else's! (Pojman, 35)
The anthropologist Melville Herskovitz used the following argument to claim that ethical relativism entails intercultural tolerance:
P1. If morality is relative to its culture, then there is no independent basis for criticizing the morality of any culture but one's own.
P2. If there is no independent way of criticizing any other culture, then we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures.
P3. Morality is relative to its culture.
** Louis Pojman has problems with this argument. What is his critique of this argument?
C. Therefore, we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures.

a. There is enormous cultural diversity, and many socities have radically different moral codes. Cultural relativism (sociologically) seems to be a fact, but, even if it is, it does not by itself establish the truth of ethical relativism. Cultural diversity in itself is neutral with respect to theories. (Pojman, 36)
b. On the one hand, from the side of the society at large, civil disobedience will be morally wrong, as long as the majority culture agrees with the law in question.
c. Tolerance is certainly a virtue, but this is a bad argument for it. If morality is simply relative to each culture, then if the culture in question has no principle of tolerance (like Nazi Germany, contemporary Venezuela, or any Communist country of the 20th century), its members have no obligation to be tolerant. Herskovits treats the principle of tolerance as an absolute moral principle. This is inconsistent with his relativism.
d. The Classical Liberal political philosophers (John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, etc.) heralded these two virtues: (1) Tolerance, and (2) Circumstantial Freedom. Given the emergence of radical post-modernism it is difficult to establish the importance of these two values. This is seen in the emergence of radical Islam in the past 50 years.
The late West Point philosopher, Louis Pojman, gives the following argument by William Lane Craig:
P1) If there is no God, no moral absolute values exist.
P2) Evil exists (which is a negative absolute value and implies that the Good exists as an absolute positive value)
C) Therefore, God exists.
Pojman writes, "Craig assumes that unless God is the ultimate source and authority of morality, it cannot have absolute or objective status. But if the autonomy thesis is correct, objective moral principles exist whether or not God exists. They are the principles that enable human beings to flourish, to make life more nearly a heaven than a hell. Rational beings can discover these principles independently of God or revelation--using reason and experience alone." (Pojman, 197)
How would William Lane Craig respond to Pojman here?

The "autonomy thesis" assumes Platonism or the view that immaterial entities (abstract objects like the moral properties of goodness/rightness) float around in the universe and organisms like human beings that evolved as a result of the mindless processes of chemistry and physics can discover and know these immaterial objects. This is a much more plausible view than personal theism, which grounds immaterial entities like moral properties in a Person, and also claims that human organisms were created with the mental and ethical capacities to discern these moral truths in the universe.
First, this is the argument for God from evil. Second, the "autonomy thesis" (which claims Platonism is true) is unreasonable in light of the live option of personal theism. Thirdly, the "autonomy thesis" would not make any sense on physicalism (the most popular form of philosophical naturalism (atheism) today) since moral properties are not physical properties and the physicalist only believes in the existence of physical properties.

Craig would quote William of Occam:
"The hatred of God, theft, adultery, and actions similar to these actions according to common law, may have an evil quality annexed, in so far as they are done by a divine command to perform the opposite act. But as far as the sheer being in the actions is concerned, they can be performed by God without any evil condition annexed; and they can even be performed meritoriouslyby an earthly pilgrim if they should come under divine precepts, just as now the opposite of these in fact fall under the divine command."

Craig would quote Kant:
"[Christianity] has enriched philosophy with far more definite and purer concepts than it had been able to furnish before; but which, once they are there, are freely assented to by Reason and are assumed as concepts to which it could well have come of itself and which it could and should have introduced. . . . Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection, before we can recognize him as such."
John Hick tells the story of an ant who wakes up to find himself understanding truths of socio-biology (evolutionary theory) and finding himself possessed of free will . . . Hick says, "Suppose him to be called upon to immolate himself for the sake of the ant-hill. He feels the powerful pressure of instinct pushing him towards this self-destruction. But he asks himself why he should voluntarily . . . carry out the suicidal programme to which instinct prompts him? Why should he regard the future existence of a million million other ants as more important to him than his own continued existence? . . . Since all that he is and has or ever can have is his own present existence, surely in so far as he is free from the domination of the blind force of instinct he will opt for life--his own life."
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What is the point that theistic philosopher, John Hick, is trying to make?


We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons should not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me . . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.

A duty is something that is owed . . . . But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation . . . . The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart form the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone.

If we grant the philosophical naturalist the assumptions of atheism and naturalistic evolution (i.e. all living things and all ASPECTS of organisms are the product of the random, unguided forces of nature), then moral sentiments are probably just the product of natural selection. Based on the origin of these moral feelings, we should ignore them and save ourselves. All we have is this present life. There is no life after death. Our deeds do not "echo in eternity" as Russell Crowe said in Gladiator.

The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is 'good' in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft.
The late philosopher at West Point, Louis Pojman, thought he had cornered the Hebrew or Christian Divine Command Theorist in a corner with the "morality is arbitrary" problem that adherents of the DCT (Divine Command Theory) have. Pojman thinks that there is no way around the moral instability that would result if the DCT is true. Many problems surface. For instance, Pojman thinks that the Divine Command Theorist is left with the epistemic problem of figuring out if the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (i.e. the Bible) are true. Also, if morality is arbitrary then moral commands from God might be the same as moral commands from the devil (depending upon the day). Finally, a God of love seems inconsistent with the ability to make it right to rape, torture, and kill people. (Pojman, Discovering Right and Wrong, p. 196)
What does your instructor (C.R. Hammons) think about Pojman's analysis?

Pojman is blowing rhetorical smoke on his readers. In fact, he alludes to the answer (the third way out of the Euthyphro Dilemma) in his accusation. Pojman says that the Christian is committed to the view that God is love (I John 4:7-8), and your instructor thinks that is the key for the Christian to know that God's character can be trusted to design morality so that it is not just arbitrary, but intelligently designed so that what is right and good allows human beings to flourish.
Pojman is right on when he says the Divine Command Theorist must claim that Auschwitz could be considered God's loving act to the Jews.
Pojman does a great job of presenting all three ways out of the Euthyphro Dilemma and he is fair to his opponents. He does a wonderful job of showing how these really tough epistemic problems should destroy the faith of believers.
Pojman's speculations are real worries that Jews, Muslims, and Christians must deal with before they can rationally believe in theism.
Christian philosopher George Mavrodes leveled three arguments against the atheist Bertrand Russell and others who think it is possible to establish a secular ethics (without God). These arguments are popular arguments theists use against atheistic ethical theories. Which of the following is not one of the arguments a theist like Mavrodes would use against an atheist like Russell?

Secular morality makes people believe that pornography and prostitution are good things.

The Russellian world of secular morality can't satisfactorily answer the question "Why should I be moral?" for, on its account, the common goods, at which morality in general aims, are often just those that we sacrifice in carrying out our moral obligations. Why should we sacrifice our welfare or self-interest for our moral duty?
Secular ethics is an oddity. It is superficial and not deeply rooted. It seems to lack the necessary metaphysical basis afforded by a Platonic worldview (i.e., the view that reality and value essentially exist in a transcendent realm) or a Judeo-Christian worldview.
"Values and obligations cannot be deep in such a [secular] world. What is deep in a Russellian world must be such things as matter and energy, or perhaps natural law, chance, or chaos. If it really were a fact that one had obligations in a Russellian world, then something would be laid upon man that might cost a man everything but that went no further than man. And that difference from a Platonic world seems to make all the difference."
Many argue that American Law seems contradictory when it comes to the questions of abortion and the personhood/value of the fetus. Which of the following is not something cited in your instructor's lecture (PowerPoint) to illustrate the contradictory nature of the legal status of fetuses in America?


In certain rulings, the Supreme Court conferred legal rights on (mostly) inanimate entities such as valleys, alpine meadows, beaches, and ridges; yet, at the same time, human fetuses are denied the same legal rights.
Connor's Law makes "feticide" (or the killing of a fetus by a third-party) equivalent to murder. Yet, abortion rights law claims that if the mother desires for the fetus to be eliminated, the doctor performing the abortion is not charged with "feticide." Problem Case: What if the woman driving to an abortion clinic (with the intent to have her pregnancy terminated) is killed? Should we charge her killer with feticide if the mother didn't intend for that fetus to live?

So-called "dead beat dad" laws force biological fathers to pay child support. Women can choose to have an abortion after sex. Men do not have that choice. Is it fair to stick men with the financial burden of a child when no choice (post-pregnancy) is available?
Pre-Natal Child Abuse. In some states, the state can intervene or collect damages for the child if the mother's lifestyle harms the fetus. Ironically, this is contingent upon the fetus being born. If the mother makes fetus-harming choices (e.g. smoking crack, unsafe sex, etc.), and ends up aborting the fetus, she will avoid all charges of pre-natal abuse.