Two Online Courses 9 WEEKS OF WORK

Table of Contents

Two Online Courses
Two Online Courses

All work must be done to get the total payment I will pay each week or a down payment and the final payment after 9 weeks. I have an ethics course and a business course that need to be completed online.  I am in the hospital and cannot keep up. I am looking for someone with online course experience that can take over and do it with little help from me with the exception of paying you for the good grade  the syllabi are attached.

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper

Course Requirements

There will be four criteria for evaluating your grade in the course:

Reading Journal: 25%

Essay: 20%

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper

Quizzes: 30% (3 @ 10% each)

Blog entries and comments: 25%

Reading Journal:

You will be required to keep a journal each week and submit it to the instructor for grading and feedback. The journal will consist of reflections and interactions with the texts that were assigned for reading during that week.

Unless otherwise specified, the texts for the reading journals will be the reading on the syllabus for the upcoming week. This means that you will generally write on texts which we have not yet discussed in our weekly forums. This work serves two purposes: (1) An evaluative tool for Prof. Moyer to track the progress of reading in conjunction with the other work reliant on that reading; and (2) to challenge the student to critically, thoughtfully, and dialogically engage with the readings in written form.

Each reading journal will be 600 words in length, unless amended downward by Prof. Moyer.

Format and style: While the reading journals should be written informally, they should demonstrate good grammar and style, which means that they should be edited, proofread, and minimally revised. The relevant texts should be cited appropriately according to either APA or MLA format (the student’s choice), but no bibliography is needed.

The content of the reading journals is largely left to the judgment of the student and her creative, thoughtful, dialogical interaction with the text. That said, each journal must demonstrate a familiarity with the text and an honest and thoughtful attempt to think through the ideas of the text. 

Each journal must engage with specific parts of the text, and include short quotations to support and exemplify the student’s reading of the text. Each journal must attempt to make connections with previous conversations and texts, in the service of allowing the student to critically develop her voice in a free but rigorous writing context.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, reading journals may not be submitted after their due date.

Discussion/blog entries and comments:

Once per week students will contribute entries to the ‘Discussion Board’ available on Blackboard 9.1 for that week. Each week, I will develop prompts for the blog entries, based on our readings, earlier discussions, and other activities for that week. Entries will vary in length (usually between 450 and 750 words), and will ask students to engage specific questions and activities for that week.

In addition to students’ own blog entries, each student will be required to substantively comment on the entries of two other students (in comments of no less than 200 words). Finally, each student will be required to comment on at least one other student’s comment on another student’s entry. (in a comment of no less than 200 words).

To summarize, each week students will contribute the following to our blog:

1. A primary entry of the student’s own creation (usually between 450 and 750 words).

2. Two comments on other students’ primary entries (no less than 200 words).

3. At least one comment on the comment of another student (no less than 200 words).

Except in extraordinary circumstances, discussion/blog entries may not be submitted after their due date.


Students will write a five-page essay, due no later than 4:59pm on Wednesday of finals week. Details of the essay will be discussed in class, and a rubric and instructions distributed. The goal of the essay will be to synthesize concepts and work of the class in a critical application to students’ personal and social contexts.


There will be three quizzes throughout the term. They will consist of short answer questions and one or two essay questions. The quizzes will be made available on the Tuesday of weeks 4, 7, and 10, and must be completed no later than 11:59pm on the Friday of each of those weeks. Each quiz will be worth 10% of the course grade.

BA 206

Principles of Management

Course Syllabus


The scope of this course will be to introduce you to the concepts, terminology, principles, and theories which are the substance of management.  This course will analyze and synthesize historical and current theories in leadership, group processes, organizational structures, personnel policies, motivation and training that allow an individual to plan, organize, staff, direct and control resources in an organization.


MGMT5, Chuck Williams,

Articles and readings as assigned.

In addition to the class website all students must have FULL internet access.

A copy of the textbook is on reserve in the library.

Performance Based Learner Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of the course, the student should be able to: 

1. List the general duties and responsibilities of a manager. 

2. List and describe the characteristics of group behavior such as formal and informal groups, group pressure, and intergroup conflict.

3. Describe in your own words, a systematic approach to planning and decision making.

4. Describe and evaluate different organizational structures.

5. List the functions of, and current problems in, personnel.

6. List and describe the current theories of leadership style, training and motivating subordinates.

7. Explain creativity and how the manager might create an environment conducive to creativity.

8. List and describe why people are resistant to change and the ways that a manager can deal with change.


Syllabus Review 15

Video Case Studies (2 @ 50 points 100**

Discussion Questions (3 @ 25 points) 75**

*Exam #1 Chapters 1-5 100**

*Exam #2 Chapters 6-10 100**

*Exam #3 Chapters 11-15 100**

*Exam #4 Chapters 16-18 100**

*Exam#5 Chapters 1-18 100**

Total Possible Points590

* If a student chooses to do all five exams, the highest four scores will be used.

**This class adheres to the Student Rights and Responsibilities document, found in the Chemeketa’s catalog. Academic honesty is an indispensable value as students acquire knowledge and develop skills in college. Students are expected to practice academic honesty by not cheating, plagiarizing, or misrepresenting their coursework in any way.

Students are ultimately responsible for understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty whether such incidences are intentional or unintentional. Violations will result in failure of an assignment and/or failure of the course. Plagiarism, collusion, and other forms of misrepresentation hurt the student and run counter to the goals of education.

Grading for this course is weighted as follows:

90% or higher = A 89.9% to 80% = B 59.9% to 50 % = F

79.9% to 70% = C              69.9% to 60% = D

No incomplete or ‘I’ grade will be received unless there are extraordinary circumstances discussed with the instructor by Monday of the fourth week of the term and 90% of the coursework completed.


Assigned Work: All work/exams that are submitted for grading are listed under each Weeks’ “Assigned Work” heading. To access this, go to each week and scroll down until you see the Assigned Work heading. Click on that and you will see listed what is due for that week. The due dates/times are also contained in the Coursework Calendar. If the activity/exam/quiz/etc. is not listed under Assigned Work heading it is OPTIONAL.

Syllabus Review: For success in this course, it is important to read the syllabus and understand course expectations. After reading the syllabus, you will receive 15 points by posting the statement you understand course requirements. This can be found under the Week One area under the “Assigned Work” heading. To receive credit, this must be submitted by Saturday, April 6.

Reading:  The textbook is a required component of this course and is needed beginning the first day of the term.  Delay in acquiring the text will impact success in the course. Students are responsible for the content and cannot participate in this course without the text or access code. 

The reading, understanding the learning objectives, terminology, summaries along with the questions at the end of each chapter should be completed by Saturday of the assigned week. These items (end of chapter questions and quizzes) will not be submitted to the instructor but will help your understanding of the course materials and to be successful on the midterm and final exams. 

Extra Credit: Extra credit is not given in this course. The key to success is to carefully follow all directions given and observe the due dates.

Participation/Expectations: For an engaging classroom experience, everyone must participate as a productive team member. This includes contributing to an effective learning environment as well as demonstrating self-awareness and practicing effective interpersonal skills.

This also means making yourself available and accessible to participate in online discussions and activities. Moreover, this is a safe environment in which to discuss topics and other related issues. Everyone is expected to respect the opinions and comments of others.

In addition, this course relies on the ability to read and effectively articulate responses to both discussion questions and assigned work. If writing is not your strength, I strongly encourage you to contact Chemeketa’s online writing center. The writing center link is located in the Web Links (eLearn) tab. Keep in mind this is a business course.

Writing is an important component to business communication. Submitting work in a professional manner is both required and expected. Casual writing, as if you are text messaging a friend or family member, is unacceptable. I encourage you to use the spell and grammar check feature, found in your word processing program, to review work prior to posting.

Further, I reserve the right to refuse grading illegible and incomplete assignments. I reserve the right to request proof substantiating any unexpected situations which may arise. If an issue arises with points on assignments, you have one week after points are posted to ask for clarification.

Discussion Questions: During the term, three discussion questions will be posted. Each post responding to the question must be no less than 250 words. Questions and sources are not included in the word count. For your response to the question include at least one source, using Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) format, to support discussion question responses.

Responses to your peer posts should be no less than 100 words. Also you will be graded on responding to the question by Wednesday of the discussion week period and actively participating in the discussion with your classmates throughout the discussion week (M-F). To receive credit on discussion question assignments, use the following criteria:

· Submit discussion question response on or before due date (Wednesday of discussion week).

· Provide at least one source using Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) format, to support and defend discussion question response. Information on MLA and APA format can be found on the Chemeketa Writing Center website.

· Cite source(s) both in-text and list source(s), full-text, at end of post.

· Providing sources to support peers’ responses is optional. However, if you include sources properly cite them.

· Post discussion question responses in message boxnot as attachments. I will not read posts submitted as attachments.

· Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Discussion Question Rubric

Reminder: Please log in and participate on at least three different days, starting no later than Wednesday initially responding to the discussion question.

Objective/CriteriaPerformance Indicators
No participation/ Unsatisfactory ParticipationNeeds ImprovementSatisfactoryProficient
Frequency of Participation(0 points) Did not participate or participated unsatisfactorily(1 points) Participated on only one day instead of the required three and/or did not post response to discussion question by Wednesday(3 points) Participated on only two days instead of the required three and/or did not post response to discussion question by Wednesday(5 points) Participated on three days or more and posted initial response to discussion question by Wednesday
Quality of Contribution(0 points) Did not participate or participated unsatisfactorily(5 points) Initial response to discussion question was not posted by assigned date, posts are present, but lack substantial content; less than 250 words for response to question, less than 100 words for responses to classmates posts; no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly or participated unsatisfactorily(8 points) Initial response to the discussion question completed by Wednesday is a minimum of 250 words; posts are present and contribute to the class discussion; however, one or more posts may be somewhat lean in content; more than one post less than required 100 words for responses to classmates posts; no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly(10 points) All posts offer substantial contributions; posts are well-developed paragraphs; outside sources used and cited correctly
Grammar/Spelling/Etc.(0 points) Several spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs or participated unsatisfactorily(5 points) Some spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs(8 points) Few spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs(10 points) Minimal spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs
 out of 25  

Video Case Studies:Two online video cases will be assigned during the term. The video case studies and questions will be viewed in the respective week under the “Assigned Work” heading. To receive credit for case studies, use the following criteria:

· Review Video Case Study Rubric

· Provide name and assignment question(s).

· Answers should total no less than 600 words excluding citations.

· Provide, at minimum, two different sources, using MLA or APA format, to support answer(s).

· Cite sources in-text and list sources, full-text, at end of paper.

· Information on MLA or APA format can be found on the Chemeketa Online Writing Center website.

· Submit paper in either Word (doc/docx) or rich text file (RTF) format.

· Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Post your responses, as attachments, in the designated area found in the respective week Assigned Work heading. Each written assignment is worth 50 points. Allow up to one week for points to post. If you have a dispute or question with regard to points received, you have one week, after points are posted to discuss.The following scoring guide will be used to determine points:

Video Case Study Rubric

Objective/CriteriaPerformance Indicators
No participation/ Unsatisfactory ParticipationNeeds ImprovementSatisfactoryProficient
Quality of Contribution(0 points) Did not submit assignment(10 points) Assignment submitted, but lacks substantial content; less than 600 words and/or no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly(20 points) Assignment submitted; demonstrated partial understanding of content; less than 600 words; no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly(30 points) Assignment demonstrated thorough understanding of the case study and questions; outside sources used and cited correctly
Grammar/Spelling/Etc.(0 points) Several spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs or did not participate(10 points) Some spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs(16 points) Few spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs(20 points) Minimal spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs
 out of 50  

Due Dates/Times:  All due dates/times for assignments, tests, readings, etc. are contained on the Coursework page and are Pacific Standard Time (PST)

Use of Sources: It is important to cite work used in short essay assignments and in discussion questions. If I can’t find where sources are used and/or credit is not given to sources, you will receive a zero for the assignment and possibly an F in the course (see Academic Honesty policy). An opportunity will not be given to redo work.

Exams: You will have randomly selected multiple choice question exams to reinforce your knowledge of chapter concepts and terms. Exams are located on the course homepage under the Assessmentstab. One hour and 45 minutes is allotted for exams. With the exception of the fifth exam, exams are available for one week. It is recommended you take exams as early as possible. 

Four of the five exams are required in the course. If all five exams are completed, the four highest scores will be used to calculate the final grade. It is your responsibility to observe the due dates and times for the exams, as late exams will not be evaluated, therefore no credit earned.  The exams are due 11:59 p.m. (PST) of the due date assigned. Extensions are already built into this timeframe and will not be given. 

Afather’s greatest pleasure:

Pride in his children’s character Joy in their company

To my darlings

Max and Sophie

CONTENTS . . . . . . . . . ……. . . . . . . . . .

Acknowledgments xii

A Note on the Companion Volume xiii

A Note to Readers xiv


The Lay of the Land

Ethical Starting Points 3

Moral Reasoning 5

The Role of Moral Theory 12

LookingAhead 14


The Good Life 17

L Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 18 Happiness and Intrinsic Value 18

The Attractions of Hedonism 21

There Are Many Models of a Good Life 21

Personal Authority and Well-Being 22 Misery Clearly Hampers a Good Life; Happiness Clearly

Improves It 22

The Limits of Explanation 23


V CONTENTS Contents v

Rules of the Good Life-and Their Exceptions 24

Happiness Is W hat We Want for Our Loved Ones 25

2. Is Happiness All That Matters? 27 The Paradox of Hedonism 27

Evil Pleasures 28

1he Two Worlds 29

False Happiness 31

The Importance of Autonomy 32

Life’s Trajectory 34

Unhappiness as a Symptom of Harm 35 Conclusion 36

3. Getting What You Want 38 A Variety of Good Lives 39 Personal Authority 39 Avoiding Objective Values 40 Motivation 41

Justifying the Pursuit of Self-Interest 42

Knowledge of the Good 43

4. Problems for the Desire Theory 45 Getting W hat You Want May Not Be Necessary for Promoting

Your Good 45 Getting W hat You Want May Not Be Sufficient for Promoting Your Good 46

Desires Based on False Beliefs 46

Disinterested and Other-Regarding Desires 47

Passing Fancies 48

Disappointment 49

Ignorance of Desire Satisfaction 50

Impoverished Desires 50

The Paradox of Self-Harm and Self-Sacrifice 51

The Fallibility of Our Deepest Desires 52

Conclusion 53


Doing the Right Thing 57

5. Morality and Religion 58


Three Assumptions About Religion and Morality 58 First Assumption: Religious Belief Is Needed for Moral

Motivation 58

Second Assumption: God Is the Creator of Morality Third Assumption: Religion Is an Essential Source of Moral


Guidance 65

Conclusion 69

6. Natural Law 71 The Theory and Its Attractions 71

Two Conceptions of Human Nature 75

Human Nature Is What Is Innately Human 75

Human Nature Is What All Humans Have in Common 77

Natural Purposes 78

The Argument from Humanity 82

Conclusion 85

7. Psychological Egoism 86 Egoism and Altruism 86

The Argument from Our Strongest Desires 89

The Argument from Expected Benefit 92

The Argument from Avoiding Misery 94

Two Egoistic Strategies 95

Appealing to the Guilty Conscience 95

Expanding the Realm afSelf-Interest 96

Letting the Evidence Decide 97

Conclusion 98

8. Ethical Egoism 100 Why Be Moral? 101

Two Popular Arguments for Ethical Egoism 104

The Self-Reliance Argument 104

The Libertarian Argument 105

The Best Argument for Ethical Egoism 106

Three Problems for Ethical Egoism 108

Egoism Violates Core Moral Beliefs 109

Egoism Cannot Allow for the Existence of Moral Rights 109

Egoism Arbitrarily Assigns Priority to Self-Interest 110

Conclusion 111

Contents vii

9. Consequentialism: Its Nature and Attractions 112 The Nature of Consequentialism 114

Its Structure 114

Maximizing Goodness 115 Moral Knowledge 116

Actual versus Expected Results 117 Assessing Actions and Intentions 118

The Attractions of Utilitarianism 119

Impartiality 119

The Ability to Justify Conventional Moral Wisdom 120

Conflict Resolution 121

Moral Flexibility 122

The Scope of the Moral Community 123

10. Consequentialism: Its Difficulties 125 Measuring Well-Being 125

Utilitarianism Is Very Demanding 129

Deliberation 129

Motivation 129

Action 131

Impartiality 133

No Intrinsic Wrongness (or Rightness) 134

The Problem ofInjustice 136

Potential Solutions to the Problem ofInjustice 137

Justice Is Also Intrinsically Valuable 137 Injustice Is Never Optimific 138 Justice Must Sometimes Be Sacrificed 139

Rule Consequentialism 140

Conclusion 143

1 L The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice 144 Consistency and Fairness

Morality and Rationality lSI


The Principle of Universalizability 147

Assessing the Principle of Universalizability 154

Integrity 155

Kant on Absolute Moral Duties 156


12. The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy and Respect 158 The Principle of Humanity 159

The Importance of Rationality and Autonomy 161

The Good Will and Moral Worth 163

Five Problems with the Principle of Humanity 165

Vagueness 166

Determining Just Deserts 166

Are We Autonomous? 169

MoralLuck 171

The Scope of the Moral Community 172

Conclusion 174

13. The Social Contract Tradition: The Theory and Its Attractions 176 The Lure of Proceduralism 176

The Background of the Social Contract Theory 177

The Prisoner’s Dilemma 178

Cooperation and the State of Nature 181

The Advantages of Contractarianism 183

Morality Is Essentially a Social Phenomenon 183

It Explains and Justifies the Content of the Basic Moral Rules 183

It Offers a Method for Justifying Every Moral Rule 184

It Explains the Objectivity of Morality 185 It Explains W hy It Is Sometimes Acceptable to Break the Moral

Rules 185

More Advantages: Morality and the Law 186 Contractarianism Justifies a Basic Moral Duty to Obey

the Law 186

The Contractarian Justification of Legal Punishment 186

Contractarianism Justifies the States Role in Criminal Law 187

Contractarianism and Civil Disobedience 188

14. The Social Contract Tradition: Problems and Prospects 190 Why Be Moral? 190

The Role of Consent 194

Disagreement Among the Contractors 197

Contents ix

The Scope of the Moral Community 198

Conclusion 201

15. Ethical Pluralism and Absolute Moral Rules 202 The Structure of Moral Theories 202

Is Torture Always Immoral? 203 Preventing Catastrophes 205

The Doctrine of Double Effect 206

A Reply to the Argument from Disaster Prevention 208

How the DDE Threatens Act Consequentialism 208

Distinguishing Intention from Foresight 209

Moral Conflict and Contradiction 211

Is Moral Absolutism Irrational? 212

The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing 214

Conclusion 218

16. Ethical Pluralism: Prima Facie Duties and Ethical Particularism 220 Ross’s Ethic of Prima Facie Duties 220 The Advantages of Ross’s View 222

Pluralism 222

We Are Sometimes Permitted to Break the Moral Rules 222

Moral Conflict 223

Moral Regret 224

Addressing the Anti-Absolutist Arguments 224

A Problem for Ross’s View 225 Knowing the Fundamental Moral Rules 226

Skepticism 227

Coherentism 227

Self-Evidence 229

Self-Evidence and the Testing of Moral Theories 230

Knowing the Right Thing to Do 231 Ethical Particularism 233

Three Problems for Ethical Particularism 235

Its Lack of Unity 235

Accounting for Moral Knowledge 236

Some Things Possess Permanent Moral Importance 237

Conclusion 238


17. Virtue Ethics 240 The Standard of Right Action 241

Moral Complexity 242

Moral Understanding 243

Moral Education 245

The Nature of Virtue 246

Virtue and the Good Life 248

Objections 249

Tragic Dilemmas 250

Does Virtue Ethics Offer Adequate Moral Guidance? 251

Is Virtue Ethics Too Demanding? 253

Who Are the Moral Role Models? 254

Conflict and Contradiction 254

The Priority Problem 256

Conclusion 258

18. Feminist Ethics 259 The Elements of Feminist Ethics 259

Moral Development 261

Women’s Experience 262

The Ethics of Care 265

The Importance of Emotions 266

Against Unification 267

Against Impartiality and Abstraction 268

Against Competition 268 Downplaying Rights 269

Challenges for Feminist Ethics 270

Conclusion 272


The Status of Morality 275

19. Ethical Relativism 276 Moral Skepticism 276

Two Kinds of Ethical Relativism 278 Some Implications of Ethical Subjectivism and Cultural

Relativism 279

Contents xi

Moral Infallibility 279

Moral Equivalence 280

No Intrinsic Value 280

Questioning Our Own Commitments 281

Moral Progress 281

Contradiction and Disagreement 283 Ideal Observers 288

Conclusion 291

20. Moral Nihilism 292 Error Theory 292

Expressivism 297

How Is It Possible to Argue Logically About Morality? 300

Expressivism and Amoralists 301

The Nature of Moral Judgment 301

Conclusion 303

21. Ten Arguments Against Moral Objectivity 305 1. Objectivity Requires Absolutism 306

2. All Truth Is Subjective 307

3. Equal Rights Imply Equal Plausibility 308

4. Moral Objectivity Supports Dogmatism 309

5. Moral Objectivity Supports Intolerance 310

6. Moral Disagreement Undermines Moral Objectivity 312

7. Atheism Undermines Moral Objectivity 313 8. The Absence of Categorical Reasons Undermines Moral

Objectivity 315

9. Moral Motivation Undermines Moral Objectivity 316

10. Values Have No Place in a Scientific World 318

Conclusion 321

References R-I

Suggestions for Further Reading FR-l

Glossary G-l

Index I-I


………. ,… …… . .

T hiS book took me an unusually long time to write. Then, when it was written, my wonderful editor Robert Miller (and his terrific assistants, Yelena Bromberg and Christina Mancuso) commis­

sioned a number of fine philosophers to tell me what was wrong with it. And they did. If you know philosophers, you know that they are experts at finding the weak spots, the vulnerable points in a presentation or discus­ sion. There were plenty of these in earlier drafts, as well as missed oppor­ tunities to expand or clarify things. (I am sure that many remain, but to take all of the good advice I received would have meant a book twice as long as the one you are about to begin.)

The initial drafts were pure plea­ sure. The revisions were not. But pain can lead to better things; it certainly did in this case. In the pages to come you’ll be spared a number of errors, and led to points of greater interest, thanks to the sharp inSights of Ralph Baergen. Stacy Bautista, Tom Carson, Michael Cholbi, David Detmer, Matthew Eshelman, Steve Finlay, Dan Hausman, Richard Haynes, Ryan Hickerson, and Keith Allen Korcz. I am very grateful for the dozens of constructive suggestions they sent my way.

Special thanks go to Tyler Doggett, Christian Miller, and David Sobel. Each of these terrific philosophers devoted an extraordinary amount of seri­ ous attention to my manuscript. Their detailed advice nudged me in the direc­ tion of many improvements; I’m slightly terrified to think of the scope of my indebtedness, and hope to flee the country before being called to repay it.

When my children were small, I would sometimes take a moment to remind myself of how lucky I was. My kids were healthy. And they were adorable. But I was sure that our joys together would be short-lived. I expected my sweet little children to turn into sullen and alienated teens, moping around the house and maintaining complete radio silence. That’s a good description of me, some thirty years ago, and I just assumed that my son and daughter would follow suit. They didn’t. I’ve never been happier to have been proven wrong.

This book is dedicated to my beautiful children, Max and Sophie.


Madison, Wisconsin Autumn 2009



. . . . . . . . . . ……. . . . . . . … .

T here are two kinds of introductory books. One is the sort that you have in your hand right now. It’s one person’s take on the subject, and your fate, dear reader, depends on how reliable and engaging

that author happens to be. I have tried to be both, but you will have to be the judge of that. There are benefits to a single-authored book. At its best, you’ll get a coherent narrative that draws connections between various discussions. You’ll be handed the important highlights, be introduced to the really big ideas, and get an accurate take on the lay of the land.

But there is another approach, equally valid. And that is to hear what the major figures in the area have to say, to familiarize yourself with the original voices in the field. For those with an interest in going this route, I have put together a companion volume, The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, which allows you to do just that.

The Ethical Life gathers together readings from nearly forty authors on the main subjects that are covered here. There are many entries on the good life, on the central ethical theories, and on the status of morality. There are also twenty additional readings on pressing moral problems, such as the death penalty, terrorism, abortion, torture, animal rights, etc.

The Ethi­ cal Life can be read with profit on its own, as a way of introducing you to the major issues, questions, and views within moral philosophy. There are many resources that can help readers through that book-introductions to each reading, study questions, sample quiz and essay questions, sugges­ tions for further reading, and a website with lots of extra materials.

The fullest introduction to ethics would include both of these approaches. The Ethical Life will give you lots of primary sources, and Fun­ damentals can help you to place them in context, clearly setting out their ideas and providing some critical evaluation of their strengths and weak­ nesses. For those who are content to take my word for it, Fundamentals will be enough.

For those who want to see what other philosophers have to say about these important matters, The Ethical Life might be a good place to start. And for those of you attracted by both approaches, a dip into each might be worth your while. Each book was composed with the other in mind; each is designed to work nicely in tandem with the other, and to offer a different perspective that can round out our understanding of how we should live.



….. ….. ,….. …… … .

T hiS book is divided into three parts-one on the good life, another on the major approaches to our moral duties, and the last on the status of morality. You can read them in any order. Many will want

to begin at the end, for instance, with a discussion of whether morality is a human invention, or is in some way objective. Some will prefer to start in the middle, asking about the supreme principle of morality (and whether there is any such thing).

Each part can be understood independently of the others, though there are naturally many points of connection across the three main branches of moral philosophy. No matter where you begin, there are footnotes in almost every chapter that provide cross-references to relevant discussions elsewhere in the book.

When beginning a new area of study, you’re bound to encounter some unfamiliar jargon. I’ve tried to keep this to a minimum, and I suppose that you can be thankful that we’re doing ethics here, rather than physics or anatomy. I define each technical term when I first use it, and have also put together a glossary, which is placed at the end of the book. Each special­ ized term that appears in boldface has an entry there.

You may be interested enough in what you read here that you’ll want to continue your studies in moral philosophy. There is a natural place to begin­ the companion volume to this book, The Ethical Life, described on the previ­ ous page. I have also compiled a list of suggestions for further reading for each chapter or pair of chapters. These appear at the end of the book, just before the glossary. I have selected the readings with an eye to what might be acces­ sible and interesting to those just beginning their study of moral philosophy.

The last bit of advice I have is this: please don’t skip the introduction. It explains the nature of ethics and its various subfields. It discusses some important starting points of moral thinking. It also takes you through the elements of moral reasoning, which will come in handy as you make your way through this book.

There is so much that is fascinating about ethics. This tempts a textbook author to go on and on. And yet there are page limits that must be respected. Deciding what to keep and what to leave on the editing floor has been a real challenge. Perhaps you think that the balance hasn’t always been well struck. Perhaps you find certain discussions unclear or boring. I’d like to know about this. The best way to get in touch is by e-mail:

INTRODUCTION . …. …. ,…… …….. .

The Lay of the Land There is so much to know about our world. And for those who are the least bit curious, we have more resources than ever to give us the insights we seek. We can turn to a variety of scientists, doctors, economists, historians, and journal­ ists to help us better understand ourselves, our world, and our place within it.

But there is a set of vital questions that such experts will never answer. These are questions about how we ought to live. Sure, financial advisors can tell us how we ought to invest our money. Personal trainers can advise us on getting in shape. Career counselors can steer us in one direction or another.

But if we are interested instead in what our guiding ideals should be, in what sort of life is worth living, in how we should treat one another, then we must turn to philosophy. Ethics-also known as moral philosophy-is the branch of knowledge concerned with answering such questions.

The field of ethics is vast, and-bad news first-there is no chance of covering all of its interesting and important issues within these pages. In selecting the topics for treatment, I have chosen those that seem to me most central. These can be grouped under three headings, each represent­ ing a core area of moral philosophy:

1. Value theoryl; What is the good life? What is worth pursuing for its own sake? How do we improve our lot in life?

l All technical terms and phrases that appear in boldface are defined in the glossary at the end of the book.


2. Normative ethics: What are our fundamental moral duties? What kinds of actions are required if we hope to behave ethically? How should we relate to one another? Which character traits count as virtues, which as vices, and why? Who should our role models be? Do the ends always justify the means, or are there certain types of action that should never be done under any circumstances?

3. Metaethics: What is the status of moral claims and advice? Can ethical theories, moral principles, or specific moral verdicts be true? If so, what makes them true? Can we gain moral wisdom? If so, how? Do we always have good reason to do our moral duty?

The structure of this book mirrors this three-fold division. The first part is focused on value theory, which is that area of ethics concerned with identifying what is valuable in its own right, and explaining the nature of well-being. We ask, for instance, about whether happiness is the be-all and end-all of a good life, the only thing desirable for its own sake. And, naturally, we’ll consider views that deny this, including, most importantly, the theory that tells us that getting what we want-whatever we want-is the key to the good life.

Then it’s off to normative ethics, which is devoted to explaining the essence of our moral relations with one another (and with ourselves, on some theories). Who counts-are animals, ecosystems, or fetuses morally important in their own right? Is there a fundamental moral rule, such as the golden rule, that can account for all of our specific moral duties?

What role do virtue, self-interest, and justice play in the moral standards that govern our behavior? Are we ever allowed to break the moral rules? If so, when and why? These are among the most important questions taken up in normative ethics.

Finally, to metaethics. This part of moral philosophy asks questions about the other two. Specifically, it asks about the status of ethical claims, rather than about their content. We all have views about what is right and good. Are these merely personal expressions of taste?

Is moral authority based on personal approval? Social customs? God’s commands? Or none of the above? Is morality in more or less good working order, or is it just a convenient fiction that keeps us in our place? These are the questions that we will take up in the last section of the book.

There is no shortage of folks offering advice about these matters. The self-help industry has its gurus, motivational speakers, and bests ellers, each aimed at guiding us on the path to a good life. Political pundits, religious

3 Introduction

leaders, and editorial writers are more than happy to offer us their blue­ prints for righteous living. They don’t always agree, of course. It would be nice to have a way to sort out the decent advice from the rest.

Those of you turning to philosophical ethics for the first time are likely to be hoping for something that I can’t provide, namely, a simple recipe for doing the sorting. It is perfectly natural to want a clear method for distin­ gUishing correct from incorrect answers about the good life and our moral duty. Indeed, when I first went to college, I enrolled in a philosophy course hoping for just such a thing.

My failure to find it led to acute disappoint­ ment. I left philosophy for a few years, and even dropped out of college for a while. After I returned, I went looking for it again. It has taken a long time to come to terms with the following thought: in this area of life, while there is plenty of good advice, it can’t be summed up in one snappy for­ mula, captured in a neat slogan that can be lightly dispensed at a cocktail party or a family dinner table.

Ethics is hard. It needn’t be weakness or fuzzy thinking that stands in the way of knowing the right thing to do, or the proper goals to strive for. We are right to be puzzled by the moral complexity we find in our lives, and while we might yearn for clarity and simplicity, this wish for easy answers is bound to be repeatedly frustrated.

When people learn of the difficulties that face each important attempt to solve ethical puzzles, they often give in to skepticism. The major temp­ tation is to regard the entire enterprise as bankrupt, or to think that all ethical views are equally plausible.

But I encourage you to resist the diagnosis that, in ethics, anything goes. Moral thinking is disciplined thinking. There are many ways that we can go wrong in our moral reflections, and failure here can have the most disastrous consequences.

Though it is sometimes hard to know when we have got it right in ethics, it is often very easy to know when we (or oth­ ers) have made a mistake. There are clear cases of people ruining their lives, or doing morally horrific things. What is extremely hard is devising a problem- free theory that can account for all of the easy cases, and so offer accurate guidance in the difficult ones.

Ethical Starting Points One of the puzzles about moral thinking is knowing where to begin. Some skeptics about morality deny that there are any proper starting points for ethical reflection. They believe that moral reasoning is simply a way of


rationalizing our biases and gut feelings. This outlook encourages us to be lax in moral argument and, worse, supports an attitude that no moral views are any better than others. While this sort of skepticism might be true, we shouldn’t regard it as the default view of ethics. We should accept it only as a last resort.

In the meantime, let’s consider some fairly plausible moral assump­ tions, claims that can get us started in our moral thinking. The point of the

exercise is to soften you up to the idea that we are not just spinning our wheels when thinking morally. There are reasonable constraints that can guide us when thinking about how to live. Here are some of them:

• Neither the law nor tradition is immune from moral criticism. The law does not have the final word on what is right and wrong.

Neither does tradition. Actions that are legal, or customary, are sometimes morally mistaken.

• Everyone is morally fallible. Everyone has some mistaken moral views, and no human being is wholly wise when it comes to ethical


• Friendship is valuable. Having friends is a good thing. Friendships add value to your life. You are better off when there are people you deeply care about, and who care deeply about you.

• We are not obligated to do the impossible. Morality can only demand so much of us. Moral standards that are impossible to meet are illegitimate. Morality must respect our limitations.

• Children bear less moral responsibility than adults. Moral responsibility assumes an ability on our part to understand options, to make decisions in an informed way, and to let our decisions guide our behavior. The fewer of these abilities people have, the less blameworthy they are for any harm they might cause.

• Justice is a very important moral good. Any moral theory that treats justice as irrelevant is deeply suspect. It is important that we get what we deserve, and that we are treated fairly.

• Deliberately hurting other people requires justification. The default position in ethics is: do no harm. It is sometimes morally acceptable to harm others, but there must be an excellent reason for doing so.

• Equals ought to be treated equally. People who are alike in all relevant respects should get similar treatment. When this fails to happen-when racist or sexist policies are enacted, for instance­ then something has gone wrong.

5 Introduction

• Self-interest isn’t the only ethical consideration. How well-off we are is important. But it isn’t the only thing of moral importance. Morality sometimes calls on us to set aside our own interests for the sake of others.

• Agony is bad. Excruciating physical or emotional pain is bad. It may sometimes be appropriate to cause such extreme suffering, but doing so requires a very powerful justification.

• Might doesn’t make right. People in power can get away with lots of things that the rest of us can’t. That doesn’t justify what they do. That a person can escape punishment is one thing-whether his actions are morally acceptable is another.

• Free and informed requests prevent rights violations. If, with eyes wide open and no one twisting your arm, you ask someone to do something for you, and she does it, then your rights have not been violated-even if you end up hurt as a result.

There are a number of points to make about these claims. First, this short list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It could be made much longer. Sec­ ond, I am not claiming that the items on this list are beyond criticism. I am only saying that each one is very plausible. Substantial moral investiga­ tion might undermine our confidence in some cases.

The point, though, is that without such detailed argument, it is perfectly reasonable to begin our moral thinking with the items on this list. Third, many of these claims require interpretation in order to apply them in a satisfying way. When we say, for instance, that equals ought to be treated equally, we leave all of the interesting questions open. (What makes people equals? Can we treat people equally without treating them in precisely the same way? If so, how do we determine whether we are treating people equally?)

Not only do we have a variety of plausible starting points for our ethi­ cal investigations; we also have a number of obviously poor beginnings for moral thinking. A morality that celebrates genocide, torture, treachery, sadism, hostility, and slavery is, depending on how you look at it, either no morality at all or a deeply failed one. Any morality worth the name will place some importance on justice, fairness, kindness, and reasonable­ ness. Just how much importance, and how to balance things in cases of conflict-that is where the real philosophy gets done.

Moral Reasoning In addition to these remarks about appropriate (and inappropriate) start­ ing points for ethical thinking, we should also note that some common


errors can undermine moral reasoning. These errors serve as further evi­ dence that not everything is up for grabs when it comes to ethics.

Moral reasoning, like all reasoning, involves at least two things: a set of reasons, and a conclusion that these reasons are meant to support. When you put these two things together, you have what philosophers call an argument. This isn’t a matter of bickering or angrily exchanging words. An argument is simply any chain of thought in which reasons (philosophers call these premises) are offered in support of a particular conclusion.

Not all arguments are equally good. This is as true in ethics as it is sci­ ence, mathematics, or politics. It is easy to mistake one’s way when it comes to ethical thinking. We can land at the wrong conclusion (by endorsing child abuse, for instance). We can also arrive at the right one by means of terrible reasoning. We must do our best to avoid both of these mistakes.

In other words, our moral thinking should have two complementary goals-getting it right, and being able to back up our views with flawless reasoning. We want the truth, both in the starting assumptions we bring to an issue and in the conclusions we eventually arrive at. But we also want to make sure that our views are supported by excellent reasons. And this pro­ vides two tests for good moral reasoning: (1) We must avoid false beliefs,

and (2) the logic of our moral thinking must be rigorous and error-free. The first test is pretty easy to understand. Consider the following

quote from the pro-slavery author Richard Colfax. Writing in 1833, he tells us that:

[Tlhe mind will be great in proportion to the size and figure of the

brain: it is equally reasonable to suppose, that the acknowledged mean­ ness of the negroe’s intellect, only coincides with the shape of his head;

or in other words, that his want of capability to receive a complicated

education renders it improper and impolitic, that he should be allowed

the privileges of citizenship in an enlightened country.2

And here is William John Grayson, antebellum congressman and sen­ ator from South Carolina, on the same subject:

Slavery is the negro system of labor. He is lazy and improvident ….

What more can be required of Slavery, in reference to the negro, than has been done? It has made him, from a savage, an orderly and efficient

2 Richard H. Colfax, Evidence Against the Views of the Abolitionists, Consisting of Physi­ cal and Moral Proofs, of the Natural Inferiority of the Negroes (New York: James T. M. Bleakley Publishers, 1833), p. 25.

drugs such as

Introduction 7

labourer. It supports him in comfort and peace. It restrains his vices. It

improves his mind, morals and manners …. There is a poor and suffer­

ing class in all countries-the richest and most civilized not excepted­ labourers who get their daily bread by daily work, and the slave is as well provided for as any other.’

There are false beliefs galore in these (and other) defenses of American chattel slavery. Africans, and those of African descent, are not inherently lazy. or unfit for a complicated education; they do not have heads with dif­ ferent shapes than whites; head shape is not correlated with intelligence; slaves were not as well provided for as paid laborers. When one starts with

false assumptions, the entire chain of reasoning becomes suspect. Good reasoning. in ethics as elsewhere. must avoid false beliefs if we are to have any confidence in its conclusions.

But it is possible to develop moral arguments that rely just on true premises, and yet for such arguments to fail. The failure is of the second sort just mentioned: a failure of logic.

Consider this argument:

1. Heroin is a drug. 2. Selling heroin is illegal. 3. Therefore. heroin use is immoral.

This is a moral argument. It is a set of reasons deSigned to support a moral conclusion. Both of the premises are true. But they do not ade­ quately support the conclusion, since one can accept them while consis­ tently rejecting this conclusion. Perhaps the use of illegal heroin really is immoral. But we need a further reason to think so-we would need. for instance. the additional claim that all drug use is immoral. or the separate claim that any illegal activity is also morally wrong.

The argument in its present form is a poor one. But not because it relies on false claims. Rather. the argument’s logical structure is to blame. The logic of an argument is a matter of how its premises are related to its conclusion. In the best arguments, the truth of the premises guaran­ tees the truth of the conclusion. When an argument has this feature. it is logically valid.

The heroin argument is invalid. The truth of its premises does not guar­ antee the truth of its conclusion-indeed, the conclusion may be false.

3 William John Grayson, The Hireling and the Slave (Charleston, S.c.: John Russell, 1855), pp. vii, xiv,


Since the best arguments are logically valid, we will want to make sure that our own arguments meet this condition. But how can we do that? How can we tell a valid from an invalid argument, one that is logically perfect from one that is logically shaky?

There is a simple, three-part test:

1. Identify all of the premises. 2. Imagine that aU of the premises are true (even if you know that

some are false). Then ask yourself this question: 3. Supposing that all of the premises were true, could the conclusion

be false? If yes: the argument is invalid. The premises do not guar­ antee the conclusion. If no: the argument is valid. The premises offer perfect logical support for the conclusion.

Validity is a matter of how well the premises support the conclusion. To test for this, we must assume that aU of an argument’s premises are true. We then ask whether the conclusion must therefore be true. If so, the argu­ ment is valid. If not, not.

Note that an argument’s validity is a matter of the argument’s struc­ ture. It has nothing to do with the actual truth or falsity of an argument’s premises or conclusion. Indeed, valid arguments may contain false prem­ ises and false conclusions.

To help clarify the idea, consider the following argument. Suppose you are a bit shaky on your U.S. history, and I am trying to convince you that John Quincy Adams was the ninth president of the United States. I offer you the following line of reasoning:

1. John Quincy Adams was either the eighth or the ninth U.S. president. 2. John Quincy Adams was not the eighth U.S. president. 3. Therefore, John Quincy Adams was the ninth u.s. president.

In one way, this reasoning is impeccable. It is logically flawless. This is a valid argument. If all premises of this argument were true, then the conclusion would have to be true. It is impossible for 1 and 2 to be true and 3 to be false. It passes our test for logical validity with flying colors.

But the argument is still a bad one-not because of any logical error, but because it has a false premise (number 1; Quincy Adams was the sixth u.s. president.) And a false conclusion. The truth of an argument’s prem­ ises is one thing; its logical status is another.

9 Introduction

The lesson here is that truth isn’t everything; neither is logic. We need them both. What we want in philosophy, as in all other areas of inquiry, are arguments that have two features: (I) they are logically watertight (valid), and (2) all of their premises are true. These arguments are known as sound arguments.

Sound arguments are the gold standard of good reasoning. And it’s easy to see why. They are logically valid. So if all of their premises are true, their conclusion must be true as well. And by definition, sound arguments contain only true premises. So their conclusions are true. If you can tell that an argument is valid, and also know that each premise is correct, then you can also know that the conclusion is true. That is what we are after.

I started this section by claiming that not all moral arguments are equally good. Were now in a position to see why. Some arguments rely on false premises. Others rely on invalid reasoning. Still others-the worst of the lot-commit both kinds of error.

To reinforce these points, consider one more moral argument. Some people say that killing animals and eating meat is morally okay, because animals kill other animals, and there is nothing immoral about that. Is this a plausible line of reasoning?

Not as it stands. To see this, let’s reconstruct the argument by stating it in premise-conclusion form. This is something that I’m going to do for dozens of arguments over the coming pages. For those of you who want to improve your philosophy skills, theres no better way to do so than to take a line of reasoning in ordinary English and try to set it out step by step. That makes it easier to tell just what is being claimed, and so easier to determine the truth of the premises and the logical structure of the argument.

Here is my take on this popular Argument for Meat Eating:

1. It is morally acceptable for nonhuman animals to kill and eat other animals.

2. Therefore, it is morally acceptable for human beings to kill and eat nonhuman animals.

As stated, there is only one premise to this argument. And it is true. So if the argument is problematic, it has to be because of its logic.

And that is indeed its flaw. The argument is invalid; the premise does not adequately support the conclusion. We can assume that the prem­ ise is true (indeed, we should accept it), but the conclusion might still be false. The truth of the premise is not enough to guarantee the truth of


the conclusion, since what is morally acceptable for animals may not be morally acceptable for us. We would need a further premise, to the effect that we are allowed to do anything that animals do, in order to make this argument valid.

So as it stands, the Argument for Meat Eating is invalid. Therefore it is unsound. Does that mean that its conclusion is false?

No. And here is another important lesson about reasoning: bad argu­ ments may contain true conclusions. After all, even true claims can be supported by poor reasoning. The fact that the Argument for Meat Eating is invalid does not show that its conclusion is false. It only shows that this particular way of defending that conclusion is no good. For all we know, there might be other, better arguments that can do the trick.

The Argument for Meat Eating, like many other invalid arguments, can be modified so that it takes on a logically perfect form. Indeed, a char­ itable reading of the argument would show that there is an underlying assumption that, if brought out into the open, would allow us to transform it into a valid argument. W ith a little tweaking, for instance, we get:

1. If it is morally acceptable for nonhuman animals to kill and eat one another, then it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat nonhuman animals. (This is the underlying assumption.)

2. It is morally acceptable for nonhuman animals to kill and eat one another.

3. Therefore, it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat nonhu­ man animals.

And this argument is logically perfect. If premises 1 and 2 are true, then the conclusion, 3, has to be true.

But even this version is unsound. Not because it is invalid, but because it now contains a false premise. Premise 2 is true. But premise 1 is not. Four reasons explain this.

First, animals that eat other animals have no choice in the matter. We do. Second, a carnivore’s survival depends on its eating other animals.

Ours does not. W ith rare exceptions, human beings can survive perfectly well without eating animal flesh. There are hundreds of millions of veg­ etarians leading healthy lives.

Third, none of the animals we routinely eat (chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, ducks, rabbits) are carnivores. They don’t eat other animals, so if their behavior is supposed to guide our own, then we should follow their lead and eat only plants.

Introduction 11

Fourth, it is implausible to look to animals for moral guidance. Ani­ mals are not moral agents-they can t guide their behavior by means of ‘ moral reasoning. That explains why they have no moral duties, and why they are immune from moral criticism. But we, obviously, are moral agents, and we can guide our behavior by the moral decisions we make.

Again, this analysis does not prove that the argument’s conclusion is false. It just shows that this version of the argument, like the original, is unsound. Meat eating may be perfectly morally acceptable. But this argu­ ment fails to show it so.

I have spent a lot of time on this argument, not because I want to defend a view about whether vegetarianism is morally required, but because I want to illustrate the possibility of real moral argumentation. We started with a version of the argument that has convinced a lot of people.

But when we laid it out clearly, we could see that it was invalid. So we modified it, making an underlying assumption explicit, and doing so in a way that gave us a logically perfect argument. But even this improved ver­ sion is unsound, because its first premise is false.

Can we be absolutely sure that the premise is false? No. I will be the first to admit that further argument might reveal the error of my think­ ing. W hat’s more, there is no foolproof method that can perfectly sort true claims from false ones. We may offer excellent reasons and arguments on behalf of our moral views, but at the end of the day, it’s possible that not everyone will be convinced.

But this is no different from any other area of inquiry. There is no litmus test that can distinguish all true biological claims from false ones, accurate economic forecasts from the inaccurate, correct chemistry hypotheses from incorrect ones. There is potential for disagreement in all areas of thinking.

The absence of a perfectly reliable test for truth does not mean that all claims are equally true, or that truth is in the eye of the beholder. The earth is not a cube. Six is less than ten. Queen Victoria is dead. Cats are animals. These claims are each true. Their opposites are false. And our say­ so has nothing to do with it. These claims would be true even if we were not around to make them. They aren t true because we think they are; we ‘ think they are true because they are.

Perhaps things are this way in ethics, too. We will spend a lot of time considering whether that is so, when we discuss metaethics in the last part of the book. For right now, the important thing to note is that we must rely on our good sense and good judgment in all areas of investigation, not just in


ethics. The lack of a precision test for truth does not spell the defeat of moral inquiry, since other areas of investigation get along just fine without one.

Moral reasoning is just what its name implies-offering and evaluat­ ing reasons designed to support moral conclusions. It is not merely a mat­ ter of doing a gut check and venting one’s feelings. Not every reason is a good one. Some reasons fail to support their conclusions. Others represent false beliefs. And while it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction, this needn’t hobble us.

Many claims are clearly true, many clearly false. For the others, there is evidence and argument that we can bring in to try to settle the matter. This won’t always yield decisive results. But that’s the nature of our situation. We can’t always be sure of things, in ethics or else­ where. That shouldn’t prevent us from trying to get it right, and backing up our moral views with the best possible reasons.

The Role of Moral Theory A great deal of philosophy is done at a pretty high level of abstraction. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, even though reading and thinking at that level is typically more challenging and less fun than getting engrossed in the details of a well-written novel or historical narrative.

Of course we’ll need to get back down to earth and familiarize ourselves with the specific facts of a case before knowing what to do in a given situation. But accord­ ing to most philosophers, knowing what to do here and now also requires that we have a sure grasp of very general moral principles. Knowing which principles are plausible, and how they relate to one another, is a large part of what moral philosophy is all about.

Moral philosophy is primarily a matter of thinking about the attrac­ tions of various ethical theories. When we develop and test these theories, we are bound to look beyond the details of specific cases. We are trying to find the deepest truths about our subject matter-how to live. Such truths are wide-ranging and apply to countless cases. That’s why moral philoso­ phers so often look beyond the details of specific cases and focus instead on very general principles.

Moral theorizing is the result of a perfectly natural process of think­ ing. We are questioning beings, interested in seeking out ever deeper explanations of things. And we are uneasy if there is no chance of a uni­ fying explanation, an account that can coherently organize the various aspects of our thinking and experience. This is clear in psychology, for instance, where researchers have always been drawn to unifying views

Introduction 13

of human motivation. For many psychologists, it all comes down to self­ interest (egoists), or to how we have been conditioned (behaviorists), or our sexual impulses (Freudians), etc. This process is evident in physics, too, where the dream is one day to discover the unified theory-a single master principle that will explain all of the workings of the physical world, from the movements of subatomic particles to the behavior of the largest stars and galaxies.

The same desire for unification and simplicity is also present in eth­ ics. We might begin a conversation by insisting on the immorality of some specific action-say, revealing a patient’s confidential information. But someone might challenge our view, and in reply, we would cite a moral rule to back it up: Revealing such information is wrong because it betrays a trust. But why is it wrong to betray a trust? Because (we might say) such actions fail to show respect for the person who has been betrayed. But why is it wrong to fail to show respect?

And is it always wrong to do such a thing, or are there exceptions? If there are exceptions, what explains them? This is a perfectly natural way of going on. We are searching for increas­ ingly general moral principles with the power to explain more and more cases, and also to explain why more specific moral principles are justified. The hope is eventually to land on just a single principle, one that will do all of the explaining we need in the moral realm.

Suppose that we think really carefully about our moral beliefs, and find that we ultimately justify them by means of four principles:

• Don’t impose unnecessary harm. • Be nice to others. • Don’t break your word. • Tell the truth.

Is there a next step? Of course! Aren’t you curious to know whether there is a yet more general rule, one that can unify these four principles and explain why they, too, are justified? Like researchers in most areas, moral philosophers remain dissatisfied unless they can offer a truly com­ prehensive theory that will unify and impose order on our thoughts. Phys­ icists want this. Psychologists want this. So do philosophers.

That’s why our focus will mostly be on these very general ethical theo­ ries. They represent the natural outgrowth of some extremely compelling ethical ideas-ones that you surely have relied on in trying to justify your own moral views. There is something important in taking our core ethi­ cal beliefs and seeing where they lead. They lead to ethical theories; doing


moral philosophy is the process of tracing the lines that connect our basic moral views to these more deVeloped theories, and then testing them to see how well they can hold up against our curiosity and critical intelligence.

Looking Ahead In the pages to come, I present and evaluate a lot of arguments. These are the ones at the very heart of morality, the ones that try to offer answers to the deepest questions of ethics. As we will see, no fundamental theory­ about the good life, our moral duties, or the status of morality-has earned anything like unanimous support among philosophers.

I say this not to dash your hopes, but to give you a realistic take on what to expect. There is a very broad consensus on a number of points in

ethics. Consider, for instance, the twelve claims mentioned earlier in this introduction, a sampling that could easily have been expanded. The moral issues that tend to capture our attention are those that are hotly disputed. W hat often goes unnoticed is the substantial amount of moral agreement, even across societies and eras.

Still, when it comes to devising a theory that can offer a comprehen­ sive account of morality, things become much trickier. And then a natural, despairing thought: Greater minds than ours have spent lifetimes trying to solve the core questions of ethics, and none of their theories has gained universal support. So what’s the use?

It’s a fair question. But there is a good answer. We are thinking about how to live; what could be more important than that? We can make a lot

of progress in our own thinking by studying the thoughts and arguments of those who have devoted so much effort to this vital task. We may realize that our own “philosophy of life” is marred in ways that we hadn’t foreseen. Or we might come to appreciate certain benefits of our views that had escaped our notice. Those of you who work your way through this book will certainly be in a much better position to critically assess your own moral views, and to improve your thinking about how to live your life.

What ethicists across the ages have done is to take a fundamental insight, one that is usually very widely shared-say, that happiness is the key to a good life, that we must treat everyone fairly, that we must prevent harm-and see how far we can get by consistently applying this insight. Consistency is not to be sneezed at. It’s not the hobgoblin of little minds, but a minimum test of a theory’s plausibility. Inconsistent, contradictory views cannot be true, which is why philosophers try so hard to avoid them.

Introduction 15

Suppose that you are involved in a moral debate, or are thinking about how to improve your own life. If you go deep enough, you’ll probably land on a view that you can no longer defend. Perhaps it’s one of the twelve mentioned earlier. Perhaps it’s something else.

W hatever it is, the truth of that view is important. And unsurprisingly, philosophers across the ages will have examined that view very carefully. We can learn from their work. We can find out what is attractive about these starting points. And we can also discover how they might be vulnerable.

That’s not everything. Agreed. You won’t find, by the end of the book, a recipe for the best life, or a simple step-by-step guide for doing your duty. This book does not belong on the self-help shelves. You probably already figured that out, since such manuals are a lot chattier and far easier to read than this one.

But those books never get to the deepest issues-most of them assume, for instance, that happiness is what we should be trying for, or that getting what you want is what life is all about. Philosophers subject such thoughts to intense scrutiny. And it isn’t clear whether they survive.

Let’s start our work together by having a look at these views, ones that focus on the good life for human beings. There are a lot of surprises in store.

other words,- _need a s1i!ndanI11ntt-wilttdl-us when our will help us determine our level


………. ,….. ………

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal

Happiness and Intrinsic Value If you are like me, and like everyone else I know, you’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about how your life can go better. You may be doing pretty well already, or may be very badly off, or somewhere in between. But there is always room for improvement.

To know h lives can be better, we first need to know how they can be good:ln lives are going well for us. That stan’dard of well-being, or welfare.

Many things c rilmprove our well-being: clean water, regular medical attention, safe neighborhoods, a reasonable amount of money. But having these things isn’t what a good life consists of. Rather, these things pave the way to a better life-they help to make it possible, and may, in some cases, even be indispensable to it. Philosophers call such things instru­ mental goods,” things that are valuable because of the good things they bring about.

Vaccinations, sturdy shoes, and dental cleanings all fall into this cat­ egory. They aren’t worth having for their own sake. A vaccine that fails to prevent disease is worthless. This is because the value it has-like that of sturdy shoes and clean teeth-comes only from its role in helping us achieve something else. Something truly important.

* All terms and phrases that appear in boldface are defined in a glossary at the end of the book.



The Good Life

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . r-.. ………………… .

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 19

If there are instrumental goods, then there must also be something worth pursuing for its own sake, whose goodness is self-contained, some­ thing valuable in its own right, even if it brings nothing else in its wake. Such things are intrinsically valuable.

A good life is going to contain a lot of what is intrinsically valuable. So what we really need to know is this: What is intrinsically valuable?

We are looking for something whose presence, all by itself, makes us better off. A natural way to start thinking about this is to consider some clearly good lives, ones that definitely qualify as being good for the people who live them. My top ten wouldn’t include those of anyone youa ever heard of. Instead, I’d pick the lives of certain of my friends and acquain­ tances, people who are deeply invested in their exciting work, lucky enough to have some strong and loving relationships, physically healthy and active, and possessed of modest but real self-esteem and self-respect.

But there is no need to b e limited by my choices. Think about your own top candi­ dates, and then ask yourself this question: What makes each of those lives so good? Is there a single feature that each of them shares, something that explains why they are as good as they are? If so, what is it?

The most popular answer is just what youa expect: happiness. In this view, a good life is a happy life. This means something pretty specific. It means that happiness is necessary for a good life; a life without happiness cannot be a good life. It also means that happiness is sufficient for a good life: When you are happy, your life is going well. The happier you are, the better your life is going for you. And the unhappier you are, the worse off you are.

In this view, there is only a single thing that is intrinsically valuable: happiness. Everything else is valuable only to the extent that it makes us happy. Likewise, there is just one thing that is intrinsically bad: unhappi­ ness. Unhappiness is the only thing that directly reduces our quality of life.

There is a name for this kind of view: hedonism. The term comes from the Greek word hedone, which means pleasure. According to hedonists, a life is good to the extent that it is filled with pleasure and is free of pain.

Before we can assess hedonism, we have to recognize that there are two fundamental kinds of pleasure: physical pleasure and attitudinal plea­ sure (enjoyment). The first kind is the sort we experience when we taste the tang of a delicious fall apple, or when we let the jets from a hot tub dissolve the tension in our backs. These very different kinds of pleasurable feelings usually make us happy, at least for the moment. But such feelings are not the same thing as happiness.


As the hedonist understands it, happiness is attitudinal pleasure: the positive attitude of enjoyment. It can range in intensity from mild content­ ment to elation. Being happy does not necessarily feel like anything; there is no special sensation or physical quality associated with happiness. I can enjoy a home-team victory or a beautiful painting without experiencing any physical pleasure.

In order to be at all plausible, hedonism must be understood as the view that enjoyment, rather than physical pleasure, is the key to the good life. This may come as a surprise, since we nowadays think of hedonists as those who are always in pursuit of sensual pleasures. But we must abandon that contemporary association, and fix our sights instead on the view that identifies the good life as one that is full of sustained enjoyment, contain­ ing only minimal sadness and misery. That is the hedonist’s model of the best life for human beings.

Happiness, understood from now on as enjoyment, is indeed a good

candidate for an intrinsic value. I It’s not like an amputation, or a patrol walk through a minefield. If such things generate no benefits-if, say, the amputation was performed on the wrong limb, or the patrol yields no

military advantage-then there is nothing valuable about them. They are good, when they are, only because of the benefits they bring about. Thus they are only instrumentally good. Happiness isn’t like that. It is worth pursuing for its own sake. It is valuable in its own right.

Some people deny this. Those who do often ask us to imagine the happiness enjoyed by a sadist when he is torturing his victims. Can this be a good thing? Philosophers are divided. Hedonists claim that the sadist’s enjoyment is a good thing, though outweighed by the suffering of his victim. Others refuse to accept this. Happiness, they say, is usually a good thing, but in some cases, like that of the sadist, it can be positively bad. And if it can sometimes be bad, then happiness is not an intrinsic value.

The case of the sadist raises some very deep and difficult issues. Rather than try to solve them here (we discuss this case in the next chapter), con­ sider a strategy that gives a little to either side. We might say that happiness, when it is acceptably enjoyed, is valuable for its own sake.

But it needn’t be unconditionally valuable. that is, valuable in every possible circumstance. It might be. But even if it isn’t-even if there are cases where happiness lacks value-we can say that when it is valuable, it is valuable in its own right. It is intrinsically valuable, even if the jury is still out as to whether it is unconditionally valuable.

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 21

The Attractions of Hedotlism

Hedonism can trace its origins in the West to the ancient Greeks. Epicurus (341-270 BeE), the first great hedonist, argued that pleasure was the only thing worth pursuing. Yet he was not calling on us to pursue carnal plea­ sures. Epicurus argued that the most pleasant condition is one of inner peace. The ideal state of enduring tranquility comes largely from two sources: moderation in all physical matters, and intellectual clarity about what is truly important.

Philosophy is the path to such clarity. Philosophy can reveal the false beliefs that cause so much unhappiness-specifically, as Epicurus saw it, our beliefs that death is bad for us, that the gods are mean-spirited and easily angered, and that financial wealth and lots of sex are key ingredients to the good life. With the aid of keen philosophical inSight, we can under­ stand the error of such popular ways of thinking, and thereby ease our way on the path to happiness.

Skip ahead a couple thousand years and consider the view of Eng­ lish philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), perhaps the most famous hedonist since Epicurus. Mill hoped to rebut the widespread charge that hedonism advises us to live like animals , gaining as much brute pleasure as possible.

Mill argued that the pleasures fit for human beings were of a more elevated sort, those to do with intellectual and artistic development. Mill thought that men and women of true refinement, with experience of both physical and intellectual pleasures, always prefer the intellectual pleasures. That was good enough for him, since he also thought that the true test of something’S value was the approval of those with knowledge and experience.

As you might expect from a view whose popularity spans thousands of years, there is a great deal to be said on behalf of hedonism. Here are the most important reasons that have earned it such broad support.

There Are Many Models of a Good Life There are a variety of ways to live a good life, and hedonism explains why this is so: There are many paths to happiness. Can woodcutters, profes­ sional athletes, or musicians live very good lives? Not according to Plato (427 -347 BeE) and Aristotle (384-322 BeE), who thought that philosophi­ cal contemplation held the key to a truly good life. Nowadays we are likely to reject such views as narrow-minded and elitist. We think, instead, that people from all walks of life, with varying degrees of education, have the


potential to be well-off. This democratic view about the prospects for the good life fits comfortably with the hedonistic outlook. Because the sources of happiness vary quite widely, and happiness is the key to a good life, there is a broad range of options for living a good life.

Hedonism offers us a kind of flexibility that some of its competitors lack. Many of these competitors identify a kind of activity, such as doing philosophy, as the summum bonum (the greatest good). They then say that those who don’t pursue it, or who pursue it badly, are unable to lead a good life.

Hedonism rejects all such “top-down” approaches. The best activity for human beings is the one that brings us the greatest happiness. But what makes me happy needn’t make you happy, and so the activities that con­ tribute to my good life may bear little resemblance to yours.

Personal Authority and Well-Being This diversity of good lives has an interesting implication: Hedonists pro­ vide each of us with a substantial say in what the good life looks like. And that seems a plus. What makes us happy is largely, if not entirely, a matter of personal choice. As a result, each of us gets a great deal of input into what makes our lives go well.

So long as we really do know what will make us happy, hedonism sup­ ports the resistance we feel when others try to tell us how to live our lives. And when others counsel us, for our own good, to give up happiness and to pursue a less enjoyable way ofHfe, hedonism assures us that such advice is deeply mistaken.

In one sense, however, hedonism does not allow us to have the final say about what is good for us. If hedonism is true, then happiness improves our lives, whether we think so or not. According to hedonists, those who deny that happiness is the ultimate good are wrong, no matter how sin­ cere their denial.

In this way, hedonism follows a middle path between approaches to the good life that dictate a one-size-fits-all model and those that allow each person to decide for herself exactly what is valuable.

Misery Clearly Hampers a Good Life; Happiness Clearly Improves It Hedonism claims that misery takes away from a good life, and this is hard to deny. To test this claim, imagine a life full of sadness, with no compensating enjoyments.

Surely this life is bad for the person who leads it. It may be good in other respects-the very sad person might, for instance, be morally admirable or artistically brilliant. But we are not asking whether the life is good in any respect at all. Rather, we are asking

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 23

about whether the life is going well for the person living it. Specifically, we are asking whether a really miserable person can have a high level of well­ being. This is hard to accept, and hedonism explains why that is.

Hedonism also claims that happiness improves one’s welfare. To test this, again imagine two people leading identical lives, with only one excep­ tion. The first person enjoys the various aspects of his life, whereas the second person is completely indifferent to them.

Surely the first person is better off. If we were to choose between these lives solely on the basis of what would be best for us, wecr have no difficulty opting for the first. That is precisely what hedonism would recommend.

The Limits of Explanation The intrinsic value of happiness seems about as self-evident as anything in ethics. And the value of everything else seems easily explained by showing how it leads to happiness.

If hedonism is true, then happiness directly improves one’s welfare, and sadness directly undermines it. Just about everyone believes that. Indeed, how could we even argue for a claim as basic as this? This is where thinking in this area starts. Perhaps no claim about well-being is more fundamental than the one that declares the importance of experiencing happiness and avoiding misery.

When we undertake something that is painful or difficult, it makes sense to ask why weCl do such a thing. Suppose, for instance, that you spot me red-faced, huffing and puffing, as I make my way around a track. Why am I willing to suffer so? To get in shape. Why is that important? To be healthy. Why is that important? Because it makes me happy.

That’s where all such lines of questioning seem naturally to end. If being healthy only made me miserable-not easy to conceive, but possible-then what good would it do me? It might make me more attractive, or allow me to live lon­ ger, or make me a better athlete, but if those things didn’t make me happy, it is hard to see how I am better off for being healthy.

It is perfectly sensible for us to ask about how wecr be better off by studying hard, playing by the rules, dieting, or telling the truth. We can defend the value of such things if we can show that they make us happier. But that only shows that they are instrumental goods.

By contrast, we don’t need to show that happiness leads to anything else in order to show that it is valuable. We recognize that to be happy is already to be in a desirable state. This supports the hedonist’s claim that happiness is intrinsically valuable.

Hedonists need to show not only that happiness is intrinsically valu­ able, but that happiness is the only thing that possesses such importance.


This is harder to justify. If they are to succeed, hedonists must show that anything else makes us better off only by making us happy.

Rules of the Good Life-and Their Exceptions Hedonism can justify the many rules for living a good life, while at the same time explaining why there are exceptions to these rules.

For almost every adult, improving one’s lot in life will require freedom from negative things such as manipulation, debilitating illness, enslavement, deep indebtedness, constant worry, relentless ridicule, unwanted attention, treachery, and physical brutality.

Those who are suffering from any one of these afflictions will see an immediate improvement in their lives if something on that list goes away. The hedonist’s explanation is as simple as it is plausible: in almost every case, removal of these obstacles reduces our misery.

On the positive side, we can improve our lives by making sure that they contain interesting work and hobbies, trustworthy friends, a giving and understanding sexual partner, and a commitment to causes we strongly believe i n . Why? Because such things usually add enjoyment to our lives.

These lists are not complete, and I’m not concerned to argue for any specific element on either one. The lists are meant to reflect common sense. And the point is that hedonism can explain why common sense says what it does. Certain things reliably damage our welfare, because they almost always bring misery in their wake; other things just as reliably improve our quality of life, because they are a source of enjoyment.

Hedonism can also explain why there are exceptions to these rules. Some people enjoy being humiliated or manipulated. For them, we must put these experiences on the positive side of the ledger. Others, such as certain masochists, delight in experiencing various kinds of physical pain. So pain adds to their quality of life, while diminishing it for the rest of us.

Recall that hedonism, as I understand it here, does not say that all pleasure enhances our quality of life-only enjoyment does that. Likewise for physical pain: usually, it diminishes our well-being, but in unusual cases, when a person enjoys such pain, it can actually improve that per­ son’s welfare.

Hedonism thus explains why it is so hard to come up with universal, iron-clad rules for improving our lives. Such rules hold only for the most part, because increasing our welfare is a matter of becoming happier, and some people find happiness in extremely unusual ways.

Hedonism honors both the standard and the uncommon sources of happiness; no matter how you come by it, happiness (and only happiness) directly makes you better off.

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 25

Happiness Is What We Want for Our Loved Ones I have two children, Max and Sophie. I love them very much. I have a very strong desire that they be happy, and an even stronger desire that their lives contain as little misery as possible. This makes perfect sense if hedonism is true.

That’s because parents who deeply care for their children want what is best for them. I, like so many other parents, am deeply concerned that my children be happy. That shows that happiness is what is best for them. Right?

Not necessarily. Consider the words of Philippa Foot, a contemporary philosopher who rejects hedonism:

I recall a talk by a doctor who described a patient of his (who had perhaps had a prefrontal lobotomy) as “perfectly happy all day long

picking up leaves.” This impressed me because I thought, “Well, most

of us are not happy all day long doing the things we do:’ and realized how strange it would be to think that the very kindest of fathers would arrange such an operation for his (perfectly normal) child.2

What Foot is suggesting here is that parents who really care about their children would want things for them other than their happiness. If happiness were of paramount importance, and if a lobotomized person experiences more happiness than the rest of us, what would possibly stop a loving parent from signing her child up for such an operation?

But the thought is absurd. And the reason, apparently, is that happiness is not the only thing that improves the quality of life. In Foot’s example, parents quite reasonably give greater priority to their children’s ability to develop their talents, and to pursue worthwhile activities-even those that bring them less happiness.

I think that there is definitely something to Foot’s observation. But it is possible to make a common mistake when thinking about it. The error lies in assuming that the following is a surefire test for becoming better off:

(T) If someone knows you very well, loves you, and for your own sake wants you to have X, then X makes you better off.

Most parents know their children very well, love them, and, for their sake, want them to be happy. If T is correct, this shows that happiness makes them better off.

But T is not correct, because even the dearest friend or parent may hold mistaken beliefs about what will increase another person’s welfare.


Consider a parent who really cares about his daughter and wants what is best for her, but who truly believes that a woman’s welfare is a matter of how well she serves her husband. Such a father might advise his daughter to remain with her abuser, for her own good. Or consider parents whose son has told them that he is gay.

They are appalled. They may really love him, and want him, for his own sake, to marry a nice young woman. But marrying a woman is not going to make this man better off. The cares of those who love you are not always a reliable indicator of where your self­ interest lies.

Hedonism can explain why this test, T, fails. If hedonism is true, then there is a different, and perfectly reliable, test of when well-being is improved:

(H) If something makes you happier, then it promotes your well­ being; if something fails to make you happier, then it fails to promote your well-being.

The hedonist’s test will sometimes conflict with (T). Staying with an abusive husband will not promote a daughter’S happiness; marrying a woman will not promote a gay son’s happiness. Therefore (H) tells us that such actions will not improve their well-being. And that is correct. (T) gives us the wrong results in these cases. (H) gives us the right ones.

But there is a nagging suspicion that more needs to be said. For although (H) provides the right answers in these cases, it does seem to get things wrong in the specific case that Foot described. After all, we don’t want our children lobotomized, even if they’ ll be happier as a result! That seems to show that happiness is not the be-all and end-all of a good life. Let’s now see whether that’s so.


L Many who reject hedonism still believe that happiness is the key to a good life. The disagreement is about what happiness really is. Hedonists insist that it is

a kind of experience we have-the experience of enjoyment. Others, such as Aristotle, claim that happiness i s much more than this; it is, in particular, a

combination of enjoyment, intelligence. virtue, and activity. The sort of hap­

piness that we discuss in this chapter and the next is the one hedonists have in

mind-namely, enjoyment. 2. Philippa Foot. Natural Goodness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 85.


…….. ” ” ……..

Is Happiness All That Matters?

OUprobably already knew this, but just in case you didn’t: no philo­


sophical theory worth its salt is free of difficulties. As a result, you aren’t going to get, in this chapter or any of the others, a decisive,

knock-down argument for one theory or another. Brilliant minds have developed the theories we consider in this book And equally brilliant minds have failed to climb on board.

So it should come as no surprise that hedonism, a perennial contender for “Best Theory of Human Welfare,” should also have its critics. They have been busy. Here are the major concerns that they have identified.

The Paradox of Hedonism

If something always makes us better off, then it seems reasonable to try very hard to acquire it. With happiness, however, this completely back­ fires-those who try really hard to make themselves happier almost never succeed. Philosophers call this the paradox of hedonism.

The paradox reminds me of an embarrassing poster I had hanging on my bedroom wall as a child. It showed a butterfly and, not far away, a man sitting in a wooded glade. The caption: “Happiness is like a butterfly­ the more you pursue it, the more it eludes you. Be still and let it come to you:’

We can turn this distressing vignette, and its lesson, into an argu­ ment designed to refute hedonism. Let’s call it the Paradox of Hedonism Argument:



1. If happiness is the only thing that directly makes us better off, then it is rational to single-mindedly pursue it.

2. It isn’t rational to do that. 3. Therefore, happiness isn’t the only thing that directly makes us

better off.

This argument is valid.l Its logic is perfect: ifboth premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. But we also need to know whether both premises really are true. If they are, then hedonism is sunk.

I think the second premise is pretty plausible. The icky sentiment on my childhood poster is correct. Those who seek only happiness, and fixate on acquiring it, are bound to be disappointed. Aiming directly for happiness is not the best way to get it. You’d do far better to seek a spouse you love and respect, to develop an exciting hobby, or to find a career you can be proud of. Doing any of these things is a much surer route to happiness.

So the second premise looks good. And the first premise also seems plausible. If happiness is really what makes your life go best, then you should go for it.

But this premise is suspect, precisely because the direct pursuit of good things will sometimes stand in the way of getting them. Think of the professional golfer in the midst of a slump. She desperately wants to regain her swing.

But the more she focuses on this, the harder it becomes. Or consider the immature student who wants more than anything to be well liked, and so tries, very annoyingly, to be pals with his classmates. Such behavior is self-defeating. He’d be much better off trying less hard.

The bottom line is that even if happiness is our greatest good, it may be irrational to aim for it directly. And if that is so, then premise 1 is false. As a result, the paradox we’ve just considered, while surprising, does not pose a serious threat to hedonism. It doesn’t challenge the idea that happi­ ness is the only thing of intrinsic value. It just tells us that aiming directly for happiness is not a smart way to get it.

Evil Pleasures

Some people take great delight in doing the most awful things. Think of supposed friends who tempt others into addiction, or a powerful boss who betrays a vulnerable employee. These tawdry people may really be enjoying themselves. But when such enjoyment comes at someone else’s expense, it hardly seems a good thing, much less the best thing.

Is Happiness AIl1hat Matters? 29

We can build another anti-hedonist argument around this point. Call it the Argument from Evil Pleasures:

1. If hedonism is true, then happiness that comes from evil deeds is as good as happiness that comes from kind and decent actions.

2. Happiness that comes from evil deeds is not as good as happiness that comes from kind and decent actions.

3. Therefore hedonism is false.

This argument fails, and it’s instructive to see why. There is a confu­ sion contained within it, and it’s one that is easy to make.

When we say that happiness that comes from one source is as good as happiness from any other source, we might mean that each is mor­ ally equivalent to the other. When we read premise 2 and nod our heads approvingly, this is probably what we have in mind.

But this is not what hedonists have in mind. They don’t think that each episode of happiness is as morally good as every other. Rather, they think that the same amount of happiness, no matter its source, is equally beneficial.

According to hedonism, happiness gained from evil deeds can improve our lives just as much as happiness that comes from virtue. In this sense, happiness derived from evil deeds is as good as happiness that comes from virtue-each can contribute to our well-being just as much as the other. Hedonists therefore reject premise 2.

And aren’t they right to do so? Think about why the happiness of the wicked is so upsetting. Isn’t it precisely because happiness benefits them, and we hate to see the wicked prosper? If happiness doesn’t make us bet­ ter off, why is it so awful when the wicked enjoy the harms they cause?

And for those who share my vengeful streak: Why is it gratifying to see the wicked suffer? Because misery always cuts into our well-being, and we think it right that the wicked pay for their crimes. Hedonism makes perfect sense of these feelings.

The Two Worlds

Within philosophical circles, one of the most famous objections to hedo­ nism originated with W. D. Ross (1877-1967), a British philosopher whose ethical theory is discussed in chapter 16. Ross invited us to consider two worlds that contain identical amounts of happiness and misery. In one of these, the people are all virtuous; in the other, they are all vidous.2 Hedo­ nism tells us that these worlds are equally good. No one believes this.


Ross anticipates the hedonist’s response: Virtuous people are those who reliably make others happy, while vicious people undermine the hap­

piness of others. So the situation we are being asked to imagine is impos­ sible. The virtuous world would contain a lot more happiness than the vicious one.

Ross will have none of this. There are nonhuman sources of happiness and misery, such as disease. So imagine, in the virtuous world, that its extra happiness is offset by greater misery resulting from disease. Still, the virtuous world is better than the vicious one.

Ross thinks that this thought experiment allows us to appreciate that virtue is good in its own right, wholly apart from any happiness it brings about. Since hedonism rejects this, hedonism is mistaken.

We can turn Ross’s objection into an argument. Call it the Two Worlds Argument:

1. If hedonism is true, then any two situations containing identical amounts of happiness and unhappiness are equally good.

2. Some such situations are not equally good; some are better than others.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

I think that Ross is right about premise 2. It is better that virtue, and not vice, be rewarded by happiness. Even if virtue is its own reward, it is better that it be rewarded by happiness as well. And if we have to choose, it is far better that good people be happy than that bad people enjoy them­ selves. So even if good and bad people are equally enjoying themselves, the situations may not be equally good.

The second premise, then, is actually pretty plausible. But hedonists can reject the first. Their view is not about what makes a situation or a world good, but rather about what makes a life good for the person who lives it. Hedonism, as it stands, doesn’t tell us how to determine the value of a world. And so it is not committed to the view that two worlds contain­ ing equal amounts of happiness must be equally good.

Hedonism does not try to tell us about every way in which things can be good or bad, but only about what directly contributes to personal welfare. So long as hedonists do not say that the only value is individ­ ual welfare, they can easily allow that such things as biodiversity, beautiful objects, and morally admirable actions add to the overall value of a world. Thus hedonists can (and should) reject the first premise of the Two Worlds Argument.

Is Happiness AI/That Matters? 31

False Happiness Imagine a woman who is pretty happy in her marriage, partly because she trusts her husband and believes in his complete fidelity. And suppose she is right to do that; her husband has, in fact, been wholly faithful.

Now imagine another woman who is as happy as the first, and for the same reasons, but in her case, her belief is false-her husband has been cheating on her without her knowledge. It seems that the first woman’s life is going better for her. And this despite the fact that the two women are, in this example, equally happy.

This story provides us with the basis of an Argument from False Happiness:

1. If hedonism is true, then happiness makes the same contribution to welfare whether it is based on true or false beliefs.

2. Happiness based on false beliefs contributes less to welfare than happiness based on true beliefs.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

This is in one way like the Argument from Evil Pleasures, since both claim that the source of happiness determines how beneficial it is. Critics say that if happiness comes from immoral action, or false belief, then it makes us less well-off than otherwise.

Hedonists deny this. Happiness is happiness, regardless of its source. So hedonists must reject the second premise.

But it is harder to do so here, when it comes to false beliefs. The late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick tried to show this, in a thought experiment involving an “experience machine:’3 Imagine that there is a very sophisticated machine that lets you simulate any experience you like. Suppose you program it for a lifetime of the very best experiences. Once you plug in, you have no memory of life outside the machine.

Your entire life from then on is lived in the machine, though you are as happy as can be, believing yourself to be doing all of the things you truly enjoy. Com­ pare this with its real-life counterpart, in which a person actually does the things and enjoys the experiences that the person plugged in to the machine only dreams of. It seems clear that the second life-the real one­ is better for the person living it than the first. Yet both lives contain the same amount of happiness.

This is meant to show that happiness is not the sole element of well­ being. A good life is one that is happy, yes, but not only that. Our happiness


must be based in reality. A pleasant life of illusion is less good for you than one based on real achievement and true beliefs about your life.

The Importance of Autonomy One of the other things we want from life is to make our own choices in it, free of manipulation and outside pressures. We want to forge a life for ourselves, rather than be puppets on a string. We are sometimes willing to risk unhappiness, and sometimes we even prefer the definite prospect of sadness to a more pleasant life that is forced upon us without our consent . In short, we want autonomy-the power to guide our life through our own free choices-even if it sometimes costs us our happiness.

Not only do we want autonomy, but we also think that a life with­ out it cannot be fully good. Consider the inhabitants of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley created a fictional society in which war, pov­ erty, and emotional distress have all disappeared. How have such things been achieved? The rulers have introduced a pacifying drug, called soma, taken by all citizens. Books and shows that may upset people have been banned.

Close relationships are forbidden, so as to prevent the heartache that comes from the rupture of a friendship or the loss of a loved one. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Not in this SOciety. These citizens have become complacent animals, obedient to the political masters who are intent on manipulating them. Though this brave new world might well be a happier one than ours, it seems clear that some­ thing valuable is missing. That something is autonomy.

We don’t need to seek out imaginary tales to appreciate the impor­ tance of autonomy to a good life. When we go to the doctor’s office, we don’t want to be lied to-even if we would be happier were we deceived. Many dying patients turn down the offer of pain medication, because it can interfere with their ability to make rational decisions. Such patients prefer to face their end in a dear-eyed way, even if it means that they are more miserable as a result.

Autonomous choices don’t always lead to happiness. Things go wrong. We make free choices that lead to damaged relationships, financial disaster, missed opportunities. Still, we need only imagine a life without autonomy to see what a tragedy it would be. Read the reports of Soviet psychiatrists who systematically drugged and tortured critics of the regime.4 Many of these critics went insane; others were reduced to bowing and scraping before their white-coated masters.

Is Happiness AIl1hat Matters? 33

These doctors caused appalling unhappiness. But that is not the only harm they did to their victims, and in some cases it is not the worst of the damage done. Even if the drugs had kept the dissidents happy, the actions of these doctors would still have been a horrendous crime, because of the way in which they so thoroughly tried to undermine the autonomy of their victims, seeking deliberately to enfeeble their minds and crush their independence.

A searing picture of how the loss of autonomy undermines well-being can be found at the conclusion of Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Its hero, R. P. McMurphy, is a free spirit with contempt for rules and for the authorities who enforce them. McMurphy is committed to a mental institution and slowly broken, eventually being forced to submit to a lobot­ omy that leaves him an empty shell. (Recall Foot’s anecdote of the previous chapter.)

That this is all supposedly done for his own good only makes the tragedy greater. At the end, he may be happier, having at this point only a childlike capacity to understand the world. But it hardly seems that he is better off as a result. And the explanation is simple: the preservation of our autonomy is vitally important, even if it doesn’t always make us happier.

It’s a good thing to be able to exercise autonomous choice, and this explains what is objectionable about paternalism-someone’s limiting your liberty against your will, but for your own good. A society of arranged marriages, forced career choices, anti-gambling legislation, and motor­ cycle helmet laws might lead to greater happiness.

They might, in some cases, really be justified. And yet even so, there is something to regret. We lose the opportunity to take chances, to risk our happiness, to exercise real freedom. Manipulation and paternalism, even when done in a way that gains us happiness, are still objectionable to some extent. And that is because they sacrifice something of intrinsic value: autonomy. Happiness is not the only thing that is important in its own right. Autonomy is, too.

Here we have the makings of another argument against hedonism. Call this the Argumentfrom Autonomy:

1. If hedonism is true, then autonomy contributes to a good life only insofar as it makes us happy.

2. Autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

The first premise is clearly true. The central claim of hedonism is that happiness is the only thing, in itself, that makes us better off. All other


things (e.g., autonomy, virtue, true beliefs) improve our lives only to the extent that they make us happier.

So everything hinges on the second premise. It seems plausible. W hen we consider the lives of those who have been deprived of their autonomy, we see the absence of something very valuable, something that, by itself, appears to make a life a better one.

Given a choice between drug-induced contentment and plotting our own risky course through life, we prefer the latter path. We want our lives to be authentic, to reflect our own values, rather than those imposed on us from the outside­ even if we are not always happier as a result. Hedonism cannot account for that.

Life’s Trajectory If hedonism is true, then those whose lives contain the same amount of happiness and unhappiness must be equally well-off. But this seems false.

Consider the sad case of Delmore Schwartz, a brilliant writer and con­ versationalist, who served as the basis of the title character in Saul Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift. Schwartz earned many awards early in his career, and taught at Princeton and Harvard for several years, despite lacking an advanced degree.

But his last decade was spent in increasing frustration and isolation. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, and experiencing increas­ ingly severe paranoia and mental illness, he died alone in a seedy hotel in Times Square, the promise of his early years left unfulfilled.

It is impossible to say just how much happiness and sadness filled Schwartz’s life. But imagine a person whose early life was all heartache and hardship-Jane Eyre or Oliver Twist, for instance, or, from real life, perhaps someone like Mary Karr, whose terrific memoir, The Liars’ Club, portrays a childhood about as miserable as can be. In such lives, the suf­ fering eventually yields to happiness, and many years of satisfaction and pleasure.

W hen we compare lives with such different trajectories, it is hard to resist the thought that a life that begins badly, but continually improves, is better than a life that starts out with a bang and goes slowly, steadily downhill-even if there is no difference in the total amounts of happi­ ness contained in each life. We can fashion this thought into the Trajectory Argument:

1. If hedonism is true, then the overall quality of a life depends entirely on the amount of happiness and unhappiness it contains.

Is Happiness All1hat Matters? 35

2. The overall quality of life depends on at least one other factor: whether one’s life reflects an “upward” or “downward” trajectory.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

To make this criticism stick, we need to be sure that we are not sneak­ ing in extra happiness on the part of the fortunate person whose life ends better than it began. The total happiness and unhappiness v.rithin the lives being compared must be the same. The only difference must be in the tim­ ing of the happiness and misery.

If we take care to respect this require­ ment, I think we still feel that equal amounts of happiness and misery may not yield lives of equal well-being. If that is so, then something other than happiness and misery determines how good a life is. In this case, it is not autonomy, but rather the “shape” of a life. Continual improvement makes for a better life than one that has long been on the wane, even if both lives contain the same amounts of happiness and misery.

Unhappiness as a Symptom of Harm

Consider an Olympic marathon runner who is poised to bring home gold. She has trained for years for this event. Suppose that she pulls a hamstring the day before the race, and is unable to compete. All that work, to no end. She’s devastated.

Why does this reaction make sense? It seems well explained if we assume that the development of our talents is important in its own right. This athlete sees that something terrible has happened, and that is why she is unhappy. What’s regrettable in her case isn’t, primarily, her unhappiness. It’s the destruction of her talents. (After all, would everything be fine if someone slipped her a soma pill?)

When is it rational to feel miserable at how your life is going? Simple: when something really bad happens to you. On the face of it, this can include a huge number of things-losing a leg in a car accident, being jilted by someone you love, missing the opportunity of a lifetime, etc.

Each of these rightly causes great sadness. If hedonism is correct, however, this short list, and the much longer one we could undoubtedly put together, are basically mistaken. For there is only one truly bad thing that can happen to you, and that is to experience sadness. Things can harm you only if they cause you to be unhappy.

If hedonism is true, then as long as we remain alive and greet each day happily, our lives cannot go badly. A stiff upper lip-or a soma pill, or genuine indifference-is enough to protect against harm.


So, for those who want to be immune from harm, here is the recipe. They must become either emotionally blank or permanently upbeat. Those who are never sad are never harmed. Their talents might go to waste; their limbs might atrophy; their senses deaden, friendships break, curiosity dim-if hedonism is correct, none of this will undermine their well-being, so long as they are not saddened by it.

Perhaps unhappiness always makes us worse off. But other things might do so as well. Consider how reasonable it is to be saddened, say, at a failed chance at love, or at the loss of a dear friend. Such things diminish our happiness.

But they do so only because our happiness, in these and so many other cases, depends on our appreciating what has value in its own right. If loving relationships didn’t by themselves contribute to our welfare, it wouldn’t be so clear that their loss is our loss. We mourn because we have been deprived of someone whose presence, in its own right, makes our lives richer.

Hedonism runs into trouble when trying to account for this. Here is an argument that shows how. Call it the Argument from Multiple Harms:

1. If hedonism is true, then you can be harmed by something only because it saddens you.

2. You can be harmed in other ways. 3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

The first premise is clearly true. And the second also seems plausible. Tragedies don’t disappear just because their victims are reconciled to them. The unhappiness we experience is bad for us. But it can also be a symptom of the loss of something that, all by itself, matters to our well-being. Our

misery in such situations is evidence that things other than happiness can directly make a difference to our well-being. If that is so, then hedonism is mistaken.


Hedonism has always had its fans. And, as we have seen, there are many good reasons for its popularity. It explains why there are many paths to a good life. It strikes a balance between a view that imposes just one blue­ print of a good life, and a view that allows anything to be valuable so long as you think it is. It provides a ready explanation for why misery so clearly damages a life, and why happiness so dearly improves it. Hedonism offers a natural stopping point for explaining what is intrinsically valuable. It

Is Happiness All That Matters? 37

accounts for why the rules of a good life allow for exceptions. And happi­ ness is what we want for our loved ones-what better evidence that happi­ ness truly contributes to a good life?

And yet hedonism is not problem-free. I think that hedonists have good replies to the paradox of hedonism, the worry about evil pleasures, and Ross’s Two Worlds objections. But things become trickier when we consider the value of a happiness that is based on false beliefs. Hedonists cannot allow for the intrinsic value of autonomy.

They can’t make sense of the idea that, of two lives containing the same amount of happiness, the one that continually shows improvement is better than the one that shows a steady downhill slide. Hedonists also fail to appreciate that unhappi­ness is often a symptom that something intrinsically valuable-something other than happiness-has been lost.

Perhaps happiness is not, after all, the key to our well-being. Let’s now consider an alternative approach-one that tells us that getting what you want is the measure of a good life.


1. See the discussion of validity and logical reasoning in the introduction, pp. 7-12. 2. When philosophers talk like this, they don’t mean that a person is cutthroat

and bloodthirsty, but only that he has many vices. In this sense-the one used

throughout this book-being vicious is the opposite of being virtuous. 3. The example, and Nozick’s discussion of it, can be found in his book Anarchy,

State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), pp. 42-45. 4. A couple of accessible places to start are Harvey Fireside, Soviet Psychoprisons

(New York: w.w. Norton, 1982), and Peter Reddaway and Sidney Bloch, Soviet

Psychiatric Abuse: The Shadow over World Psychiatry (Boulder, Colo.: Westview

Press, 1984).


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .–.

Getting What You Want

uppose that you’re unsure about what it takes to live a good life. So

Syou visit your nearest philosophy department, plunk yourself down in the ethicist’s office, and ask her directly. And suppose she gives you the following advice:

1. Love the one you’re with 2. Get in shape 3. Dance 4. Study philosophy 5. Build things

Now, that strikes me as a pretty good list. It’s not the whole of a good life, surely, but it’s not a bad start.

But what if you disagree? What if you’re a terrible dancer? What if you don’t care about your figure, or about the benefits of getting in shape? Maybe you’re a klutz, like me, and can’t build anything more complicated than a paper football.

Come to think of it, what could possibly qualify this professor to give advice about the good life? Surely, you might think , you get to decide for yourself what’s going to make your life better off. Dancing and building things may work wonders for her, but that doesn’t mean that her recipe for success has any universal authority. No recipe does. It all depends on what you care about.

The desire satisfaction theory of human welfare takes this sort of criticism very seriously. The theory tells us that your life goes well for you


Getting VVhat You Want 39

to the extent that you get what you want. Something is good for you if, and only if, it satisfies your desires. And, at the other end of the spectrum, your life goes badly just when your desires are frustrated.

On this view, nothing can make your life better unless it gets you what you want. Such things as wealth, health, and a loving family improve our lot in life only if we want them, or the things they can provide. If we are indifferent to them, then they can’t make us better off.

Given that people care about very different things, it follows that there is no single model of a good life. What makes my life good may be very

different from what does the trick for you, because you and I may not want the same things. Our deepest desires determine what counts as life’s improvements or failures. On this line of thinking, nothing-not fitness, love, knowledge, or virtue-is an essential ingredient in making everyone’s life better off. Whether our lives have been improved depends entirely on whether our desires have been fulfilled.

There is a lot to like about this theory. Here are some of its main attractions.

A Variety of Good Lives The desire satisfaction theory explains why there are many models of a good life, rather than just a single one. It seems possible to have a good life that consists in wholehearted devotion to religious causes, to philosophy, music, travel, social justice, Star Trek conventions, or a favorite sports team. A good life focused on none of these, or a combination of these, also seems possible.

This makes perfect sense if we assume that our individual desires hold the key to a good life. I prefer chocolate to vanilla, and you don’t? Then chocolate makes me better off, and vanilla does the same for you. You really, really want to collect igneous rocks? Splendid. Then youa bet­ ter get your hands on some. But my life will go perfectly well without any. The desire satisfaction theory easily accounts for this: your life goes well to

the extent that your desires are satisfied. Since people desire very different things, there is a wide variety of good lives.

Personal Authority Against the previous point, many people would argue that the good life must be focused on a single kind of pursuit-religious devotion, inner harmony, creativity, philosophy, to name just a few prominent candidates. But there is something worrying about such single-mindedness. For each


of these candidates, there are many who feel excluded and even angered at the suggestion that their life doesn’t fit the favored model. After all, if you love excitement and hate tranquility, can it really be that inner harmony is the key to your well-being?

Have you ever had this experience? Some well-dressed folks come knocking at your door and end up telling you that you are wasting your life. You’ve strayed too far from their model of ideal living. It’s easy to feel that their confidence is presumptuous. They have a one-size-fits-all frame­ work of the good life, and you don’t get any input in forming the plans.

Desire theorists reject all such views. If they are right, then each of us has the final say on what makes our life go well, because it’s our own desires that determine how well we are faring. Further, no one gets to dictate which fundamental desires we should have. That is a personal matter. There is no universal standard for appropriate desires.

To each his own. This view gives us a huge amount of freedom to choose our own vision of the good life. The only limitation here is that the good life must consist of satisfied desires. But what these deSires are for-that is entirely up to you.

Avoiding Objective Values A popular approach says that the good life consists of a handful of activi­ ties and experiences: gaining knowledge, experiencing love, appreciating art and music, being virtuous, and taking enjoyment in all of these things. This is an example of an objective theory of human welfare. It is objective in the sense that what contributes to a good life is fixed independently of your desires and your opinions about what is important.

There are lots of objective theories of welfare. Some theories, for instance, insist that the more knowledge you have, the better your life is going for you-even if you don’t care very much about obtaining knowl­ edge. Others disagree, and claim that many instances of knowledge have no bearing at all on how well-off you are.

(Some ammunition: Is your life really better now that you know I have a cat named Oscar?) Other theories insist that virtue is required for a good life, no matter how you feel about virtue’s importance. Critics claim that immoral people can be as well off as the rest of us. And so on.

Desire theorists reject all objective theories of welfare. I n doing so, they spare themselves the huge controversies that surround the defense of objective values. It is notoriously difficult to argue for such values. because, for any contender, we can always ask a variation of a question posed earlier: How can something make my life better if I don’t want it, and don’t want what it can get me? Sure, if you want to be a star athlete or

of ing peing

Getting What You Want 41

a world-class musician, then daily practice will improve your life. But if you have no such dreams, and don’t care about anything that such practice can get you, then how could it be good for you? That’s a very hard question. Desire theorists never have to answer it.


Many people think that something can be good for us only if we can be motivated to pursue it. This thought is what underlies many of the suspi­ cions about objective theories. Some people are left completely cold by the prospect, say, of being rich or of gaining political power, and we suspect that if this is true, then such things really do not improve their welfare. These doubts can be expressed in the First Motivation Argument:

1. If something is truly good for you, then you will be motivated to get it-so long as you are thinking dearly and know what you want.

2. Many who are self-aware and thinking clearly remain unmoved by the prospect rich.

3. Therefore, rich will not improve the lives of such people.

We can repeat this argument for anything that is said to be an objec­ tive good-philosophy, religious observance, fame, health, etc. Regardless of which good you put forward (i.e., no matter how you fill in the blank in the argument above), there will always be some smart, self-aware peo­ ple who don’t care about it. The upshot is that this argument threatens all objective theories of well-being.

The desire theory does not fall prey to this argument. And the reason for this is simple. If the desire theory is true, then something is good for us only if it serves our desires. And desires are motivations. To say that we want something is another way of saying that we are motivated to get it. Consider, then, the Second Motivational Argument:

1. If something is truly good for you, then it will satisfy your desires. 2. If something will satisfy your desires, then you will be motivated to

get it-so long as you are thinking dearly and know what you want. 3. Therefore, if something is truly good for you, then you will be moti­

vated to get it-so long as you are thinking dearly and know what you want.

The first premise states a central claim of the desire theory. The second premise seems clearly true, once we understand that desires motivate us to do things. And the argument is valid, so if both premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Indeed, desire theorists regard this conclusion


as an important truth. and think that it is a major strike against objective theories that they cannot accommodate it.

One caution about understanding this second argument: it does not say that we will always do what is good for us. Rather. it says that we will always find something appealing about doing the things that make us bet­ ter off. That appeal can sometimes be outweighed-say, by considerations of duty, or by laziness. or fuzzy thinking. But as long as we know what we want. and know how to get it, we will be moved to some extent to follow through.

And the desire theory tells us that following through will always improve our welfare. So, if the desire theory is true, there is an attractively dose connection between what is good for us and our motivations. No objective theory can forge such a dose connection between personal wel­ fare and motivation, since, for any alleged objective good, it is possible that some people will be completely uninterested in obtaining it.

Justifying the Pursuit of Self Interest What is the point of trying to improve your life? Many regard this as a rhetorical question. Desire theorists don’t. They have an answer.

I think that there is always some reason to look after yourself, to do what is best for yourself. Almost everyone thinks so. My well-being is important. But so is yours. And this leads to one of the great ethical questions: What should we do in cases where self-interest and the interests of others contlict?

Much of part 2 of this book is devoted to exploring such conflicts. For right now, let’s focus just on the thought that we have some reason to tend to our own needs. This may strike you as self-evident. And perhaps it is. But what if someone challenged this claim? Is there anything that we can say on its behalf?

Desire theorists have something to say. And this is a big plus, since it is always best to be able to justify a claim, rather than have to insist on its truth without being able to back it up. The desire theorist can offer the fol­ lowing argument to support the view that there is always good reason to look out for ourselves. Let’s call this the Argument for Self-Interest:

1. If something makes us better off, then it satisfies our desires. 2. If something satisfies our desires. then we have reason to obtain it. 3. Therefore, if something makes us better off, then we have reason to

obtain it.

Premise 1 states an essential claim of the desire theory. And premise 2 seems pretty plausible. Our wanting something gives us a reason to get

Getting What You Want 43

it. If you want to lose weight, then you have reason to exercise and watch your calories. If you want to ace that exam, you have reason to study hard. If you want to complete your collection of Romanian postage stamps, then it’s a good idea to track down the missing ones and buy them.

In short, there is always something to be said in favor of getting what we want. Not necessarily the best reason, but still, a good reason. If that is so, and if the desire theory is true, then your self-interest is always an important consideration. Even if it isn’t always the most important reason you have, there is always a good reason to look out for yourself.

Contrast this with an objectivist theor y of well-being. Suppose, for instance, that an objectivist claims that inner peace is good for you, whether you know it or not. But suppose that inner peace is not your cup of tea.

You embrace risk, you hate to be bored, and you enjoy a life of turmoil and excitement. If inner tranquility led to something that you really cared about, then it would be easy to see why it made sense for you to pursue it. But that would make it only instrumentally, not intrinsically, valuable.

If you don’ t care about inner peace, and it gets you nothing you do care about, then it is hard to see why there is any reason for you to seek it. And the same goes for any other supposed objective good. Desire theorists easily handle this problem. You have reason to promote your self-interest because you have reason to get what you want, and getting what you want is the key to self-interest.

Knowledge of the Good If the desire theory is correct, then we have a straightforward answer to a perennial question: How can I know what is good for me? The answer is simple: Be clear about what you want. Then make sure you know how to get it.

This isn’t always easy in practice. I may really want to get someone to fall in love with me, but finding the best method to do this could be, to put it mildly, quite tricky.

Difficulties can also arise if! want conflicting things-and don’t we all? In such cases, you should fulfill the desire that you care about more. Again, it isn’t always easy in practice to tell which one this is. Sometimes we real­ ize only too late that we made a mistake and pursued a goal that mattered less to us than the one we passed up. In that case, we chose badly-we may have gained some good, but we would have gained even more had we satisfied our deeper desire.


These are not difficulties with the desire theory. After all, at times it really is very hard to know how to make our lives better. A plausible theory of well-being should explain why we are puzzled, when we are. It should also give us clear advice in many cases.

The desire theory does both. It tells us why it is sometimes so difficult to know what is best for us-because we don’t know how to get what we want, or we aren’t sure about what we want most. And it also explains the easy cases-these are precisely those where we do know what we want, and know how to get it.

Compare this picture to the one offered by objectivists. If personal

opinion or preference does not determine what is best for us, then how

can we know what to aim for? Objectivists insist that (say) knowledge, virtue, and inner peace are directly good for us. But how can they defend such claims, if we consistently deny them? What if (as is really the case) different objectivists disagree among themselves about what has intrinsic value?

Are we just supposed to “intuit” the truth of one competing claim over another? What happens if I intuit the importance of virtue and you don’t? How do we resolve the dispute between those who are sure that virtue is the key to a good life and those who insist that fame and fortune is what it’s all about?

Desire theorists avoid all such difficult questions. They deny that there are any objective goods. Thus they are spared the task of explaining how we could have knowledge of such things. You want to know how to make yourself better off? Get clear about what you really care about. Then find out how to get it. It isn’t always easy. But it isn’t a fundamental mystery, either.


……… , r-.,.. …….. . .

Problems for the Desire Theory

T he previous chapter offers a very nice laundry list of attractions of the desire satisfaction theory, which help to explain why it is so popular. But (you guessed it) there are also a number of difficulties

that this theory faces, and some of them are serious enough to force us to revise the view, and possibly even to reject it.

To appreciate these worries, let’s remind ourselves of the two central claims of the desire theory:

A.If something is good for us, then it fulfills our desires. B. If something fulfills our desires, then it is good for us.

A tells us that something must satisfy our desires in order to be good for us; desire satisfaction is necessary for becoming better off. B tells us that satisfying our desires is enough to make us better off; desire satisfac­ tion is sufficient for becoming better off. Let’s begin by considering A, and then move to a discussion of B.

Getting What You Want May Not Be Necessary for Promoting Your Good We can test A by seeing whether we can come up with an example in which something benefits us, even though it doesn’t satisfy any of our desires. If there are any such examples, then A is false.

There do seem to be such examples. Three spring to mind. The first is that of pleasant surprises. These are cases in which you are

getting a benefit that you didn’t want or hope for, something that never



appeared on your radar screen-say, a windfall tax rebate, an unexpectedly kind remark from a typically hostile co-worker, or the flattering interest of a charming stranger. It makes sense to say that you’re a bit better off as a result of such things, even though they didn’t satisfy any of your desires.

Of course, now that you’ve experienced such things, you may well want more of them. But that’s because they have made your life better off already. And they did that without answering to any of your preexisting desires.

The second case is that of small children and the severely mentally handicapped. We can benefit such people in a number of ways, even though we don’t give them what they want. I benefit my three year-old by getting her vaccinated against various diseases, even though she doesn’t want the shots, and doesn’t know enough to want to be free of the diseases that she is being immunized for.

I can benefit a mentally unstable patient with a regimen of therapy that may be the last thing she wants. We think, rightly, that we are sometimes in a better position to know what’s best for these people, even though this means forcing them to do things that fail to get them anything they want.

The third case is suicide prevention. Those who are deeply sad or depressed may decide that they would be better off dead. They are often wrong about that. Suppose we prevent them from doing away with them­ selves. This may only frustrate their deepest wishes. And yet they may be better off as a result. (We will return to this example later.)

In each of these cases, we can improve the lives of people without get­ ting them what they want. They may, later on, approve of our actions, and be pleased that we acted as we did. But this after-the-fact approval is something very different from desire satisfaction. Indeed, it seems that the later pleasure or approval is evidence that we benefited them, even though we did not do anything that served their desires. And that is evidence that A is mistaken.

Getting What You Want May Not Be Sufficient for Promoting Your Good If B is true, then we are better off whenever our desires are satisfied. There are many reasons to doubt this.

Desires Based on False Beliefs

Suppose that I am at an auction and really want the painting that’s now for sale. I like the way the painting looks, but the real reason I want it is because

Problems for the Desire Theory 47

I think my grandfather once owned it, and this has great sentimental value for me. I bid up the price and land the artwork. Desire satisfied.

But suppose my grandfather never did own this artwork. In that case, it’s hard to see that I am any better off than I used to be-even though I badly wanted this painting and got my wish.

There are some cases in which very ill patients want, quite desperately, to acquire a certain medicine that is hard to get. This is easily explained: they think that the medicine will cure them. Sadly, it often won’t. Sup­ pose they manage to obtain the pills they want, but the pills are ineffective. These patients are no better off as a result.

You might think that these examples, and others like them, show that claim B is false, and so show that getting what we want isn’t all it’s

cracked up to be. But desire theorists have a reply to such cases. They can say that these people did not really get what they wanted. I wanted my

grandfather’s painting; the patients wanted a cure. We didn’t get what we bargained for.

Still, it really is possible to base your desires on false beliefs. And when that happens, it is hard to see why satisfying such a desire makes us any better off. For instance, you may want to hurt someone for having insulted you, when he did no such thing. You aren’t any better off if you mistreat the poor guy.

From now on, then, we should understand the desire theory to insist that it is only informed desires whose satisfaction will improve our lives. Fulfilling those desires based on false beliefs need not improve our welfare. So the real thesis under consideration will be

(C) If something fulfills our informed desires (i.e., those not based on false beliefs), then that thing is good for us.

Disinterested and Other-Regarding Desires All of us want some things that seem entirely unrelated to us. Our desires are directed, say, at the interests of strangers, or at no interests at all. (Per­ haps I want there to be an even number of planets, and now that Pluto has been banned from the club, I’ve finally gotten my wish.) In such cases, we can get what we want, even though it is hard to see how our lives are improved as a result.

In the fall of 2004, I watched in disbelief as the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees to clinch the pennant. The Red Sox then


defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series champion­ ship in eighty-six years. I didn’t grow up in Boston, and hadn’t cared about baseball since I was a kid. But I became hooked by this classic underdog story, and found myself wanting the Red Sox to win. They did. But I can’t see that my life was any better for it.

Last year I read about a whale that had beached itself on a New England coast. I remember wanting that whale to survive, to be eased back into the ocean without being harmed. And it was. It’s easy to see that the whale was better off as a result of the rescue operation. But it’s not so easy to see that my life got any better.

There is a natural reply to such examples. My life was indeed mildly improved, because I was pleased to get what I wanted. And that may be true. The problem with this reply, however, is that it is not available to desire theorists. The desire theory does not assign any intrinsic value to pleasure. If desire theorists are correct, then your life goes better just so long as more of your desires are satisfied-regardless of how much plea­ sure this yields. A more pleasant life is not necessarily better for those who live it.

There is a quite different reply we might make on behalf of the theory. We might amend C to read:

(D) If something has fulfilled our informed, self-regarding desires, then that thing is good for us.

Self-regarding desires are those that concern only yourself. Since my desire for an even number of planets, a Red Sox victory, and the whale’s rescue were not self-regarding, then they cannot serve as counterexam­ ples to D.

Passing Fancies

But even D encounters difficulties, in the form of brief and mild desires. These are passing fancies, momentary desires of little intensity. I skip down the sidewalk, trying to avoid its cracks. Nothing is really at stake here, and I know that. Still, I want this very little thing, even though it’s true that if I were to step on a crack, I wouldn’t be at all upset. I’d just smile at my sil­ liness and forget about it.

Suppose I avoid those cracks. Am I better off as a result? It doesn’t seem so. Perhaps I’d gain a slight bit of pleasure. That would make a dif­ ference if hedonism were true. But on the desire view, we are supposed to think that my life is better off just for having satisfied a desire-any desire,

Problems for the Desire Theory 49

no matter how minor-even if this brings me no pleasure as a result. The case of passing fancies casts some doubt on that view.


But perhaps that doesn’t strike you as odd. You think that the satisfaction of even the most minor desires will yield at least trace improvements in a life. Still, there is a lingering worry about D.

Suppose that you form a steady, serious desire-no passing fancy. Suppose your desire is self-regarding, and isn’t based on any false beliefs. And you get what you want. If D is true, this guarantees some improve­ ment in your life.

But consider a young musician who has staked his hopes on becom­ ing famous some day. And that day comes-but all he feels is disappoint­ ment. He got what he wanted. He knows it. And he hates how it feels.

Getting what you really want can sometimes be a huge letdown. All the build-up, the expectation and anticipation, and then, rather than any feeling of joy, just a blank sort of sadness-or worse. You’ve seriously invested yourself in some project, have brought it to a successful end, and then find yourself filled with emptiness, boredom, or depression.

I was recently reminded of these points when reading the following passage in John McEnroe’s autobiography:

I was playing great tennis, and I destroyed Lendl to win the ’84 Mas­ ters . . . m finally taken my game to what felt like a notch above all my opponents: It should have been great. I wish it had been. But it wasn’t.

It still felt hollow-I’d thought it would help straighten me out … but it wasn’t doing a thing for me inside. It reminded me of the

story of King Midas: My success wasn’t translating into happiness.!

If seeing your desires come true only makes you miserable, then how could this mark an improvement in your life? D commits us to saying that you are better off in such a case. This is very difficult to accept.

We could, of course, modify the desire theory once again:

(E) If something has fulfilled our informed, self-regarding desires, and we are pleased as a result of this, then that thing is good for us.

E might be true. But that should be small comfort to the desire theorist. For it now seems that it is pleasure that is making our lives better off, rather than desire satisfaction per se. If desire satisfaction is met only with disappoint­ ment and unhappiness, it is hard to see how you are any better off as a result.


Ignorance of Desire Satisfaction Consider a case in which my informed desires are satisfied. I get what 10 hoped for. But I don’t realize this. I never know that my goal has been met. It doesn’t seem that I am any better off in such a situation.

Suppose, for instance, that I really want to be the tallest person in my town. Not because I expect a prize, or even any special recognition. I just want to be the tallest guy around. And suppose that the one man taller than me has just moved to a different city. My desire is fulfilled. But I never know this. By the time I find out that he’s left, someone taller than me has moved to town. It’s hard to see that my life was any better in the intervaL

Or, to take a less bizarre case, think of a person deeply committed to finding a cure for a terrible disease. After years of hard work, she succeeds. But she goes to her grave never realizing this. She thinks her efforts have been wasted. Her success does not, by itself, mark any improvement in her life.

Imagine a man who very much wants to be a father. He has a series of relationships, one of which leads to a pregnancy and then to a child. But the mother never informs him of this, and he never finds out through other channels. His desire is satisfied, but his quality of life has not improved.

As in the cases of disappointment, what we have here are examples in which our informed, self-regarding desires are satisfied, but we don’t seem to be any better off as a result If that is so, then the desire theor y is mis­ taken in thinking that the satisfaction of even an informed, self-regarding desire is enough to improve our level of well-being.

Impoverished Desires According to the desire theory, in any of its versions, having a good life is essentially a matter of fulfilling your desires. Our desires, however, are often shaped by the way we have been raised. The expectations that we have been taught to have are especially important influences. And this cre­ ates a problem.

Some parents have raised their children to believe themselves unwor­ thy of love, or incapable of real accomplishment. Some societies continue to treat the women among them as second-class citizens (if citizens at all). Women in such societies are told from the earliest age that their sphere is limited, that any political or professional hopes are unnatural and highly inappropriate.

Problems for the Desire Theory 51

It’s easy to take such messages to heart. If you are told from the cradle that your greatest ambition should be to serve your master, then you may well end up with no desire any stronger than that. If desire fulfillment is the measure of a good life, then such lives can be very good indeed.

That doesn’t seem right. For instance, it is tempting to think that a slave cannot live a very good life, regardless of whether her desires are fulfilled. And that is because she is unfree. But desire theorists reject the idea that there is anything intrinsically valuable about freedom. Nothing is important-not intellectual or artistic achievement, not freedom, not pleasure-unless one desires it.

lf it has been drilled into your head that it is presumptuous of you to want a happy life, that it is foolish to seek freedom, that education is irrelevant for “your kind;’ then a reasonable response may well be to abandon hope for any such things. Better to have goals you can achieve than to set yourself up for constant disappointment.

And yet what kind of life is that? The desire theorist seems forced to say that it may be among the best. The lower your expectations, the easier they are to satisfy. As a result, those who set their sights very low may have a greater number of satisfied desires than those with more challeng­ ing goals. But this hardly seems to make for a better life.

The Paradox of Self-Harm and Self-Sacrifice

If the desire theory is correct, then getting what you want makes you better off. But what if people want to harm themselves? This needn’t be irratio­ nal. For instance, people may feel remorse for wrongs they have done, and want to do penance. Others may despise themselves, full of self-loathing, convinced that they deserve only harm, rather than good. No matter their ultimate motive, they deeply want to harm themselves.

In other cases, people want to sacrifice their self-interest in order to promote the good of someone they care about, or some cause that is more important to them than their own welfare.

It seems possible for such people to succeed. People can willingly harm themselves, and they can sacrifice their well-being to causes that matter to them. And yet the desire theory denies this. For if such people satisfy their self-destructive or self-sacrificing desires, then the theory says that they are better off!

So long as they get what they really want, then they must be benefited as a result. And yet their fondest wish is to harm or to sacrifice themselves. So the desire theory generates a paradox: Wanting to harm or sacrifice yourself makes it impossible to do so. Since it does seem possible both to want such things and to succeed, the desire theory is suspect.


The Fallibility of Our Deepest Desires Most of us don’t intentionally set out to harm ourselves. But there are other cases in the neighborhood that pose problems for the desire theo­ rist. I am thinking here of suicide, where the would-be suicide is regarding her death not as a harm, but rather as a benefit. She is not trying to make herself worse off. Rather, she is trying to improve her life-by ending it. True, this also has an air of paradox about it. Let’s see what a desire theorist can say about such cases.

There are many different kinds of suicides. The one that poses the sharpest problem for the desire theory is that of a person whose life, by our lights, has terrific promise and is definitely worth living. Yet the sui­ cidal person does not share our view.

Suppose, in a common example, that his lover has broken up with him and left, never to return. He is stricken with grief and resolves to kill himself. This becomes his obsession; he most wants to die. If the desire theory is true, then the deeper the desire, the better off its fulfillment will make you. Thus in his case, dying is his best option. Nothing else will make him as well off.

It is hard to accept that. And desire theorists may have an out. After all, their best view is that the satisfaction of informed desires is what con­ tributes to your well-being. And the suicide’s desire to end his life might be based on a false belief.

But which belief would this be? He may be well aware of all of the facts of his life, and look at them with only pain and anxiety. In that case, it is tempting to think that his false belief is this: My life is going very badly, and isn’t likely to get any better.

The problem is that desire theorists may have to regard this belief as true. In their view, your desires determine how well your life is going. If this person is clear-eyed, and sees that he is getting very little of what he wants, then his life really is going poorly.

Further, he may be quite self­ aware about what he is likely to want in the future-a relationship with his former lover-and realize that this desire is bound to be frustrated. If so, then his life is not going to improve.

What we want to tell such a person is this: Change your desires! Stop wanting her so much. (Not that this is easy. Not that it can happen over­ night.) But suppose that he won’t, and that he knows this. Or suppose that he doesn’t want to change his desires.

We tell him to shift his attachments, because his current obsession is only causing him misery and preventing him from taking an interest in what really matters. Yet from the desire theorist’s perspective, such advice is fundamentally mistaken. Things mat­ ter only to the extent that you care about them. So happiness is important

Problems jor the Desire Theory 53

only so long as we want it. What really matters depends entirely on our desires. If, at bottom, you really want to die, then you are better off dead.

This is one of many possible examples of basic desires that can appear to be fundamentally off-base. Consider people whose main aim is to clean latrines, or to cut sheets of paper into sixty-four squares, or to anger as many people as they can. Strange people, indeed.

Such cases allow us to see how one of the main attractions of the desire theory-its reluctance to criticize our desires, to hold them up to any objective standard of value-is also a weakness. It isn’t that hard to satisfy these unusual desires. So the good life is easily within the grasp of such people. But the thought that any of these people is living a good life is very hard to take.

And it gets worse: if the desire theory is correct, then such people may be much better off than those whose lives strike us as much more desirable. Consider a professio,nal musician who takes great enjoyment in seeing new cities, making new friends, engaging in stimulating conversa­ tion, cooking gourmet meals for her beloved family, taking fine nature photos, and perfecting her jiujitsu skills.

Hers is a life of abundant plea­ sure, taken in worthwhile activities. And yet, let us imagine, she has also suffered her share of disappointments-no more than usual, perhaps even a bit less, but certainly more than the latrine cleaner. In such a case, the desire theory forces us to say that the enthusiastic latrine cleaner is better off than the musician.

Of course, if our latrine cleaner is very seriously mentally disabled, then we might well consider him fortunate to have found something that he deeply wants, and is easily able to do. Still, we regard his dis­ ability as a misfortune, despite the fact that his life may contain a much greater number of satisfied desires than ours. And that shows that we consider things other than satisfied desires to be essential elements of a good life.


There are a number of reasons to think that the good life consists in our getting what we want. But there are some serious problems with this sug­ gestion, and with each of its variants. Most of the problems boil down to this: the desire theorist cannot recognize that any desires are intrinSically better than any others. If your heart is set on repeatedly counting to nine, or on saying the word putty until you die, then (in this view) succeeding in such tasks yields a life as good as can be for you.


But a promising youth may have a death wish; an oppressed slave may want only to serve her master; a decent but self-loathing man may most want to be publicly humiliated. We can imagine these desires fulfilled,

and yet the resulting lives appear to be impoverished, rather than envi­ able. Indeed, we regard such people as unfortunate precisely because of what they want-their desires are not fit to be satisfied, because they fail to reflect an investment in what is worthwhile.

To say such a thing, however, is to side with the objectivist, and to reject an essential element of the desire theory. For the desire theorist, nothing but satisfied desires makes a direct contribution to our well-being, and there are no objective standards that mark off some basic desires as more deserving of our attention than others. On this view, value is in the eye of the beholder, and so those who prefer a day of cutting paper into pieces may really be living the best life a human being can live.

Compare two lives. The first is that of our musician. It is a rich life, filled with varied pleasures, though also containing by some frustrated desires. The second is that of a partially lobotomized adult who has enough cogni­ tive powers to have informed desires, though not very many, and none of great complexity. If you were deciding between them, solely on the basis of self-interest, wouldn’t you choose to have the musician’s life-even if you knew that it contained fewer satisfied desires?

Some adults have the mental powers of an infant or a very small child. I am not claiming that such people have nothing to live for, or that their lives cannot be good ones. I am assuming, however, that such lives are not the very best ones that human beings can lead.

And yet they may contain the greatest number of satisfied desires, especially if the relevant desires are very easy to fulfill. If the desire theory is true, the quality of life in such a case is unsurpassed. That, too, is very difficult to accept.

Further, suppose that all of your deepest desires have been satisfied, but that this leaves you only completely miserable. The desire theorist is forced to regard this as the best sort of life, whereas most of us would think it a horrible life, and certainly very far from the pinnacle of well-being.

I think that the challenges recorded here are serious enough to cast doubt on the desire theory, in any of its versions. Getting what we want is not, it seems, an essential part of the good life. It is neither a guarantee of it, nor a requirement.

W hat, then, holds the key to the good life? Happiness is surely a part of it; a life of misery, or at least without enjoyment of any kind, is not an

enviable existence. But as earlier discussions have shown, there is more to

Problems for the Desire Theory 55

the good life than happiness. The conclusion we are forced to is that the good life depends on objective values, things that are valuable even if we fail to value them. Happiness is one objective value. Autonomy is another. There are doubtless others. These are things worth wanting, things that we ought to obtain or achieve if we seek the best life for ourselves. Want the complete list? The only way to get it is by doing (a lot) more philosophy.


1. John McEnroe with James Kaplan, You Cannot Be Serious (New York: Berkeley Books, 2002), p. 172.


Doing the Right Thing . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,…… . . …. . . . . . . . . . .. …. .


……… …….. .

Morality and Religion

Three Assumptions About Morality and Religion Religion has always been the most popular source of morality. In times of need and moral perplexity, religious believers consult priests, rabbis, imams; they avidly read their sacred texts; they look for guidance to long­ standing religious traditions. All of this is perfectly natural.

Since hundreds of millions of people view morality through the lens of one religion or another, it is important that we examine this relationship carefully. We aren’t going to try to determine here whether God exists; nor are we going to explore specific doctrines that separate one religion from another.

Instead, I want to take a step back and examine the central claims that underlie the widespread view that morality depends on religion. Three assumptions seem especially important to forging a connection between religion and morality:

1. Religious belief is needed to get us to do our duty. 2. Morality must be created by someone, and God is by far the best

candidate for the job.

3. Religious wisdom is the key to providing us with moral guidance.

Let’s examine these assumptions in order.

First Assumption: Religious Belief Is Needed for Moral Motivation A popular argument in favor of the religious life states that atheismI (the view that God2 does not exist) prevents us from seeing why we should


Morality and Religion 59

be moral. And if we are blinded to our reasons to be good, then we will

likely be bad. Without belief in God, people are more likely to stray from

the path of virtue and give in to the wrong kinds of temptation. It will be harder for them to sacrifice self-interest when duty calls. But once God is in the picture, our will is strengthened. Religious people are going to be more conscientious than atheists or agnostics (those who are unsure whether God exists or not).

This may be true. If it is, what would explain it? The most popular answer cites our fear of God and our desire for a

happy afterlife. The thought of spending eternity in flames, or divorced from God’s love, is a pretty powerful check on our immoral impulses. If God exists, justice will eventually be done-and woe, then, to the sinner. Good deeds will be rewarded, if not here on earth, then in an otherworldly para­ dise. So believers have very strong reasons to be moral. Nonbelievers don’t have such incentives. They will therefore fall more easily into temptation.

Suppose this is correct. Still, this wouldn’t show that religious people are more likely to do good. It would only show that they are more likely to be conscientious. But being conscientious doesn’t always translate into doing good. Some of the leaders of the Inquisition were very conscien­ tious. Their conscience led them to torture their victims in an intensely cruel way.

Religious conviction may strengthen our commitments. But religion has sometimes asked its followers to wage war, not peace; to kill; to take the land and wealth of others; and to destroy the cultures of non­ believers. Religion doesn’t’ t always help us to become better people. It all depends on whether the religious principles we subscribe to are morally good in the first place.

But let’s imagine a best -case scenario, one in which our religious views are morally attractive. And suppose that religious believers really are more likely than nonbelievers to be conscientious. What would this show? It would not show that God exists.

Nor would it show that morality depends in any way upon God. Rather, it is an argument for the practical benefits of certain religious beliefs. It says that believers with morally good views are more likely than nonbelievers to do the right thing.

Yet the benefits of holding a belief are one thing, its truth another. For all that this reasoning shows, religious beliefs may simply be useful fic­ tions, false beliefs that do a lot of good.

I am not saying that this is so. In fact, let us grant, for argument’s sake, that some set of religious beliefs is correct. Still, this account of how religious belief strengthens our moral motivations is problematic. The


reason is simple. If hope for heavenly reward or fear of God’s anger is what

prompts us to do good, then we may well do the right thing-but for the wrong reasons.

To see this, imagine a person who acts morally, but only because she thinks that God punishes those who don’t and rewards those who do. Such a person is not well motivated.

She is bowing to a stern taskmaster, and doing her duty not because she loves God, but rather because she sees God as threatening the worst punishments or offering the best bribes. Such a person is unreliably moral, for if she came to believe that God really didn’t offer the expected rewards and punishments, then she would see no rea­ son to be moral.

Fear of God has been a traditional way to get people to do their duty. But when it is effective, it undermines moral character, rather than sup­ ports it. People who deserve our praise and admiration are those who do their duty for its own sake.

They do what is right because it is right, rather than from ulterior, self-interested motives. This is an attitude of direct respect for morality. Agnostics and atheists have just as much reason to adopt this attitude as theists do.

Even if fear of God is the most effective way to get people to do what they should, this would not show that God exists. It would not show that religious beliefs are correct. And, crucially, it would not show that atheists or agnostics are unable or unlikely to behave in morally admirable ways.

Being well motivated requires a love and respect for the morally impor­ tant things in life. Religion has often fostered such an outlook. But it isn’t required to do the job.

Second Assumption: God Is the Creator of Morality “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.”

Many people feel the force of this thought, recorded by one of Dosto­ evsky’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov. On this view, atheism spells the doom of morality.

The underlying idea seems to be this: Because morality represents a set of norms (i.e., standards that we ought to live up to), there must be someone with the authority to create them. Without God, there is no one but we human beings to make up the moral law.

And we lack the needed authority to do the work. Our say-so doesn’t make things right; our disap­ proval cannot make things wrong. We are limited in understanding and bound to make mistakes. A morality built upon our imperfections would lack credibility.

Morality and Religion 61

But a morality created by God-that is a different story entirely. After all, God is wholly perfect. What better credentials are there for drafting a moral code?

Add to these credentials the following vision. Imagine a godless uni­ verse, lacking any divine purpose. Where would moral norms come from? If we are wholly J,naterial beings, governed by physical laws, then there are many ways that we will behave.

But there seems to be no way that we ought to behave. If we are just very complex bundles of matter, without any externally imposed aims or purposes to live up to, then it is difficult to see how there can be moral duties at all. To get moral requirements into the picture, we must have someone with the authority to impose those duties on us. Only God could possibly qualify.

This vision of God’s role in morality-as its ultimate author, the one who makes up the moral code-rests on a crucial assumption. The assumption is that morality must be created by someone. The moral law, like any law, needs a legislator. No legislator, no law. And so: no God, no morality.3

This line of thinking leads directly to the following view, known to philosophers as the Divine Command Theory:

An act is morally required just because it is commanded by God, and immoral just because God forbids it.

I think that this is the natural, default view for a religious believer when thinking of God’s relation to morality. But it is not without its problems.

There are two of them. One is obvious. The Divine Command The­ ory makes morality depend on God’s commands. But God may not exist. Or, as deists believe, God may exist, but may not command us to do any thing. Deists claim that God set creation in motion, and then retired to survey His universe, refusing to involve Himself in human affairs. If the Divine Command Theory is true, and if either atheism or deism is correct, then nothing is right or wrong. Morality would be a complete sham.

But let’s proceed on the assumption that God does exist, and does care enough about us to give us direction. Still, there is a significant problem with the theory, a problem that was first recognized by Plato about a two and a half millennia ago.

In the Euthyphro, a short dialogue concerning the nature of piety, Plato has the title character pompously prattling on about what is and isn’t pious. In response to Socrates’s asking for its essence, Euthyphro


declares that piety is whatever is loved by the gods. Socrates then poses the following question: “Do the gods love actions because they are pious, or are actions pious because the gods love them?”

Euthyphro immediately starts to get nervous. A very reasonable response. Socratic interrogation rarely leaves your pride intact.

Euthyphro thinks that the first option is the better one. He is right (but for the wrong reasons, as it happens). By the end of the dialogue, Euthy­ phro is humbled. And we are enlightened.

With a few substitutions, we can get a newer version of Socrates’s question that is more relevant to our topic: “Does God command us to do actions because they are morally right, or are actions morally right because God commands them?”

The Divine Command Theory answers our new question by affirming the second option. Actions are morally right just because God insists that we perform them. Prior to God’s commands, nothing was right or wrong. Morality simply did not exist.

The first option says that God commands actions because they are right. This implies that God did not invent morality, but rather recognized an existing moral law and then commanded us to obey it. But God created everything. Therefore, He also created morality. Therefore, the first option is impossible.

But it is not impossible. In fact, it is the option that theists (those who believe in God) ought to prefer. Indeed, most religious philosophers reject the Divine Command Theory.

To see why, let us suppose that the theory is correct. Now imagine the point at which God is choosing a morality for us. God contemplates the nature of rape, torture, and treachery. What does He see? Being omni­ scient, God sees such actions for what they are. Crucially, He sees nothing wrong with them. They are, at this point, morally neutral. Nothing, as yet, is right or wrong.

But God did, at some point, make a decision. He forbade rape, theft, and most kinds of killing. If the Divine Command Theory is correct, then He didn’t forbid them because they were immoral. There is nothing about the actions themselves that invites condemnation. They are wrong only because God commanded us to refrain from them.

But why would God issue such commands? It may be presumptuous of us to try to answer that question. But we can ask a slightly different question: Did God have reasons for His decisions, or not?

Morality and eligion 63

If the Divine Command Theory is true, then there is trouble either way. If God lacks reasons for His commands-if there is no solid basis sup­ porting His decisions to prohibit certain things, and require others-then God’s decisions are arbitrary. It would be as if God were creating morality by a coin toss. But that is surely implausible. A capricious, arbitrary God is imperfect and unworthy of worship.

So a perfect God must have had excellent reasons for laying down the moral law as He did. But then these reasons, and not God’s commands, are what makes actions right or wrong. Actions are not right because God com­ mands them. Whatever reasons support God’s choices also explain why actions have the moral status they do.

Suppose, for instance, that God really did forbid us from torturing oth­ ers. God must have had very good reasons for doing so. While we can’t pre­ sume to know God’s thoughts, let’s assume, just for purposes of illustration, that God based His decision on the fact that torture is extremely painful, is humiliating, is an attack on a defenseless person, and exhibits an extreme imbalance of power between torturer and victim.

Assuming that these are the relevant reasons, then they, and not God’s say-so, are what makes tor­ ture immoral. These reasons can fully explain why torture is wrong. Torture is wrong because it is extremely painful, is humiliating, and so on.

God’s condemnation does not turn a morally neutral action into an immoral one. Rather, God recognizes what is already bad about torture. There is something in the very nature of torture that makes it morally sus­ pect. Since God kn ows everything, God knows what is detestable about torture and, in His love for us, orders us not to attempt such actions. God commands us to refrain from torture because torture is immoral.

The Euthyphro Argument summarizes this line of thinking:

1. Either God has reasons that support His commands, or God lacks reasons for His commands.

2. If God lacks reasons for His commands, then God’s commands are arbitrary-and that renders God imperfect, undermining His moral authority.

3. If God has reasons that support His commands, then these reasons, rather than the divine commands, are what make actions right or wrong-thereby refuting the Divine Command Theory.

4. Therefore, either God is imperfect, or the Divine Command Theory is false.


5. God is not imperfect. 6. Therefore, the Divine Command Theory is false.

To avoid portraying God as arbitrary, we must assume that He issues commands based on the best possible reasons. And here are the best pos­ sible reasons: God sees that an action such as torture is immoral, sees, with perfect understanding, that such things as kindness and compassion are good, and then issues the divine commands on the basis of this flaw­ less insight. This picture preserves God’s omniscience and integrity. But it comes at the expense of the Divine Command Theory, and God’s author­ ship of the moral law.

And after all, what is the alternative? If there is nothing intrinsi­ cally wrong with rape or theft, then God could just as well have required that we do such things. He could have forbidden that we be generous or thoughtful. But this makes a mockery of morality, and of our view of God as morally perfect.

The Divine Perfection Argument expresses this point:

1. If the Divine Command Theory is true, then a morally perfect God could have created a flawless morality that required us to rape, steal and kill, and forbade us from any acts of kindness or generosity.

2. A morally perfect God could not have issued such commands­ any one who did so would be morally imperfect.

3. Therefore, the Divine Command Theory is false.

The first premise is certainly true. The Divine Command Theory say s that God’s choices wholly determine morality, and that nothing determines God’s choices. For if God’s choices were fixed in advance, the only plau­ sible explanation would be that certain kinds of actions were already right and others already wrong, and that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew this and issued His commands accordingly. But that is to deny the central idea of the Divine Command Theory.

The second premise is highly plausible. A moral code that required such horrific acts, and forbade such good ones, could not be authored by someone worthy of love and worship, someone fit to serve as a model of moral perfection.

In my experience, many religious people still feel suspicious about this rejection of the Divine Command Theory. They worry that the’theory is needed to preserve God’s perfection. If God doesn’t create the moral law, then how can He be perfect?

Morality and Religion 65

True, abandoning the Divine Command Theory does mean giving up the view that God is the author of morality. But this is actually needed in order to preserve God’s perfection. It allows us to say that God is perfectly wise, perfectly moral, and perfect in His love for us. Being infinitely wise, He knows all that is good and evil. Being morally perfect, he flawlessly measures up to the highest moral ideals.

Caring for His human creatures, He passes along some of that wisdom to us, to better guide our lives. Free of caprice, He issues His commands on the basis of the very best possible reasons. There is no room in this picture for the sort of arbitrariness that would undermine divine perfection.

If this is all on the right track, then we can see that the pessimism of Dostoevsky’s thought is misguided. The absence of God does not mean the absence of morality. God is not needed to create the moral law; indeed, a perfect God is one who fully understands, embraces, and adheres to a moral law not of His own making.

A perfect God cannot create morality through His whims. If God can­ not be morally mistaken, it is because His understanding is perfect. But when it comes to morality, it is the understanding of one who does not author the moral law, but rather completely knows its content, and the reasons that underlie it. At best, God’s love of certain actions is perfect evidence of what has value anyway.

Third Assumption: Religion Is an Essential Source of Moral Guidance Theists are often reluctant to reject the Divine Command Theory because they think that doing so leaves God entirely out of the moral picture. But it doesn’t.

Suppose that God exists, but is not the author of the moral law. God could still play an indispensable role in morality-not by being its inventor, but by being its infallible reporter, and our expert guide. If God exists, and is the sort of God whom traditional monotheism envi­ sions, then God knows everything-including every single nuance of the moral law.

And if God is all-loving, then God will want to share some of that wisdom with us. How will He do it? By means of revelation, either personal and direct (say, by talking to you or giving you signs of certain kinds), or by indirect means (say, by inspiring the authors of a bible to record His intentions).

Importantly, religious believers who reject the Divine Command The­ ory could easily endorse the following claim:


An act is morally required if God commands it, and is immoral if God forbids it.

This looks like the Divine Command Theory, but it is crucially differ­ ent. This view does not claim that acts are right and wrong because of God’s commands. If we reject the Divine Command Theory, then we must say that God is not the author of the moral law. But if God exists, then His verdict is nonetheless morally decisive. God will never make a mistake. If God com­ mands you to do something, then, morally speaking, the matter is settled.

God doesn’t have to be the author of morality in order to play a vital role in teaching us how to live. We can see this by considering an analogy. Imagine a perfectly accurate thermometer. If we wanted excellent guid­ ance on the temperature, wea look to this device. But the thermometer is not creating the temperature. It is recording it in an error-free way.

If we reject the Divine Command Theory, then God is playing a similar role regarding morality. He is not creating the moral law. He is telling us what it is, in a way that is never mistaken. His decrees, which come from perfect knowledge and a deep love for His creatures, can be extremely helpful in guiding us to an understanding of right and wrong.

There are some worries, of course. Here are some worth mentioning.

• Those who are not religious will need to look elsewhere for moral guidance. And they may be right to do so, since

• God may not exist. • God may exist-and yet not offer any advice to us.

This is the God of the deists. To rightly trust religious texts or religious authority, you must first have more reason to believe that God exists and relays moral wisdom to us than the reverse.

Even if God exists, and offers us moral advice, there are still two seri­ ous problems for those who seek divine guidance:

• We must select a source of religiOUS wisdom from among many choices.

• We must know how to interpret that source.

These two problems can be illustrated by working through a popular Argument from Religious Authority:

1. If the Bible prohibits abortion, then abortion is immoral. 2. The Bible prohibits abortion. 3. Therefore, abortion is immoral.

Morality and Religion 67

The first premise asserts the moral authority of the Bible. But which bible? Different religions offer us different sacred texts, whose details sometimes contradict one another. So we must choose. There is presum­ ably one right choice and a great many wrong ones. The odds are stacked against us.

Premise 1 is plausible only if God has authored the Bible, or dictated its terms. Religious believers therefore have to make a case that this is so. They must justify the claims that God exists, that God has communicated with humanity, and that their favorite bible is the one that contains God’s wisdom. It won’t be easy to do this.

If God is omnipotent, then He could provide some extremely clear, undeniable e vidence to settle these matters, evidence that would convince agnostics, atheists, and members of competing religions. But God has thus far chosen not to do this. That makes defense of premise 1 especially tricky.

But the challenges don’t end there. For even if theists can adequately defend the first premise, and so justify the selection of their preferred bible, there is the further matter of how to interpret the sacred text. Nei­ ther the Hebrew nor the Christian scriptures, for instance, ever explicitly mentions abortion, much less prohibits it.

So if the second premise can be defended, it must be in virtue of a non-literal reading of the text. And yet, as we all know, there are very learned people, deeply familiar with these religious texts (and traditions), who will in good faith argue for premise 2, and others, equally well equipped, who will oppose it.

In this regard, debates about how best to interpret a bible are very much like those that surround Supreme Court jurisprudence. Consider, for instance, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It tells us that: ‘}.1 well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Does this amendment allow states to ban the private purchase of hand­ guns or semiautomatic weapons? Is a mandatory waiting period or a back­ ground security check compatible with this passage? A literal reading of the text cannot settle the issue.

The Constitution and its amendments also never explicitly mention school desegregation, contraception, privacy, or inter-racial marriage. And yet brilliant lawyers have produced thoroughly documented arguments that support many different (and incompatible) views of our legal rights on these matters.

No text is self-interpreting. When we come across any document that claims to be authoritative, there are bound to be huge disagreements about


how best to understand it. The Constitution does not itself contain any advice on how to interpret its passages. Neither do the sacred texts of the major world religions.

Those who argue for a literal reading are bound to meet with difficulty. There will be many important topics that are never mentioned in the cru­ cial text. Those that are may receive contradictory treatments (consider, as an early example, the literally incompatible creation stories of Genesis chapters 2 and 3).

There may also be morally troubling advice on offer (think of the passages in Leviticus that permit slavery and the subordina­ tion of women, or those that require killing adulterers and disrespectful children).

Yet if we move away from a literal reading, we are faced with countless possibilities for interpreting the biblical texts. Believers must choose among them, and justify their choice in the face of a wide num­ ber of conflicting approaches. A defense o f premise 2 is, therefore, no easy matter.

A final difficulty comes when having to balance the demands of a sacred text with the layers of tradition that form a crucial part of any liv­ ing religion.

When your interpretation of a religious document conflicts with long-standing religious practice, or the advice of generations of religious authorities, which should win out? Consider as an example the famous eye-for-an-eye principle, which seems to be clearly mandated by God in the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus 21 :23; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 20:21).

Yet Jewish communities and their religiOUS leaders have, for at least two millennia, read the decree in an imaginative, non-literal way, soften­ ing its implications for wrongdoers and extending the principle to apply to cases where it cannot be taken literally. Does the text take priority over traditional practice and religious authority? Or is it the other way around? Believers must have a plausible view about how to settle such conflicts. Without one, their take on what God really wants for us may be very wide of the mark.

To summarize: Those who seek divine guidance in trying to lead a moral life may succeed. But several conditions must be met. It must be the case that (1) God exists, and that we can be justified in believing this. (2) God must offer us moral advice, and we must be able to defend the claim that He does so. Further, (3) theists must be justified in selecting a particu­ lar source of religious and moral wisdom, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or the Christian scriptures. Theists must also (4) defend specific

Morality and Religion 69

interpretations of those sources. Finally, when an interpretation conflicts with tradition, religious believers must (5) successfully argue for the prior­ ity of one over the other.

This is a daunting list. Yet philosophy is full of such lists, and the difficulty of a project is not, by itself, proof of its failure. Religious believ­ ers have their work cut out for them, no doubt of it. But then so does everyone else.


There is a great deal to think about when discussing the relation between morality and religion. I have narrowed the focus to three major assump­ tions, because these seem to lie at the heart of most debates about God’s role in morality.

Is God needed to ensure that we are morally motivated? No. Morally admirable behavior comes when we do our duty for its own sake, rather than from self-interest. Fear of God, or desire for heavenly reward, do not necessarily tarnish our character. But they are no substitute for a direct love of morality, which can be displayed as much by atheists as by religious believers.

Does God create morality? No. Rather, God (if He exists) understands everything, and so knows precisely what is wrong with such things as rape and torture, and right about such things as compassion and kindness. He issues commands on the basis of this perfect understanding, out of love for His creatures. A God who issues commands for good reasons will rely on the very best reasons-and those can explain, all by themselves, what is right and wrong.

Does religion offer reliable moral guidance? Possibly. That depends on many things-whether God exists and speaks to us, whether we can know which texts are divinely written or inspired, whether we can defend our favored interpretations against the competition, and whether we can balance these interpretations against the importance of religious tradition and authority in cases of conflict.

In the rest of the book, we do not make use of specifically religious claims. There are two reasons for this. First, we have seen the many chal­ lenges to the assumption that morality is based on religion, and it is worth­ while seeing how far we can get without having to rely on that assumption. Second, there is important precedent among religious philosophers for thinking that God gave us reason and understanding in order to make the


fundamental truths of morality available to everyone. After all, a caring God would want even nonbelievers to understand the immorality of rape and genocide, and to appreciate the goodness of generosity and loving kindness.

Let us proceed, then, to consider the views of those who, in most cases, were religious themselves, but who sought secular foundations for the moral theories they developed.


1. All terms and phrases that appear in boldface are defined in the glossary at the end of the book.

2. The God discussed in this chapter is the one endorsed by traditional monotheis­ tic religions: a perfect being who is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all­ powerful), and morally flawless. For simplicity’s sake, I also rely on traditional usage and refer to God as a male, though nothing that follows hangs on this usage. I recognize that there are important religious views that reject monothe­ ism, as well as this specific conception of God. Most of the subsequent discus­ sion applies even to these views, but in some cases the focus must be narrower. At those points, I thought it made sense to address the views likeliest to be shared by my readers.

3. A variation on this argument, which seeks to show that moral rules are objective only if God exists, is considered in the final chapter, pp. 313-314.


Calculate the price
Make an order in advance and get the best price
Pages (550 words)
*Price with a welcome 15% discount applied.
Pro tip: If you want to save more money and pay the lowest price, you need to set a more extended deadline.
We know how difficult it is to be a student these days. That's why our prices are one of the most affordable on the market, and there are no hidden fees.

Instead, we offer bonuses, discounts, and free services to make your experience outstanding.
How it works
Receive a 100% original paper that will pass Turnitin from a top essay writing service
step 1
Upload your instructions
Fill out the order form and provide paper details. You can even attach screenshots or add additional instructions later. If something is not clear or missing, the writer will contact you for clarification.
Pro service tips
How to get the most out of your experience with Scholary Essays
One writer throughout the entire course
If you like the writer, you can hire them again. Just copy & paste their ID on the order form ("Preferred Writer's ID" field). This way, your vocabulary will be uniform, and the writer will be aware of your needs.
The same paper from different writers
You can order essay or any other work from two different writers to choose the best one or give another version to a friend. This can be done through the add-on "Same paper from another writer."
Copy of sources used by the writer
Our college essay writers work with ScienceDirect and other databases. They can send you articles or materials used in PDF or through screenshots. Just tick the "Copy of sources" field on the order form.
See why 20k+ students have chosen us as their sole writing assistance provider
Check out the latest reviews and opinions submitted by real customers worldwide and make an informed decision.
Thank you, the journal wa submitted today and I hope to continue receiving services.
Customer 452919, October 28th, 2021
I love you guys, yal are the best. Thank you so much !!!
Customer 453117, September 10th, 2022
Communication on the small delay was appreciated and final result was worth the wait. Thank you.
Customer 452665, March 18th, 2021
Very well written thank you
Customer 452667, April 8th, 2021
Business Studies
This is fantastic! Thank you so much! Great customer service and help!
Customer 453131, November 15th, 2022
Thank you
Customer 452919, March 23rd, 2022
English 3311- Professional Writing
Thank you, it looks good!
Customer 452919, January 28th, 2023
Thank you so much. Your Team is the greatest!
Customer 452919, May 3rd, 2022
Paper wad received on time there was also support with revision.
Customer 453101, June 8th, 2022
English 101
well written excellent job, thank you!!
Customer 452989, December 2nd, 2021
Thank you!
Customer 452919, April 5th, 2022
Human Resources Management (HRM)
Thank you for your time and help. I was concerned that I would not make my deadline due to a family emergency, and you guys came through in the clutch. you are appreciated and i will be letting friends and family know of my experience here.
Customer 453045, February 24th, 2022
Customer reviews in total
Current satisfaction rate
3 pages
Average paper length
Customers referred by a friend
15% OFF your first order
Use a coupon FIRST15 and enjoy expert help with any task at the most affordable price.
Claim my 15% OFF Order in Chat
Live Chat+1(978) 822-0999EmailWhatsApp

Order your essay today and save 30% with the discount code ESSAYHELP