Midterm Study Questions, Introduction to Philosophy

Chapter One: What is Morality?

1.         What does Rachels think about the relationship between morality and feeling? Do you agree with him on this? Why or why not?

2.         According to Rachels, is morality a matter of personal taste? Why or why not? Do agree with him? Explain.

3.         According to Rachels, what determines if an act is right or wrong?

Chapter Two: Cultural Relativism

4.         Consider the following argument: "The burial practices of the Callatians differ from those of the Greeks. The Eskimos have very different marriage customs than we do. There are an indefinite number of examples of this cultural diversity in moral codes. Since different cultures have different moral codes, it follows that there are no right answers to moral questions." Does Rachels think this is a good argument? Explain why or why not in detail.

5.         Consider the following statement: "What is right for members of a culture is determined by whatever their culture's moral code says is right." What are two of the consequences which Rachels thinks follow from this position? Does Rachels agree or disagree with these consequences? Does he agree or disagree with the original statement? Explain why.

6.         Describe the practice of “female circumcision” as it is manifested in several African countries. Does this practice support or cause problems for the doctrine of cultural relativism? Why might someone believe that this example undermines cultural relativism? Is it intolerant to try to prevent this practice from continuing to occur in other cultures?

7.         Does Rachels think all cultures share some values in common? Explain Rachels' argument for either agreeing or disagreeing with this position.

8.         Give an example in which it looks like we have a significant disagreement in value between two cultures and yet the disagreement between the two is really a disagreement in belief about factual issues.

9.         What does Rachels think we can learn from cultural relativism? What dimension of this doctrine is true and valuable, on his view?

10.       Is it "an objective moral truth" that we should be tolerant of others? Is it always appropriate to be tolerant of the behavior of others and other cultures? Why or why not? What does Rachels think about this?

11.       What is contextual or situational relativism?

12.       Are there any moral rules which do not have exceptions (which are absolute)?

13.       Explain the difference between moral rules which are universally accepted and moral rules which are universally applicable.

Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature: Rolston

14.       Does Rolston believe that a scientific understanding of nature is necessary and/or sufficient for the aesthetic appreciation of nature? Does he think it is necessary for the most appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

15.       What are the two components that Rolston thinks are necessary for a proper aesthetic appreciation of nature? Which of these does Daniel Boone lack? Which of these might a scientist lack?

16.       If one aesthetic appreciation is based on a false belief, does that mean one’s appreciation is deficient? Using an example explain both Rolston’s view and your own view.

17.       Do you accept that there are better and worse aesthetic appreciations of nature?

18.       Is science the only way we can know what something really is?

19.       Must one appreciate an object for what it is in order to properly appreciate the object?

Chapter Three: Subjectivism

20.       What is subjectivism about morality? How is it different from cultural relativism? What does Rachels think about subjectivism? What is Rachels' own position about the nature of morality? Is it subjectivistic or objectivistic? Explain.

21.       Define simple subjectivism. What are the two objections that Rachels gives to simple subjectivism?

22.       Define emotivism (and distinguish it from simple subjectivism). Explain how emotivism avoids the two objections to simple subjectivism. What is Rachels objection to emotivism?

23.       Rachels argues that the appeal of subjectivism is based on a false belief that we only have two options (a “false dilemma”). What are those two options? What is the third option that Rachels suggests we could (and should) adopt?

24.       According to Rachels, are there proofs in ethics? (What is one of Rachels’ examples.) What are some of the reasons Rachels gives for why people think there are no proofs in ethics?

Taylor on the Cosmological Argument

25.       State, in detail, Taylor's version of the Cosmological argument for god's existence (the argument from contingency). Is it a good argument?

26.       Assume Taylor's argument succeeds in proving the existence of a necessary being. How might someone argue that Taylor still hasn't provided proof of God's existence?

27.       What is the principle of sufficient reason? Must there be an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing? Does the existence of God provide such an explanation? Does God's existence require an explanation according to Taylor?

28.       Explain the sense in which Taylor's argument claims that the world is dependent on God. What is the analogy he uses to help explain this? How is this notion of "ontological dependence" different from the traditional understanding of God's creative power (as temporal and causal)?

29.       What is the difference between creation as ontological dependence and as a preceding cause bringing something into existence?

30.       Explain the difference between saying there was a temporally first being and claiming that there is a necessary being on whom things depend.

31.       What is problematic about the notion of God as a self-caused being in the sense of a being who brought him/herself into existence? In what sense does Taylor think God is self-caused?

32.       What is a necessary being? A contingent being? An impossible being? An eternal being? Give examples. Is a necessary being an eternal being? Might a contingent being be eternal? Is the idea of a necessary being intelligible?

33.       What reason does Taylor provide for claiming that the world is not a necessary being?

34.       Does Taylor deny that the world could have always existed? Do you think it is possible the world could have always existed?

35.       Why does Taylor think that the possibility that the universe has always existed does or does not undermine the possibility of arguing that God must exist to explain the existence of the world?

36.       How would Taylor respond to someone who argued that the world has always existed, and thus that we do not need to postulate God to account for its existence? Is Taylor's response a good response?

37.       What would Taylor say about the claim that the world came into existence without a cause? What would he say to the claim that the world has always existed without any cause?

38.       Is there anything left unexplained by positing an infinite series of dependent beings each causing the next in the series? Is each being in the series explained? If each member in a series is explained, does it follow the entire series is explained?

39.       What reason might be given for the claim that there had to always have existed something--there could never have been nothing--(whether that something be the world or God or both)?

Kalam Cosmological Argument

40.       State the Kalam cosmological argument. How is it different from Taylor’s version of the cosmological argument?

41.       Explain one of the reasons the Kalam argument gives for why the universe must have begun to exist.

42.       What are some of the reasons the Kalam argument gives for thinking that the cause of the universe must be God?

Russell on Religion and Christianity

43.       Russell claims: "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God. . . . There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor on the other hand is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all." Which of these statements would Richard Taylor agree with and which disagree with and why? Where they disagree, do you support Taylor or Russell? Why?

44.       What must one believe in order to be "a Christian" according to Russell? Is this a good definition of "Christian?"

45.       What are Russell's reasons for not being a Christian? Are these good reasons? Why or why not?

46.       What "moral defects" does Russell find in Jesus' character? Do you agree that these are moral defects? Why or why not?

47.       According to Russell, what motivates people to be religious (besides fear of eternal damnation)? Do you think he is right? Why or why not?

48.       Explain Russell's reasons for claiming that religion has, on balance, been a negative force in human history. Do you agree with him?

49.       What contemporary social issues have some religious sects powerfully addressed? Is it appropriate for religions to get involved in social and political issues?

50.       Why might a deeply religious person be strongly in favor of environmental protection?

51.       Explain why Russell thinks that religious belief is "unworthy of free and rational people." Do you think he is right?

52.       Can an atheist be a morally good person? Why or why not? Can an atheist consistently believe in objective morality? Why or why not? Is it true that "without God, everything is permissible?" Why might some think this is true?

53.       Explain the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Is it more difficult to defend atheism than agnosticism? Why or why not?

54.       According to Russell, the theory of evolution undermines the design argument for God’s existence (pp. 45-46). What is the design argument and how does evolution undermine it (according to Russell)?

55.       Is the theory of evolution atheistic? That is, if evolution is a true scientific theory does that make religious belief untenable?

James, The Will to Believe

56.       What are the two ways that James suggests we can arrive at beliefs?

57.       Are we free to choose to believe in something or not believe in it? What reasons are there for thinking that belief is not under control of the will? Give examples to explain this point.

58.       Does James think that our passionate nature ever does decide our beliefs? If so, give examples. If not, explain why not.

59.       James argues that Clifford lets his passionate decide something of great importance and hence makes a choice that is not based on sufficient evidence. What is this choice?

60.       Does James think that it is ever appropriate for the passions to decide our beliefs? If so when? If not, why not?

61.       What does James mean by a genuine option? Explain each of its three components using examples. Do you think religion is a genuine option? Why or why not?

62.       Explain the difference between a forced option and one that is not forced? Give examples of each. Is belief in god a forced option? Why or why not? Would God treat agnostics and atheists the same?

63.       Explain the difference between a live and dead option. Between a momentous and trivial option.

64.       James provides a couple of reasons for thinking under certain conditions it is irrational to wait for sufficient evidence before one believes something. What are those two reasons.

65.       Why does James think it is irrational to wait until one has conclusive proof for God's existence before one believes in God?

66.       Can the desire for something being true ever help bring about that truth? Give an example. Could this be the case with God's existence?

67.       How might refusal to believe shut one off from evidence crucial to confirming the belief?

Pojman, Faith, Hope, and Doubt

68.       Does Pojman think belief in God is necessary for (Christian) religious faith? Why or why not?

69.       Does Pojman think doubt is incompatible with religious faith?

70.       Explain Pojman’s distinctions between belief, acceptance, and faith and the relations between them. Which are “volitional” (chosen) and which not?

71.       What does he mean by “volitionalism?” Does Pojman accept volitionalism? Why or why not? Do you accept it? Can we willingly and directly choose our beliefs?

72.       Does Pojman believe we can be judged for our beliefs? Why or why not?

73.       Does Pojman think it appropriate for God to judge people based on whether or not they have religious belief? Why or why not?

74.       Does Pojman believe we can indirectly will to have certain beliefs? How?

75.       Concerning belief, does Pojman agree with Clifford or James? Would Pojman accept Pascal’s wager?

76.       According to Pojman, does hope require possibility, allow for certainty, and/or involve motivation? Is hope volitional? Can we morally evaluate each other’s hope’s?

77.       According to Pojman, religious faith involves something other than belief in God. What does he think it involves?

The Problem of Evil (Dostoevsky and Hick)

78.       What is the problem of evil? State the problem as clearly and explicitly as you can. What sort of God would not have a problem of evil?

79.       What does it mean to provide a "theodicy?"

80.       Explain the difference between moral and nonmoral evil, as Hick defines it.

81.       Is it inappropriate to claim that what happens in nature (independent of any human or divine involvement) is morally wrong? Why or why not? Explain how one might negatively value what happens in nature (independent of human involvement) without saying that something morally wrong is taking place.

82.       State Hick's free will defense for the existence of evil as fully and forcefully as you can. Is this an adequate theodicy? Why or why not?

83.       Does the free will defense address all kinds of evils(=bads) in the world? Why or why not?

84.       How might Hick answer the following questions/objections: Why didn't God make people who were unable to sin? Why didn't God make people who were able to sin, but in fact never did sin? Why didn't God just not make people given they would create so much evil?

85.       Why does Hick think that it is no limitation of God's power to say God can't produce the logically impossible? Give examples.

86.       Explain the difference between logical and physical impossibility. Give examples.

87.       Explain the "paradox of omnipotence."

88.       What reasons does Hick give for thinking that a good bit of hardship and suffering is necessary for the best possible world? Do you agree with Hick on this point?

89.       Is an afterlife a necessary part of a theodicy? What does Hick think about this and what are his reasons for his view?

90.       What is the difference between a bookkeeping view of the rewards of heaven and Hick's views concerning the infinite future good?

91.       How would Hick respond to Ivan's and Alyosha's suggestion (in the reading from Dostoevsky) that all the value in the world is not worth the pain and suffering of one small child tortured to death? Do you think it is worth it?

92.       Evaluate the following theodicies: God didn't create evil, humans did; There is more good in the world than evil; Evil is necessary as a contrast with good; God's ways are incomprehensible and God has reasons for allowing evil that we can't understand; We have no right to question God's ways.

Ch 4: Does Morality Depend on Religion?

93.       Describe the divine command theory of morality. What are the two interpretations of this theory that Rachels discusses. Explain how they are different from each other. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each interpretation?

94.       Describe the Natural Law Theory of the relationship between religion and morality (in Chapter Four of Rachels). Explain the senses in which it ties religion and morality together and also how it keeps them separate. Do you agree with this theory of the relationship between religion and morality? Why or why not?

95.       Explain in what sense Rachels thinks the relation between religion and morality is like the relation between religion and science. Do you agree with him about this? Why?

96.       Discuss some of the problems that Rachels identifies with accepting the dictates of one's church or of a holy book as morally authoritative. In what way does Rachels' own position on the nature of morality conflict with such approaches to ethics?

Ch 5: Psychological and Ethical Egoism

97.       What is egoism? What is altruism? What is hedonism? How is it different than egoism?

98.       What is psychological egoism? What is ethical egoism? How are they different? Is either (or both) a theory about the nature of morality (i.e., a moral theory)? Explain.

99.       Does it make sense to believe both theories at once? Does one theory provide evidence or support for the other? (If psychological egoism is true does it follow that ethical egoism is also true? How about the other way around?) If both psychological and ethical egoism are true, what follows about the rightness or wrongness of our actions?

100.     Does it matter whether or not psychological egoism is true? What implications does this have for morality (for example, consider utilitarian moral theory) and for the design of social institutions (consider the socialism versus capitalism debate)?

101.     Present the two arguments considered in the text for psychological egoism. Does Rachels think these are sound arguments? Do you think they are?

102.     Do you think psychological egoism is true? Why or why not? Explain what Rachels thinks about psychological egoism.

103.     What is the "strategy of reinterpreting motives?" Why does Rachels think this can't prove the truth of the version of egoism it is used to support?

104.     What is the difference between acting out of self-interest and acting selfishly? What is the difference between acting out of self-interest and acting to achieve pleasure? Give examples of acts which are one but not the other.

105.     Evaluate the following argument for ethical egoism: "Since we each know what is in our own interests better than others do, and since we each are generally better able to provide for our own well-being than we are for the well-being of others, society as a whole would be better off if each person acted in her own self-interest." What does Rachels think about this argument?

106.     Is the following a good argument for ethical egoism? What does Rachels think about this argument? "Since it is in a person's own self-interest to obey the rules of morality (e.g., not to lie, steal, cheat, or murder), ethical egoism justifies our ordinary moral rules and thus provides a solid foundation for morality."

107.     Explain in detail Rachels own argument against ethical egoism. (This is the last one he considers in the chapter comparing egoism to racism/sexism.) Evaluate this argument from your own perspective.

108.     Define discrimination. Is discrimination always wrong? Give an example where it is clearly not wrong. Define unjust discrimination. Define racism. Explain why racism is unjust discrimination. Why might someone think egoism is unjust discrimination? In your own assessment, is it? (Some of this question requires creative thinking on your own.)

109.     If one believed ethical egoism was true, which moral theory ought one to advocate publicly? Ethical egoism? Ethical altruism? Explain.

Ch 6: Social Contract Theory

110.     Explain the origin of the state and government according to the social contract theory. How does the theory justify state authority? Why does state authority need to be justified? What is authority?

111.     What is the social contract theory of morality? Define and explain it.

112.     Why might a proponent of the social contract theory worry about the objection that the social contract is a fiction? How might such a proponent respond to this objection?

113.     What is the difference between an implicit and explicit consent?

114.     How could someone who held to the social contract theory of morality argue that they have no moral obligation to obey the anti-drug and anti-sex laws?

115.     Explain how the social contract theory of morality could morally justify the civil disobedience on the part of blacks in this country in the 1960's.

116.     According to the social contract theory of morality, is it morally wrong to murder another human being in a state of nature? Explain why or why not.

117.     Explain why Rachels thinks the social contract theory has problems accounting for our obligations to animals, infants, severely retarded people, and future generations. (Hint: consider the role of reciprocity in the theory.)

Feinberg and Liberty Limiting Principles

118.     What are the four liberty limiting principles (or reasons for making laws) that Feinberg discusses? Why are they called "liberty limiting principles"?

119.     Which of the liberty limiting principles would a proponent of the social contract theory accept and why?

120.     What is the harm principle? What is it meant to justify?

121.     Give the best example you can think of a harmless immorality, and explain why it is immoral and show how it is harmless.

122.     Define Legal Moralism. Give examples of laws which you think are most plausibly justified by legal moralism and explain why. Give examples of "morals laws" which you think are clearly unjustified and explain why. Do you think legal moralism is a justifiable liberty-limiting principle? Why or why not? What are some of the arguments for it? Against it? What does Feinberg think about this? What is the "tyranny of the majority?"

123.     What is the difference between offense and harm? Give examples.

124.     Explain what the offense principle is. Give examples of laws which you think are most plausibly justified by the offense principle and explain why. Give examples of laws aimed at preventing offensive behavior which you think are clearly unjustified and explain why. Do you think the offense principle is a justifiable liberty-limiting principle? Why or why not? What are the arguments for it? Against it?

125.     Explain what constraints Feinberg places on the offense principle in order for him to accept it.

126.     Define Legal Paternalism. Give examples of laws which you think are most plausibly justified by legal paternalism, and explain why. Give examples of laws which you think are clearly unjustifiably paternalistic and explain why. Do you think legal paternalism is a justifiable liberty-limiting principle? Why or why not? What are the arguments for and against it?

127.     Explain what Feinberg has in mind when he defends "weak paternalism?"