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UCR / Philosophy / Phi 005 / What is moral skepticism in ethics?

What is moral skepticism in ethics?

What is moral skepticism in ethics?


School: University of California Riverside
Department: Philosophy
Course: Philosophy on Evil
Professor: Eric switchzgebel
Term: Fall 2018
Tags: philosophy and EVIL
Cost: 50
Name: Phil 5 Midterm 1 Study Guide
Description: These notes cover everything that we've gone over so far and will continue to be updated up until after Wednesday's lecture. EDIT: The material for Wednesday's lecture has just been added. The study guide is now complete.
Uploaded: 10/05/2018
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 Philosophy 5: Evil Study Guide 1

What is moral skepticism in ethics?

Evil Introductory Lecture 

 Guiding Themes of this Course

 Examples of Evil

 Myanmar since 2016

 Rwanda Genocide

 Tuskegee Experiment: 400 black men were tested for  syphilis without being told that they had it and were  observed as the disease progressed for 40 years (1932- 1972)

 Cigarette Marketing

∙ Marketing directed towards children made in order to  hook them onto cigarettes for life

 Many small individual acts (murder, rape, etc.)

 Evil Motivation

 Darth Vader Perception: The people who are evil know  that they’re evil and choose to do evil in order to be evil  Socratic Conception: Everyone tries to do what’s  morally best, even if they’re ignorant about what’s  actually morally best.

What is ida wells best known for?

 Other reasons such as confusion, greed, and morality  Human Nature

 Humanity is inherently good: moral compass; it’s normal  for people to develop into better beings

∙ Supported by Mengzi and Rousseau

 Humanity is inherently bad: inherently selfish desires;  laws force us to be good

∙ Supported by Xunzi

 Reflection

 Discrepancy between ethics studies and behavior ∙ Clergy

∙ Police Battalion 101: A Nazi Germany police force  sent to massacre Jews in PolandIf you want to learn more check out What is structural violence­?

♦ Those who were involved with this mission were  allowed to reject participation in it without  

What did mencius teach?

Don't forget about the age old question of What is globalization?


 The “Problem of Evil”

 Why does God allow evil to happen?

What is Evil? 

 This course assumes the falsity of…

 Amoralism: The view that nothing is morally right or wrong.  Moral Skepticism: We don’t know what all the moral facts  are

 Ex: Maybe the Holocaust wasn’t bad

 Strong Cultural Relativism: Whether something is good or bad is dependent on the culture, and if something’s right  according to your culture, that makes it totally right.  Ex: “The Nazis thought that the Holocaust was fine, so it  is.”

 Moderate Moral Absolutism:  

 Evil: Any gravely morally wrong action

 Causes death and/or grievous body harm

 Focuses on actions, not people

 Most evil done by normal people, not by any specific kind  of person

∙ Ex: Lynchers in the Southern U.S.

∙ The belief that certain kinds of people are responsible  for evil leads to…

♦ Dehumanization of evildoers

♦ Ethnic conflicts Don't forget about the age old question of What theory describes how people can be stimulated to believe things and even to do things because of mass media message they see and/or hear?

♦ The “Darth Vader conception”

 Evil needn’t involve…

 Intentional Harm

∙ Ex: The Man/Boy Love Association harms boys without  even realizing it.

 Selfishness

∙ Ex: Some suicide bombers don’t believe in an afterlife  but chose to sacrifice themselves anyways; some Nazis  worked in the death camps to their own detriment  Cruelty

∙ Ex: Some death camp doctors tried to humanely kill  Jews.

 Abandoning moral principles

∙ Ex: U.S. soldiers in Vietnam killed innocent villagers  because they were ordered to by their commanding  officers

 Relatives of Evil

 Malice: Deliberately and unjustly seeking one’s harm  Amorality: Being incapable of telling right from wrong  Wickedness: Doing evil while knowing that it’s evil  Deep Wickedness: Doing evil while knowing that it’s evil  because it’s evil

 Five Types of Evil Motivation

 Deep Wickedness

 Not very common

 Selfishness

 Ex: In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Judah murders his  mistress to preserve his marriage.

 Thoughtlessness

 More common for smaller acts Don't forget about the age old question of Why is “hispanic” not considered a race?

 Ex: Eichmann, the U.S. nuclear scientists who assisted in  the creation and testing of nuclear weapons during the  1950’s

 Moral Principle

 Ex: Hitler and the Nazis (wanted to serve Germany  through genocide)

 Passion

 Ex: Lynchings We also discuss several other topics like What are the types of relationships?


 General

 Originally practiced in the Western U.S. as a way to punish  criminals in the place of its ineffective police force.  From the 1880’s to the 20’s, it became a way to terrorize  black people in the Southern U.S.

 Frequency: Tens of thousands of mostly black men,  women, and children

 If justifiable reaction to crime, then plausibly…

∙ Targets should be accused for heinous crimes

♦ Lynchings were carried out in the South in order to  punish black people for murder, “rape” (consensual  sex, touching a white woman, etc.), and very minor  things (ex: knocking on a white person’s door to ask  for food)

∙ Shouldn’t contravene an effective formal justice system ♦ The justice system was very biased against black  people

∙ Sadistic exuberance should be minimal

♦ White people loved lynchings and showed it in a  variety of ways (postcards, “souvenirs” (clothes  

and/or body parts), pot shots, excursion trains, early  release from schools, etc)

 Black people were absolutely terrified by these lynchings,  which were used as a way of subjugating them.

 Ida Wells (1862-1931) Don't forget about the age old question of What does poiseuille's equation explain?

 Documented the lynchings that were previously documented by Southern white newspapers and publicized them to the  North.

 Interviewed both black and white people about the  lynchings

 Was driven out of Tennessee as a result

 Supported feminists and civil rights activists, but felt out of  place in both groups

 Emotions Felt by Lynchers

 Pride, tranquility, glee

 Power of Reflection: If one was raised under a white racist upbringing, would they be able to see the evil of lynching?

 Two types of arguments in regards to being able to see its  evils:

∙ Emotional: Sympathy for victims vs. for “white women” ∙ Logical: Shared humanity vs. racist rationalization

Mengzi and Rousseau 

 Mengzi (372-289 BCE)

  Biographical 

 Confucian philosopher

 Lived in the “Period of the Warring States”

∙ Mengzi travelled from state to state to advise kings and educate their sons

 The Mengzi: Mengzi’s sayings, collected by disciples ∙ Numerous commentaries added over the years   Mengzi’s Teachings 

 Human Nature/Xìng

∙ Comes from the words xīn (heart/mind) and shēng  (life/the inborn)

∙ Believed that the heart was the center of thinking and  emotion

∙ Xìng is good

 Believed that human goodness was within

  Does not mean that people generally do what’s  right 

 The Sprout Metaphor

∙ Structure of an oak tree is implicit in its seedling just  like how the structure of morality is implicit in us.

♦ Our good nature can be nurtured like a tree

♦ Lots of reasons why our moral sprout can fail to grow  Evil impulses are not natural to us, unlike good  impulses

 Natural Moral Impulses

∙ All normal people feel natural moral impulses

♦ Ex: Child stuck in a well (2A6)

 People gain a momentary feeling of alarm when  they see a child fall into a well

 Could lead to impulsive benevolence

♦ Ex: Unburied bodies of parents (3A5)

 Impulse to bury parents out of respect

♦ Ex: Beggar refusing food (6A10)

 Instinctually rejects food rudely given to them out  of a feeling of self-respect

♦ These impulses don’t necessarily become full-blown  actions

 Cultivate these impulses to become a morally  better person

 King Xuan and the Ox

∙ Featured in 1A7 of the Mengzi

∙ A truly terrible guy who wanted to conquer all of China ♦ Sends innocent people to their death, yet frees an ox from being killed out of compassion for it (It  

reminded him of an innocent man about to be  executed…huh.)

 According to Mengzi, he has a “moral sprout”, but  fails to nurture it

 Needs guided reflection in order to “measure his heart”

 Fails to “extend his heart” to his subjects

 “One will not make a basket”

∙ Featured in 6A7 of the Mengzi

∙ Our tastes in food, attractiveness, etc., are pretty much  the same, therefore, our sense of morality must be  pretty similar too.

♦ The heart is naturally pleased by logic and  


 Doing good things makes us feel good, while doing bad things makes us feel bad.

∙ Moral Development: Reflection on moral impulses ->  Attention -> Action

♦ Gradual process

 Causes of Immorality

∙ Failure to think about the consequences of one’s actions ∙ Favoring lesser parts of oneself

♦ Mengzi believed that although our impulses are cool  and all, the heart’s impulses come first.

∙ Hostile environment

♦ Immoral people, basic needs not met

♦ Sagely people can deal with it, but most people can’t ∙ Natural moral impulses that are distorted and  


∙ Mengzi does not account for deep wickedness or  mischief for mischief’s sake.

∙ It’s very important to reflect properly

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

 French philosopher

 Wrote Discourse on Inequality (1755)

 Human nature is good

∙ Civilization corrupts human nature

♦ People would be much better off in a “state of  


 Compare and Contrast

 Comparisons

 Human nature is inherently good

∙ Reaction to child falling down well/child being killed ∙ Four “sprouts”/pity

∙ Goodness comes from nurturing impulses

 Contrast

 Self-preservation (Rousseau) vs Righteousness above all  (Mengzi)

 Role of reason

∙ Rousseau: Shuts down natural pity

∙ Mengzi: Helps develop our morality

 Milgram’s Obedience

 Milgram Experiment

 Concept

 Carried out by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale  Studied obedience to authority figures, but was claimed to be a learning experiment to research participants

 Procedure

 One person (the research participant), was to be the  “teacher”, while the other (a confederate/actor), would be the “learner”.

 The “learner” was taken into a nearby room where he was strapped to a device that would deliver shocks to him.  The “teacher” had to read off word pairs in another room,  then test the “learner” to see if he remembered what the  word pairs were.

∙ If the “learner” picked the wrong answer, he would get  an increasingly stronger electric shock (not really, but  that’s what they told the research participant)

♦ After getting to a certain point, the “learner” would  supposedly start screaming and begging to be  

released and will eventually stop responding if he  continues to receive shocks.

 If the participant wants to stop shocking the  

“learner”, he will be prompted to continue by the  experimenter.

 Results

 College students, middle class adults, and psychiatrists  alike predicted that a very small percentage of people (0- 1%) would obey the experimenter until the end.

 An alarmingly high percentage of people (65%) continued  to administer the shocks despite the “learner’s” protests,  albeit hesitantly.

∙ Displayed signs of stress such as nervous laughter ∙ Research participants insisted that they were forced to  carry on the experiment even though they were able to  end it at any time (and some of them did end it early).

♦ The subjects were usually appalled and shocked by  their behavior.

 A small percentage believed that the “learner”  deserved the shocks.

∙ Obedience varied widely depending on small changes ♦ Ex: Subjects were more likely to disobey if the  

“learner” was closer or if actors also defied the  


∙ Demonstrates the power of the situation (situationism)  ♦   Evil things can be done by ordinary people if ordered  to by an authority figure in some situations. 

♦ Foot-in-the-door Phenomenon: People may have  become more comfortable with administering 450  volts as the experiment progressed than they were at the start because it’s eventually not that big of a  

jump from what they had already done.

 Momentum of the situation, not sadism.

Xunzi and Hobbes 

 Xunzi

 Biological 

 Also known as Hsün Tzu.

 3rd most important Confucian scholar after Confucius and  Mengzi

∙ Like Mengzi, he advised kings during the Period of the  Warring States.

 Believed in the Tao/dao (way) of the ancient sage kings ∙ Like other Confucian scholars, he believed that they  found the proper way to rule China, so they want to  

advise kings in order to bring back the peace that the  ancient sage kings maintained.

 Xunzi’s Teachings 

 Xìng è: Human Nature is Evil

∙ Xìng è: Our natural impulses

♦ Our natural impulses are unappealing (just like the  word for them) and lead to chaos

 We’re born with hate and greed.

 Morality is a result of Weì (conscious activity, the  artificial)

 We must force ourselves to be good.

 River marker metaphor: We must follow an  artificial path (bamboo poles used to travel  

across a river) in order to be good.

∙ L ǐ: Rites, customs

♦ Ex: Handshakes, classroom etiquette

♦ Ancient sage kings discovered the proper Lǐ ∙ Rén: Benevolence

♦ Ex: Wanting other people to do well

∙ Yì: Duty, righteousness

♦ Ex: Honesty

∙ Mengzi and Xunzi both believed that the heart is the  center of thought, emotions, and morality.

♦ Xunzi: The heart is artificially guided to be righteous through customs passed down from previous  


♦ Mengzi: The heart naturally wants what’s righteous.  Children

∙ Mengzi: Children are great! They naturally love their  parents and it’s where we get our sense of benevolence from 

∙ Xunzi: Children are greedy, selfish, and violent. ∙ Mengzi: Children have impulses, and that’s totally fine, because in the end, their good ones will win out, we’ll  just have to help them learn to nurture their good  impulses 

∙ Xunzi: Okay, they could have some good in them  (Natural Sympathy) … but not much.

 Metaphors of Moral Development

∙ Sprout (M) vs. Straightening Board (X)

♦ Both: Takes time, permanent, open to all

♦ Differences

 Source of change: Internal (M) vs. external (X)

 External standard required (X) vs. no external  

standard required (M)

 Joyful, works with the inclinations (M) vs. painful,  contrary to inclination (X)

 Advice for Learning

∙ Rote and force, associate with right people, and  perform honor rituals in order to learn to be good. ∙ X vs. M on Reflection

♦ M: Reflection is important.

♦ X: Reflection can be used to justify immoral actions,  so don’t.

∙ Relation of Understanding and Action

♦ M: We understand why good is good.

♦ X: No we don’t. That’s why we have to force people  to act good first.

∙ Conservative vs. Liberal Ideals of Education

♦ M: Liberal; have children reflect on what they truly  want

♦ X: Conservative; stern educator

∙ Kongzi 2.4: Being forced vs. forcing oneself vs. final  stage of the sage

♦ It took Confucius 55 years to reach the final stage of  moral development.

 Hobbes (1588-1689)

 English philosopher

 Wrote Leviathan

 Believed in state of nature

 Compare and Contrast

 Comparisons

 Believed that people are naturally evil

∙ Nature desires are selfish

∙ Strong authority needed to force people to be good

∙ Untutored reflection leads to the justification of immoral actions

 Contrast

 Unlike Xunzi, Hobbes believed that people can morally  backslide.

 Why Bother Being Moral?

 Self-interest? Probably not, considering how well off many  immoral people are.

 Boy Scout/Afterlife Problem: If you’re doing good out of  self-interest, then you’re not really being morally good.

Authority and Situation 

 Why do People Act the Way They Do?

 As genocides such as Rwanda (1998), Sri Lanka (2008-9),  Myanmar (2016), and the Holocaust demonstrate, normal  people are perfectly capable of committing acts of evil.  Feature cruelty beyond physical violence such as sexual  

violence and targeting non-military civilians (including  children)

 If only about 1% of the population are psychopaths, then it is plausible for ordinary people to be able to carry out acts of evil.

 Situationism and Dispositionalism

 Definitions

∙ Situationism: Situational factors are more important  than character traits in determining behavior.

♦ Inconsistent among situations

♦ Supported by numerous experiments such as Isen  and Levin (1972), Milgram experiments, and  

Princeton Seminary Study

∙ Dispositionalism: Character traits play a large role in  determining behavior

♦ Consistent among situations

 Dispositionalism vs. Situationism

∙ Dispositionalism feels natural to us

 Extreme views (perfect situationism and perfect  dispositionalism) are implausible.

 Implications of Situationism

∙ Self-Knowledge: Maybe experiments such as the  Milgram Experiments will help us better understand our psychology.

∙ We should focus more on evil actions and less on evil  people.

♦ Dispositionalism can lead to...

 Dehumanization (and revenge cycles):  Because dispositionalism encourages us to believe that there are inherently evil people, it could  

encourage us to “take matters into our own  

hands” by acting evil towards others.

 Insufficient Precautions: If we think that we’re a “good person”, we might underestimate what  we’re truly capable of and fail to guard ourselves  against it.  

∙ Situationism might help us find better ways to avoid  evil.

♦ You’re not special, so watch out for situations that  promote evil lest you get caught up in them.

♦ Create a personal sub-situation so that you can focus on keeping yourself in situations that promote good  behavior instead of trying to use your willpower to be good all the time.

 Situationism, Mengzi, and Xunzi

∙ Against Mengzi and Xunzi

♦ Against Mengzi: If we’re good by default and have  an inner moral compass, then why is it so easy for us to get led into committing evil acts? Wouldn’t it take  more for our moral compass to deactivate than just  

some guy telling us to do something evil?

♦ Against Mengzi and Xunzi: Is it really worthwhile  to focus on developing character rather than  

controlling the situation so that we act in benevolent

ways, because it really seems like trying to be a  

benevolent person isn’t getting anyone anywhere  under times of moral duress…

∙ Commonalities Between Mengzi, Xunzi, and  


♦ Both emphasize the importance of certain situational factors.

 Mengzi: “In years of plenty, most young men are  gentle; in years of poverty, most young men are  

violent… They are like this because of what sinks  and drowns their hearts.” (6A7)

 Xunzi: Stresses the importance of surrounding  yourself with the right people and of rituals

♦ Mengzi discusses the rarity of an unstirred heart and  recognizes that in bad situations, most people would  be driven to act badly (2A2).

♦ Mengzian Reflection and the Milgram  

Experiments: It seemed like many people felt guilty about what they were doing. Maybe those were  

impulses that could’ve produced the right action if  reflected on?

∙ How Mengzi and Xunzi Might Have Viewed the Milgram  Experiment

♦ Mengzi: Internal forces were lacking; people  

should’ve listened to their heart more so that they  could realize that what they were doing was wrong. ♦ Xunzi: External factors were lacking; this is exactly  what happens if we don’t practice the right rituals  and maintain the right external conduct standards.  Milgram (see section on Milgram’s Obedience)

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