The University of Memphis Universal Moral Standards Questions

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1. At some point, it will occur to you that there is this oddity in the argument: most people living in a civil society never ACTUALLY contract. That is, they never promise to obey its rules. They are just born into those rules. This probably includes you. So, are you bound by Hobbes’ argument? Why or why not?

2. Are there universal, natural laws of morality? And if there are, can we discover these laws through our powers reason and reflection, or do we require revelation? (Remember – you can’t just give a yes or no answer. You must back up that yes or no with reasons, examples, explanation and in a word argument. If you haven’t already, start trying to do

this by quoting the thinkers in this unit, or by drawing on the arguments of lecture.)

3. At the tail end of his reply to what I called the bestial” objection to Utilitarianism, Mill argued, “A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one

of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence.” (241-242) One take away

point of this argument was to understand Mill as defending the claim that human beings are better off directing themselves at the higher pleasures of the

mind and intellect; for only the latter can really make them happy. This is a foundational preference,

according to Mill. 

However, it became a bit tricky to say WHY Mill thinks

humans have this preference. That is, we made sense

of his argument to prove THAT we have this

preference (the thought expirment of Socrates vs.

The Pig…. but WHY does he think we have this

preference. We considered some possible answers:


A love of liberty and personal independence

A love of power and excitement

But we noted that Mill answers differently. He says,

we have this preference in virtue of “a sense of

dignity”, which we possess in “some proportion” to

our higher faculties (242).

What do you make of this cryptic claim?

4 . Help interpret Kant’s “dealer” (i.e. shop-keeper) example at 397. If you are one of the first people participating in this board, feel free to get credit by simply describing the example. Everyone else: what is the point of the example? What is meant to show or

illustrate? What part of Kant’s argument is it

supporting? And is it a persuasive example? Why or why not?

5. It is sometimes objected (by Utilitarians) that Kant’s

theory makes unintuitive absolute prohibitions against

certain actions, like torture. For example, some think

that it is unintuitive to say that, in the face of extreme

bad consequences, we must NEVER EVER torture or

lie or kill innocent persons.

Two questions:

1) Does Kant’s theory really have this result? If so,

which actions really do end up in this category (or in

other words, which maxims does the Categorial

Imperative ALWAYS strike down)?

2) If this really is Kant’s position: what reply can he

make to this objection?

Note: for those of you with Utilitarian sympathies, you

can get credit in this board by pressing the defenders

of Kant. That is, by politely challenging their attempts

to answer these two questions, especially #2.

6. Nietzsche’ Challenge

A challenge to what?

To say why he is wrong! To show that there is more to

“ethics” than he thinks. Defend the idea of duty! Or

the requirement about the happiness of others! Or

that being a noble person is in the end more like what

Plato said – being virtuous is more than just being “a

will to power”! Or if none of these seem right, and you

think Nietzsche was onto something, then pursue that

path. Whatever you do, don’t have NO path.

So get to it: Lodge an objection, explain Nietzsche’s

mistake, or defend him in this discussion board.

7. To be or not to be…a determinist. Now that you’ve had

a chance to think about determinism, what do you

think? Is it a persuasive theory – why or why not? In

this discussion board, please answer this question by

arguing why the mind IS reducible to the physical

brain, or IS NOT so reducible?

8 Is there room in our lives for “mysterious” beliefs?

People often say that “God works in mysterious ways”

– but why do we tolerate such explanations in religion,

when we don’t seem to do so in other areas. Only

imagine that you asked a doctor – “Why will this

medicine make me better?” And the answer was, “I

don’t know, it’s mysterious.” Would you take the

medicine? Or what if just before you got on a plane,

the captain said, “I have no idea why the plane stays

in the air – its mysterious.” Would you get on the

plane? Specifically, is it ok in philosophy? What if

someone told you, “It is your moral duty to kill these

families, but I can’t tell you why. No one knows. It’s

mysterious.” Would you accept this?

In short, when is it ok to use “mysteriousness” as an

answer to a question? Why is it permissible in these

instances and not in others?

9. Here again is the Basic Problem of Evil:

1. If God is omnipotent, then God is able to prevent


2. If God is omnibenevolent, then God wants to

prevent evil

3. If God is omniscient, then God knows how to

prevent evil.

4. If a 3 “O” God exists, there is no evil.

5. There is evil.

6. Thus, a 3 “O” God does not exist.

Is this argument persuasive? Why or why? Be clear

and precise in your comments (e.g. stating which step

of the argument you are challenging or defending),

and most importantly, be respectful and civil in your

exchanges with others. Religion can be a sensitive

topic for many people!

10: Paul Taylor, via Jorge Garcia, frames racism in the

term disregard. Do you find this term satisfactory?

Why or Why not? If not, what would you add to fully

capture what racism is and does?

In your response, remember these three pillars in

critical conversations:

Be charitable to the readings, videos, and to

your colleagues’ comments.

Be proactive in thinking about your questions

and comments; try your best to make sure

that they are not harmful to your classmates.

Discomfort, misconceptions, and ignorance

are all ok; we are growing together in

discussing these topics.

11. Paul Taylor, via Jorge Garcia, frames racism in the

term disregard. Do you find this term satisfactory?

Why or Why not? If not, what would you add to fully

capture what racism is and does?

In your response, remember these three pillars in

critical conversations:

Be charitable to the readings, videos, and to

your colleagues’ comments.

Be proactive in thinking about your questions

and comments; try your best to make sure

that they are not harmful to your classmates.

Discomfort, misconceptions, and ignorance

are all ok; we are growing together in

discussing these topics.

12. So…..just how powerful is God? Here’s a paradox to

test your intuitions: Can God create a rock so heavy

that God him/herself cannot lift it?

13. Laurence Blum argues that the special evil of racism

lies in its historical tie to the “social and systematic

horrors” of slavery, apartheid, Nazism, etc., in 2 ways:

1. The fact of that connection

2. Because present racism reminds us of that


Do you agree? Why or why not? And if not, what do

you think is the distinctive harm of racism? Or, if you

think racism involves no distinctive evil, you can play

the role in this discussion board of skeptic.

But remember – like religion, the topic of race and

racism is an especially sensitive one. I expect civil,

charitable, and respectful discussion.

14: Our new question is this: In the years since Mclntosh

published “White Privilege” she has noted that she

wishes she would have included the need for

intersectionality in our discussions of privilege

because many of her examples also assume the

perspective of the middle class. Intersectionality is

the idea that individuals’ experiences of privilege

and/or disadvantage differ depending on where their

identity is located “at the intersection” of several

aspect of identity. For example, a black woman from

the upper class has different experiences from a black

man from the lower class because the experience of

racism is different depending on other factors such as

class and gender. Why do you think it is important to

consider the many aspect of an individual’s identity

when we talk about privilege and disadvantage?

Intersecting Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Opression


Upper and Upper-Middle Class

Politics of Apper

Male and masculine,

Fema@ and femnine






English as a second language

Working class, poor

^ Previous








  • Gender dev.ant


Péople of Color

‘Non-Europe an Origin


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