Classical Ethical TheoryRichard Lee
Philosophy 4123 Autumn 2008

Third Examination for Classical Ethical Theory


Format of the Examination:

This is an in class examination.

This examination counts as twenty percent (20%) of your grade. You will be asked to write two (2) essays, each worth ten (10) points, with a maximum possible of twenty (20) points. You must answer one question from each of two parts. At the start of the examination I will list the "names" of at least four (4) questions from which you must choose two (2) on different philosophers. Please print out this document, put your name on it, and bring it (without notes written on it) to the examination for reference. It will be collected at the end of the examination.

Be sure to bring a blue book with you to the examination.

Ground Rules:

As always, cheating will not be tolerated. It is important therefore that I clarify the "ground rules" of this examination. Please read these carefully.

1. Naturally no help in answering the questions may be received from anyone (except yourself) during the examination. The work you hand in should be your own work.

2. Undergraduate students: You may bring with you to the examination one (1) 3" x 5" card (crammed as full as you care to make it) of notes to use during the examination. You may use any abbreviations or diagrams on the card you find helpful (as well as English, of course). You may not use any unusual aids (e.g., magnifying glass, microfiche reader) during the examination to read the sheet. (Your usual spectacles and contact lenses are not "unusual aids.") No other books or notes may be used during the examination. What appears on the card of notes you bring to class should be your own work. Each person should be the "author" of his or her own "card." One exception: you may include quotations (but not photocopied) on your card from the textbook or from any handout I have given. Everyone who uses such a card must hand it in with the examination with her or his name clearly on it. (The card does not have to be legible otherwise--just so you can read it.) The card will not be used to help determine a grade for the examination. (So on the examination don't say "see point 6a on the card.") I will return these cards to you if and when you come by to pick up your graded examination.


Questions will be referred to by their "names," listed to their left.

"Name"  Question
K-FIRST State the first sentence in section I of Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. How does Kant defend the claim he makes in that sentence? Critically discuss.
K-FIRS State, explain, and critically discuss Kant's "first proposition" of morality.
K-IMP What, according to Kant is an imperative? Explain and explore the distinction Kant draws between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. Explain the different sorts of hypothetical imperatives Kant says there are. Critically explore.
K-SUI How and to what extent does Kant argue that suicide is morally wrong? Critically discuss Kant's arguments on this matter.
K-RAT How does Kant argue that rational beings have value as ends and other things have only conditional worth? Critically explore Kant's argument.
K-SAME Immanuel Kant states several formulations of the categorical imperative including, among others, one having to do with willing something to be universal law and one having to do with ends in themselves. Kant claims that these several statements are "many formulations of precisely the same law." Critically discuss this claim.
K-GOLD Explain what differences there are, if any, between Kant's categorical imperative and the golden rule (or variations on the golden rule). Critically discuss.
K-PERF Explain the distinction Kant draws between "perfect" and "imperfect" duties. Gives examples of duties Kant would classify as "perfect" and examples of duties he would classify as "imperfect."
K-HNAT Does Kant believe that morality is based in human nature? Why or why not? Critically discuss.
K-GOOD What, according to Kant, is the only thing that can be called good without qualification? Why? Critically discuss.
K-FUNC Explain Kant's argument intended to show that the function of reason is not to make us happy. What, according to Kant, is the function of reason? Critically discuss.
K-FROM Explain the distinction Immanuel Kant draws between acting from duty and acting merely in accordance with duty. When people are not acting from duty what, if anything are they acting from, according to Kant? Give examples. What does Kant claim to be the relevance of this distinction? (I.e., what difference does it make whether we act from duty or merely in accordance with duty?) Is Kant right about all this? Critically discuss.
K-WORT Under what circumstances, according to Kant, is there moral worth in an action (i.e., when does a person get moral credit for acting as she does)? Is Kant's view on this reasonable? Why or why not?
K-EG Kant claims that "worse service cannot be rendered morality than that an attempt be made to derive it from examples." What does Kant think wrong with basing morality on examples? Explain. Is Kant right about this? Critically discuss.
K-PCHN Some philosophers try to base morality on fear of God, or happiness, or "the particular constitution of human nature." What, according to Kant, is wrong with such attempts? What, according to Kant, should morality be based on? Why? Is Kant right about this? Critically discuss.
K-WILLS Kant wrote "Whoever wills the end, wills (so far as reason has decisive influence on his actions) also the means that are indispensably necessary to his actions and that lie in his power." Carefully explain what this means, being sure to explain each qualification and why it is included. Is this claim right? Explain why or why not, giving examples.
K-2FRM Specify two significantly different formulations Kant offers of the categorical imperative. Explore an application of each; that is argue that some action is right or is wrong based on a formulation of the categorical imperative. (You may consider the same action for each formulation, or different actions.) Critically discuss.
K-POOR "A ... man, for whom things are going well, sees that others (whom he could help) have to struggle with great hardships, and he asks, `What concern of mine is it? Let each one be as happy as heaven wills, or as he can make himself; I will not take anything from him or even envy him; but to his welfare or to his assistance in time of need I have no desire to contribute.'" What would Kant say to such a man? Why? Critically discuss.
K-MEAN What is it to treat someone as a means? What is it to treat someone as an end? Does Kant say we must never treat someone as a means? Does Kant say that we should always treat people as ends? Critically discuss.
K-PRICE "In the realm of ends everything has either a price or a dignity." Explain what Kant means by this. What does Kant think has dignity? What has a price? Critically discuss.
B-ARGU Explain how Bentham argues with those who reject the principle of utility as the principle for separating right from wrong actions. Critically discuss.
B-THEO Explain Bentham's view of what he calls the "theological principle" in II.18. Critically discuss.
B-VALU Explain all the factors Jeremy Bentham delineates for considering the value of a pleasure or pain. Give examples of pleasures and pains which have and lack these features. Does his way of evaluating pleasures seem adequate? Why or why not? Critically discuss.
B-DETER How, according to Bentham, are we ideally to determine whether some action is right or wrong? What considerations are to be taken into account? Is Bentham's method adequate? Why or why not?
B-EG Bentham details how to determine the "general tendency of an act, by which the interests of a community are affected." Explain this method and apply it to an example. That is, explain how one could apply Bentham's method to determine whether tell a lie, for instance.
M-LIFEQJohn Stuart Mill distinguishes a utilitarian "theory of life" from a "theory of morality." Explain what each of these is and how they are related.
M-HAPP What, according to John Stuart Mill, is happiness? Explain in some detail what Mill says about happiness.
M-SWIN How does Mill respond to the objection that his utilitarian doctrine is "a doctrine worthy only of swine ...?" Critically discuss.
M-QUAL Mill claims that pleasures differ in quality as well as in quantity. What does Mill mean by this and what support does he offer for the claim? Critically discuss.
M-HIGH J. S. Mill claims that some pleasures have "higher value" than other pleasures. Explain his argument for this claim. Critically discuss.
M-CONT Explain the distinction Mill draws between being happy and being content.
M-PIG John Stuart Mill claimed that "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." Critically discuss his argument for this claim.
M-HIGH Some people who have experienced the "higher" or mental pleasures still at times choose sensual pleasures instead. How does Mill account for this? Critically discuss.
M-WORT How does Mill think we are to decide which pleasures are more worth having? Is this method reasonable? Critically discuss.
M-OBTA How does John Stuart Mill reply to the objection against utilitarianism that happiness is not obtainable? Discuss.
M-CRIT What, according to Mill, are the criteria for judging the morality of an action and for judging the worth or character of some person or agent? Critically discuss.
M-GODL "We not uncommonly hear the doctrine of utility inveighed against as a godless doctrine." So writes John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism. Explain this objection and Mill's reply to it. Is Mill's reply satisfactory? Discuss.
M-OBJS In chapter II of Utilitarianism Mill considers several objections to utilitarianism. Among them are (a) that happiness is unobtainable, (b) that utilitarianism ignores the virtue of self-sacrifice, (c) that utilitarianism requires too much of people, and (d) utilitarianism is a godless doctrine. Explain one of these objections (being sure to indicate clearly which one you are explaining). How does Mill answer that objection? Is the reply adequate? Critically discuss.
M-RULE What role do moral rules play in Mill's version of utilitarianism? Explain and critically discuss.
M-2ARY Explain the role of rules or "secondary principles" in Mill's understanding of utilitarianism.
M-SANC What sanctions does John Stuart Mill think there are for the principle of utility? What does he say the "ultimate sanction" of it is? Critically discuss.
M-EVID Explicate and critically discuss the argument John Stuart Mill offers that "the sole evidence it is possible to produce that any thing is desirable, is that people do actually desire it."
M-VISI John Stuart Mill has been amply criticized for this passage: "The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible is that people hear it; and so of the other sources of our experience. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to provide that anything is desirable is that people do actually desire it." What evidence is it possible to provide that something is desirable? (To answer this you will have to discuss what it means for something to be desirable.)
M-AGG John Stuart Mill writes: "each person's happiness is a good to that person; and the general happiness, therefore, is a good to the aggregate of all persons." Explicate and critically discuss this argument.
M-DESI Mill claims that "there is in reality nothing desired except happiness." What support does Mill put forward for this claim? Critically discuss.
M-END John Stuart Mill claims that "The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end." Explain this claim and critically discuss the argument or arguments he offers in support of this claim.
M-VIRT Mill claims that for some people virtue is a part of their happiness. Explain what Mill means by this. Is he right? Critically discuss.
M-DES2 John Stuart Mill wrote: "to think of an object as desirable (unless for the sake of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant, are one and the same thing." What does this mean, and is Mill right about this? Is this, according to Mill, something that can be known a priori, or something the knowledge of which requires experiential evidence? Critically discuss.
Comparative and General
G-WRONG Consider some action that might by some be considered to be morally wrong (e.g. killing people, lying, stealing, raping). Explain how several (at least three) philosophers we have read would support the position that the action is (or is not) morally wrong. Critically discuss.
G-LISA Suppose that Lisa Appleby, a bright electrical engineering student, devises a "black box," which when attached to her telephone allows her to make long distance calls from her home in such a way that neither she nor anyone else is billed for them. She wonders whether it would be morally right for her to use her invention in this way. Consider how Kant would address her question and how he would support his position. Would a utilitarian give a different answer? Why or why not? Critically discuss.
G-PERF Compare and contrast the views of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill on the distinction between "perfect" and "imperfect" duties.
G-WHAT Explicate and critique the views of at least two philosophers we have read in this class on the question "What is ethics?"
G-SELF Explicate and critique the views of at least two philosophers we have read in this course on the relation of self-interest to morality.
G-REAS Compare and contrast the views of at least two philosophers we have read in this course on the issue of the role of reason in ethics.
G-HUM Compare and contrast the views of at least two philosophers we have read in this course on the issue of the role of human nature in ethics.
G-HAPP Compare and contrast the views of at least two philosophers we have read in this course on the relationship of happiness to morality.
G-TRUT Of all the ethical philosophers we read in this course, which one seems to you to be nearest the truth (i.e. to have the most nearly correct ethical theory)? Why? Critically discuss.

Richard Lee,, last modified: 1 December 2010