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Metaethics-1

I. Introduction

A. What is Ethics?

1. Terms. The terms "moral" and "ethics" com from Latin and Greek, respectively (mores and ethos), deriving their meaning from the idea of custom.

2. Morality and Ethics refer to actual or ideal moralities (e.g. the morality of Socrates and/or the moral theory taught by Socrates; the morality of modern-day Christians and/or the morality taught by Jesus to his disciples)

3. Morality and Ethics can refer to the philosophical analysis of morality, the systematic endeavor to understand moral concepts and justify moral principles and theories.

a. Analyzing terms. It undertakes to analyze such concepts as "right," "wrong," "permissible," "ought," "good," and "evil" in their moral contexts.

b. Principles. Here, moral philosophy seeks to establish principles of right behavior that can serve as action guides for individuals and groups.

c. Values and Virtues for society. It investigates which values and virtues are paramount to the worthwhile life of society.

d. Arguments. It builds and scrutinizes arguments in ethical theories, and it seeks to discover valid principles (for example, "Never kill innocent human beings") and the relationship between those principles.

B. Ethics

1. Ethics is concerned with values--not with what is, but what ought to be--How should I live my life? What is the right thing to do in this situation? Should I always tell the truth? Should I tell my friend that his spouse is having an affair? Ought a women ever to have an abortion? Ethics has a distinct action-guiding aspect and, as such, belongs to the group of practical institutions that include religion, law, and etiquette.

2. Ethics and religion. The limitation of the religious injunction is that it rests on authority, and we are not always sure of or in agreement about the credentials of the authority, nor on how the authority would rule in ambiguous or new cases.

a. Reason vs. revelation. Religion is founded not on reason but on revelation, so there is no way to convince someone who does not share your religious views that your view is the right one.

b. Reason vs. authority. Ethics distinguishes itself from religion in that it seeks reasons, rather than authority, to justify its principles. Its central purpose it to secure valid principles of conduct and values that can be instrumental in guiding human actions and producing good character.

3. Ethics and law and etiquette. Ethics, as the analysis of morality, distinguishes itself from law and etiquette by going deeper into the essence of rational existence.

Ethics, in sum, has to do with how we are to live.

II. First Things: Where did we get the idea of "right" and "wrong" behavior?

A. Possible Routes for Moral Evolution: Biological Origins

Ethics and Morality deal with human conduct or behavior. In this first part of the lecture, we will reflect on the nature of this behavior and why it is we behave as we do as it is related to ethics and morality. First, let's see what biological explanation can be given for certain types of behavior.

1. Evolution and Aiding Others. As animals, human beings have evolved over the course of millions of years through a process involving random mutation, heritability and natural selection. Until fairly recently, however, social behavior remained a puzzle. Why, if nature selects for survival, do some organisms come to the aid of others, occasionally at considerable risk or cost to themselves? Shouldn't an instinct to risk oneself for others be a ticket to extinction?

2. Genes. The answer lies, in part, in looking at natural selection from the "standpoint" of the gene. Of course, genes aren't sentient and don't literally have standpoints.

a. Organism as "vehicle." If, however, we conceive the gene as what is for by nature and the larger organism as a "vehicle" for nurturing and reproducing genes, we can construct a fairly plausible explanation of self-sacrificial behavior among biological organisms.

b. Survival is key. From the standpoint of the gene, it doesn't matter whether its survival is mediated by one particular organism or another. What counts is survival of the largest number of copies of that type of gene.

3. E.g. Squirrel. Take the case of the young ground squirrel that, upon sighting a predator, emits a loud alarm. This act, while enabling other ground squirrels to escape, increases the likelihood of the noisy ground squirrel's death. Why then haven't such ground squirrels become extinct? If the warning saves the lives of four full siblings that would otherwise die, two of which carry the gene responsible for it, then the gene has done well for itself, even if the one containing it pays the ultimate sacrifice.

4. Kin Selection. If by random mutation an organism acquires a gene that causes the organism to take risks or to sacrifice itself for the sake of other organisms containing a copy of the same gene (its kin), then the gene may proliferate, even though the outcome for some individual organisms carrying that gene may be death.

a. Kin selection operates among species lower and higher than squirrels. We find it in colonies of ants, termites, and bees; and we find it in humans.

b. Sacrificing for Infants. Anyone who says individual human beings are basically selfish, caring about no one but themselves, is forgetting the vulnerability of the human infant and the extent to which the vast majority of parents sacrifice their own immediate interests for those of their children. Nearly all parents have an instinctive, self-sacrificing regard for the welfare of their children.

5. As animals, then, you and I have evolved from repeated cycles of random mutation and natural selection.

a. No Sacrifice, no descendants. Had our distant human ancestors not acquired genes inclining them to sacrifice their own short-run interests to feed, shelter,

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