Phil 20008: Mid-semester Essay
Semester 1, 2019
Any citation style may be used so long as you are consistent. Chicago author-date is easy to use.
Word length: 2000 words (50% of final grade). Papers may not exceed word length by more than 10% (including footnotes and quotations, but excluding bibliography). There is no lower word limit, but a paper that is significantly short is unlikely to have the level of depth that we are looking for.
1. John Stuart Mill’s “proof” of utilitarianism has been much criticized. Explain what you take to be the most plausible reconstruction of his “proof”. Critically evaluate it.
2. Mill argues that a utilitarian should not only take into account quantity of pleasure, but also quality of pleasure. To do this he differentiates higher from lower pleasures. Briefly explain why and how he makes this distinction. Is it a useful distinction? Defend your view.
3. In “Alienation, Consequentialism, and Morality” Peter Railton sets out to defend act consequentialism against the objections that it is a cold and unfeeling doctrine and that it is too demanding. Briefly explain Railton’s rejoinder to these objections. Does it succeed? Why or why not?
4. Objections to utilitarianism often proceed by considering what a utilitarian is committed to saying about a particular case or cases and claim that this is the wrong answer. This argumentative strategy gives considerable theory-building weight to our intuitions about particular cases. How much weight are they being asked to bear? Can they bear this much weight? Defend your view.
5. Consequentialism takes many forms from the simplest, act utilitarianism, to pluralist rule- consequentialism. Which version of consequentialism do you take to be most plausible? Defend your view.
6. The following is a famous and controversial passage from Kant:
Suppose then, the mind of this philanthropist were over-clouded by his own grief, which extinguished all sympathy with the fate of others, and that while he still had the means to benefit others in distress their troubles did not move him because he had enough to do with his own; and suppose that now, when no longer incited to it by any inclination, he nevertheless tears himself out of this deadly insensibility and does the action without any inclination, simply from duty; then the action first has its genuine moral worth. (Kant, Groundwork.)
7. Briefly explain Korsgaard’s “Practical Contradiction Interpretation” of Kant’s Formula of Universal Law (FUL). Next, apply this interpretation of the FUL to a case of your own choosing, explaining your reasoning. Use the bulk of your essay to evaluate whether, on this interpretation, the FUL can provide an adequate test to identify immoral maxims of action.