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Philosophy 302: Ethics
The Scope of Ethics

 Abstract: The central questions of this course are discussed with examples.  Contributing, necessary, and sufficient conditions are explained.

I. Review of last period’s central questions of ethics.

 

A. What is the nature of the life of excellence?

   

1. In what does excellence consist? Realizing the full potential of your capacities, pleasure, wealth and luxury, virtue, or happiness?

   

2. In particular, what are the contributing, necessary, and sufficient conditions for obtaining the life of excellence?

     

a. A contributing condition is one that might help bring about some other event, but is neither necessary nor sufficient for bringing about that other event.

       

Many separate contributing conditions might jointly form a necessary or a sufficient condition for the production of an event.

     

b. A necessary condition is the condition in the absence of which a specific event cannot take place.

       

(1) A condition X is necessary for condition Y, if whenever X does not occur, then Y does not occur.

         

(a) E.g., oxygen is a necessary condition for the occurrence of fire.

         

(b) If oxygen is not present, then there can be no fire.

         

(c) If there is fire, there is oxygen present.

       

(2) A necessary condition is semantically an "only if." "There is fire only if there is oxygen" can be symbolized as "F ŕ O."

       

(3) A group of necessary conditions might together form a sufficient condition. E.g., the presence of a combustible material, heat, and oxygen in proper combinations is the sufficient condition foe the existence of fire.

     

c. A sufficient condition is that condition in the presence of which an event always occurs.

       

(1) E. g., rain is a sufficient condition (but not a necessary condition) for the street being wet.

       

(2) Having ten dimes is sufficient for having a dollar.

         

Symbolically, 10 dimes ŕ a dollar

         

F ŕ O. (Fire is a sufficient condition for there being oxygen present.)

 

B. What is the ultimate worth of the goals you seek? Consider these examples.

   

1. W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957), 85.

     

"And what else is it that men seek in life but power? If they want money, it is but for the power that attends it, and it is power again that they strive for in all the knowledge they acquire. Fools and sots aim at happiness, but men aim only at power. The Magnus, the sorcerer, the alchemist, are seized with the fascination of the unknown; and they desire a greatness that is inaccessible to mankind. They think by the science they study so patiently, but endurance and strength, by force of will and by imagination, for these are the great weapons of the magician, they may achieve at last a power with which they can face the God of Heaven Himself."

   

2. John Hospers, Human Conduct (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1972), 222.

     

"Before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 there was a Provisional Government led by Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky was a less fanatical, more lenient, and more democratic man than Lenin or Stalin, and the history of the Soviet Union in the last forty [sic] yeas would almost certainly been far less blood-thirsty if he had remained in power. But during the brief period that he was head of the government, he decided to show the Russian people that he was earnest and sincere in his claims of tolerance and his opposition to tyranny; so he declared an amnesty for all political prisoners. The result was that his political enemies were released from prison and they took advantage of his leniency to overthrow his government. Would it have been better if Kerensky had not made this generous move but instead had ordered all political prisoners shot?

 

C. What is the propriety of specific courses of conduct? Consider these examples.

   

1. Several years ago a man whose wife was terminally ill with cancer, and in great pain, at her request, shot her. Since he could no longer live with himself, he then turned the pistol upon himself. He died, but she arrived at the hospital in time to be saved.

   

2. John Hospers, Human Conduct (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1972), 223.

     

"During World War II, the British allowed a number of women intelligence officers to return to the Continent, although the War Office knew that they would be tortured and killed by the Nazis. When this fact was revealed years after the war, it caused considerable out cry in Britain. But if the women had not been allowed to go as planned, the Nazis would thereby have been able to infer a fact which the British were most anxious to keep secret: the fact that they had cracked the enemy’s code. Was their action justified?"

II. Of course, these three questions are not the only ones to be asked in this course of study, and they might not be the most important ones. In any case, these three questions will from the framework of the inquiry ahead.


Recommended Sources

 The Central Questions of Ethics: An introduction to necessary and sufficient conditions.

Quiz on Necessary and Sufficient Conditions: A short quiz from Scientific Reasoning.

Quiz on Necessary and Sufficient Conditions: An ethics quiz covering conditions.

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