Being moral may sometimes require us to make a great sacrifice, but we should only be willing to make such a sacrifice if everyone else is, too.

1. Using help (if you wish) from one or more of the philosophers in this Module, defend one of the following claims about reason in moral life:

a. Being moral may sometimes require us to make a great sacrifice, but we should only be willing to make such a sacrifice if everyone else is, too.

b. What is “rational” in the way of morality is wholly dependent upon one’s culture.

2. Is the difference between knowledge and wisdom (“philosophy” means “the love of wisdom”) parallel to the difference between the apparent good and the genuine good? Using a concrete example from history or your own life between the apparent and the genuine, explain how one of the philosophers from this Module would guide us toward wisdom in this particular case.


A. What do you think is Huxley’s deeper point about searching for good in the modern world? What is Camus’ deeper point? Which of them do you agree with more? Why?

B. You’ve probably seen a sci-fi movie that questions the nature of reality like The MatrixBladeRunnerTotal Recall or Vanilla Sky. Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” story seems to make the argument what is good is not having experiences of a particular type (like experiences of happiness or satisfaction), but actually living out the experiences themselves. He seems to believe that there is something good about life, about living, that cannot be simulated. But what could this be?


A. Consider Aquinas’s first principle of natural law: “Do good and avoid evil.” If we lived by this principle, we would have to decide what to do in cases where doing good might lead to some lesser evil, or conversely, where avoiding evil might make us lose out on the good. Besides euthanasia, describe a concrete case of ethical decision-making in which we might need to decide between these two.

B. Is it possible that in protecting Locke’s “natural rights” of individuals that we might condemn groups or entire cultures to extinction? This is exactly the case in the Canadian province of Quebec, where English speakers outnumber French speakers to the point where the government has made it mandatory that children learn French in schools and signs be in French as well as English. The point is to preserve French culture, despite what language individuals might want to speak. Is this preservation ethically sound, in your opinion?

4.For Kant, any conflict between our “perfect” duties (see p. 3 above) is only apparent. When I face, for example, a situation in which I must both tell the truth and endanger the life of another, I do not face a genuine conflict of duties; in fact, according to Kant, I have misunderstood the situation that I am in. Assuming there are genuine conflicts of duties saying that we must do both A and not-A, what ethical tools should we use to resolve them? Discuss the question through a hypothetical scenario that involves a difficult conflict of duties.

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