Ethics Exam Reviews

Review for Ethics Midterm

 The Midterm Exam will consist of 20 multiple choice questions (2 points each) and 4 short answers (15 points each).  For the multiple choice, study the lecture notes using the summaries below as a guide.  For the short answers, pick four central concepts from the list at the end of the summaries and write a half page explaining the idea and showing that you understand it and how it connects to other material we have studied in the class.

Virtue & Aristotle: Aristotle, in line with ancient cosmology, believed that the human being has a natural purpose and order, and that being in accord with this is to have virtue. The idea is that one gains virtue, merit or “goodness”, and one can then use this ability/capacity to do good.  A virtue ethicist believes that becoming good or virtuous is more important than following principles or simply having good consequences.  One should be virtuous even if it means breaking principles or bad results in a particular situation.  One potential problem with the ethical conception of virtue is that people tend to let the rules bend and ignore bad consequences when they consider themselves or others to be the virtuous.

Morals & Kant:  Kant is a hard-liner with principles, morals and laws.  Kant argues that rational, objective and universal morals should always be followed regardless of the consequences.  Kant believes that one must also start with good will, which is good in itself without question.  One must “Do one’s Duty” even if one goes down with the ship.  Kant calls this “the categorical imperative” and “unconditional universal law”.  The thought experiment used by some today to illustrate this is the guy with the butcher knife who asks you “Where did your friend go?”, to whom one should not lie regardless of how easy a good end can come from lying.  The strength of this position is that one would not break one’s morals in exchange for good consequences, but the weakness is that some situations can result in great harm to many if one refuses to be flexible, break rules or question authority.

MillConsequences & Mill:  Utilitarianism, also known as Consequentialism and Instrumentalism, argues that one should focus on the ends and results to determine if an act or person is good or bad.  Specifically, one should try to maximize pleasure/happiness and minimize pain/suffering for everyone, taking the long-term and social view.  Epicurus of ancient Athens argued that the highest good is happiness, and he was followed much later by Bentham and Mill.  While Bentham leaned towards the positive side of the ‘pleasure principle’, maximizing happiness, Mill leaned towards the negative, minimizing harm.  Mill’s Utilitarianism is opposite yet similar in ways to Kantian morality.  Both see their side as fundamental and the other side as a secondary consequence.  Kant says always follow principle and you will likely be happy, and Mill says always try for happiness and you will likely be principled.  Both see their own primary focus as good in itself without the possibility of proof or question.  Attacks on Utilitarianism include the paradox of the good of the bad example, Marx’s guess who gets to use who for whose happiness (the rich and elite), and the environmental challenge to using the world for human purposes.

 Balance, Egyptian Wisdom & Confucius:A recurring theme of the world’s wisdom is that seeking the balance or middle between opposites is better than clinging to either side of an opposition.  We can see some beautiful examples of this thinking in the Egyptian wisdom and Confucius passages, which suggest that we should not only seek balance between extremes, but also balance between ourselves and others.  In the Egyptian wisdom, moderation of eating and drinking, luxury, and balancing one’s own interests with others are the clearest examples.  Confucius offers particularly insightful guidance that calls for a balance of one’s self with others for the cultivation of self and society.

Individuality, Nietzsche & Rand:While early ethics (in accord with ancient cosmology) focused on the collective good and the group rather than the individual, modern society has taken a turn towards a greater appreciation of individuality.  These two have always been complimentary, but devices and media have allowed us to be more enabled as individuals than ever before.  Nietzsche and Rand both focus on individual achievement as the central end of life, but they are completely different as far as trusting judgment and truth.  Nietzsche trusts no truth at all, calling all collectivism “slave morality” and arguing that “truth” is always the personal perspective of the individual, whether or not they trust or doubt what authority tells them.  Rand believes her opinions to be objectively right and rational, and calls her school Objectivism.  Rand’s idea of believing in yourself was repackaged as “self esteem” in the 1980s by her follower Nathanial Brandon.  While it is important to have self esteem, problems can arise when one trusts one’s own judgment and rejects all opposing judgments entirely.

Perspective, Heraclitus & Zhuangzi: One way to balance between thinking our views are completely right or wrong, truth or illusion, is the concept of perspective.  What is called “objective” is very much the intersubjective, the similarity and difference of a collective of subjective perspectives.  Heraclitus of ancient Greece and Zhuangzi of ancient China are both excellent thinkers for examining perspectivism.  Both use perspectives of animals to show that what is good for one can be bad for another.  The concept of perspective is good for showing us that all views count, but they are also each limited and capable of progress and expansion.

List of Short Answer Concepts:

A) Kant & the guy with the butcher knife

B) Bentham’s maximum happiness vs. Mill’s minimum pain

C) Confucius’ Golden Rule

D) Confucius’ Right Mind over Right Act

E) Nietzsche’s Stand Between Dogmatism & Nihilism

F) Heraclitus and Zhuangzi on Animal Perspectives



The final exam will consist of 20 multiple choice questions (2 points each for 40 points out of 100) and 2 short essays (30 points each for 60 points out of 100) at least one page each in length.  The multiple choice questions will cover points in the lectures and readings.  The short essays are personal responses to and comparisons of the concepts that demonstrate your own thinking.  The essay topics are listed at the end of this review.

Robin HoodTheft: Zinn & The CorporationApes understand possessing and trade.  Today, we use paper bank notes, backed by the government.  Money has advantages over bartering, as money is easy to gather/amass and divide/distribute, much more than any other object or substance.  There are, however, two great disadvantages.  First, theft, like trade, becomes easier, and second, the desire for money becomes quite intense.  The ethical is, is theft ever justified? Kant, of course, would say NEVER.  Utilitarians would argue that theft is justified if in the long term it results in good and justice, much happiness and prevention of harm, the classic example being Robin Hood.  Balance draws our attention to the duality of possessing and forgetting about possession, grasping and letting go.  If one stores up wealth, one brings theft to one’s doorstep.  Is it in one’s self interest to steal from everyone?  Not if there are consequences.  In The Corporation, we see that corporations are “externalizing machines” which puts the stock price before all else, and that this device has allowed America to become very rich but at great social costs, drawing comparisons to sharks and sociopaths.

Bernays PropagandaLies: Propaganda & Chomsky:  Individuals and groups manipulate the truth to serve their own ends, in a conscious/unconscious way that often resembles denial.  We focused on the historical background of American propaganda.  Recalling the baboon giving the false leopard call, apes have been seen lying to their fellow apes.  The Assyrians were masters of propaganda, using the OLD propaganda model: “This is the king/state, we know best”.  We have failed to have a real discussion about censorship and bias in America.  This means ‘THEY’ are simply biased and put forth propaganda, and WE would never do something like that.  Americans and British got set in this in a particular way through WWI and II.  In WWI, propaganda is something evil the Germans do, not the British or Americans.  In WWII, the Germans and Japanese do propaganda, and in the cold war the Russians.  We do ‘education’, ‘information’, ‘public relations’, ‘human relations’, and in time of war we may engage in psychological warfare, but we never do ‘propaganda’.  Bernays helped to invent the NEW style of propaganda, appealing to experts who support what is desired, such as ‘Doctors say, ‘Eat bacon’’.  Both US and Soviets fought over who liberates and who oppresses.  ‘Melting Pot’ became a slogan for the US.

Vietnam FieldViolence, War & Grossman: Violence, like sex, was a part of life in the ancient world.  As Grossman says, in Victorian England sex became something shameful and best kept out of sight, and similarly with the butcher and refrigeration violence became something out of sight.  Sex and killing are specialized spectacles in film today.  We all have violent thoughts, but very few humans will be violent, no matter what culture or ethnicity or gender.  Normally, there is a safety catch in the human mind that prevents us from being violent.  However, in certain situations with particular factors, most everyone becomes capable of violence.  2% of the population have an aggressive personality.  American media is quite intertwined with the Myth of the Easy Kill, for both the hero and villain.  What this myth conceals is there is a greater chance of being a psychological casualty then of being killed or wounded.  Factors that reduce PTSD and enable killing include Absolution by Distance, Absolution by Authority, and Group Absolution.  Both soldiers and gang members find themselves having nightmares where those who have been killed come back to haunt them.  The stages of killing include combat high, remorse, and rationalization.

Smoke StacksEnvironment, Consumption & Carson: We have done so well as a species that we have become quite unbalanced with nature.  It was only with the growth of mechanization and technology that Islamic scholars first wrote consciously of the impact that humans had systematically on the environment.  As we see in The Corporation, in the 1940s and 1950s, just as US became the wealthiest nation, petroleum products were used to make huge varieties of products.  Wood and metal gave way to plastic.  We are in a culture that can give us immediate things according to our intentions, but such that we ignore the long and complicated process of nature.  Nature can sift things out, but not as fast as we can synthesize just what we want while externalizing the unneeded and then ignoring it until it snowballs up into our face.  Cancer rates, birth defect rates, and other problems are evidence of the environmental impact.  Wilderness: Does one consider best use in the long term to be using everything, or do we leave things unused for long term.  Sustainability: Nature and economy must both be preserved, or both will collapse.  Environmental Justice: Who gets benefits and who gets harm of processes in the culture?  One fifth of world consumes four fifths of resources.

breadlineClass, Power & Karp: We are taught that there is no class in America and that it does exist as a problem in other cultures.  This was what we said about the Soviets, and they said the same about us.  There are two types of class status, ascribed (born with it) and achieved (gained in time).  The common indicators of ascribed class status are ethnicity (race and tribe), family (royal lineage), gender (male, female or other), and culture (religion, language).  The common indicators of achieved class status are position (job or role in society), wealth (property which includes money), ability (skills, education and experience), and fame (honor, success, celebrity).  On top in society are those who have enough that if they hold on to it they do not need to work.  On the bottom are those who have so little that if they do not work then they have nothing at all.  In the middle are those who are using all sorts of strategies to get employed and gain property.   American media make class and poverty invisible.  Karp argues that the two parties have each controlled 50% of the country since the civil war polarized the country, and this is primarily what they seek to maintain.  A landslide in American elections is 60-40, and neither party seems to push lasting popular legislation.  Anyone too left or right of center is sabotaged.  Thus Karp charges that we have one party, with two wings, not two real parties at all.  The upper class pay and play both sides and further the interests of American power.  The common people are set against each other and told that because the other side is as free as they are nothing can get done, a game of good cop, bad cop.

womens-libSexism, Gender & De Beauvoir: The distinction of overt and covert prejudice, explicit and hidden, is important for both sexism and racism.  The sexist myth is that women are docile, non-violent, unconfident, incompetent, and emotional.  The reality is that men tend to seek power through isolation, whereas women tend to seek power through interaction with others.  As people began to collect into city states, we can see patriarchy increased.  Many cultures similarly oppress women, but at the same time women have had increasing power in society and new movements have to appeal to women to take off.  Women are 51% of the population (technically the MAJORITY of the population), do 66% of the work, get 10% of the income, and worldwide own 1% of the property.  Feminism is the movement in reaction to sexism, the basic idea that women are people too.  The first wave was the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s.  The second wave of the 1960s is also called the Women’s Liberation Movement.  Betty Friedan argued that women were not fulfilled as simply homemakers, and they needed an identity beyond the home and family.  The third wave began in the early 90s, paid attention to black women, Latina women, third world women, and also to tried to break down the idea of women as essentially different from men.  The two big issues are 1) Is gender a subjective construct or social reality, and 2) Did feminism accomplish what it set out to achieve?

racismRacism, Ethnicity & HannafordIf you are marginalized and you point out covert racism, you are often accused of overt racism by privileged people.  Great evidence against Racism: Piaget’s studies of Child development stages, and African kids using laptops experiment and the surprise that there is no lag time compared to Western kids.  Race seems obvious today, a ‘fact’ of biology.  There seem to be distinct ethnic groups that are easily divisible into recognizable races.  Hannaford argues that in fact racism rose with science and modernity in the rise of Europe since the 1600s.  There was, of course, always ethnocentrism (my tribe is familiar, your tribe over the hill is scary) that correspond to self-centered thinking on an individual level, but ‘black’ and ‘white’ people did not always exist.  ‘Race’ comes into European languages by the 1500s.  In English, ‘ras’ meant a course or current.  The word did not mean a fully separate category of people until after 1700, as Europeans got wealthy beyond everyone and very successful with sciences (phrenology in India example).  Today, however, research on genetics shows that there is no definable or divisible races that can be fully separated.  Rather, there is a tangle of genetic material that is mostly common to a people.

ESSAY TOPICS: The short essays are personal responses to and comparisons of the concepts that demonstrate your own thinking.  Make sure to write clearly, stick to the subject and use examples from the lectures and readings or your own to support your point.  For each of the two essays, write a one page reflection on a topic of your choice selected from the options below.  When you are done, it is a good idea to go back over your answer to make sure you have answered the question.

Option 1: What is the ethical conception you think best prevents theft, and why?

Option 2:  Must all societies lie?  Is the new covert propaganda better than the old?

Option 3:  Are Grossman’s findings on human violence comforting or disturbing? Why?

Option 4:  How is environmental sustainability possible in the shadow of the corporation?

Option 5:  Does Karp make a good case that America has one party with two wings?

Option 6:  Is covert prejudice more or less difficult to fight than overt prejudice?

Option 7:  Do you prefer second or third wave feminism, and why?

Option 8:  Is racism a permanent condition, or can it be dismantled?  How?

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