Table of Contents
Clashing Views on Moral Issues, Fourteenth Edition
Unit: Fundamental Issues in Morality
- Issue: Is Moral Relativism Correct?
YES: Torbjörn Tännsjö, from Moral Relativism, Philosophical Studies (2007)
NO: Louis P. Pojman, from The Case Against Moral Relativism, in The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Torbjörn Tännsjö distinguishes among several types of relativism and argues in favor of one of them, which he calls ontological relativism. According to this view, two people may disagree radically on a moral question, and yet both may be right, because each of them inhabits a different socially-constructed moral universe. Louis Pojman carefully distinguishes what he calls the diversity thesisthat moral rules differ from society to societyfrom ethical relativism. The diversity thesis is a straightforward description of what are acknowledged differences in the moral beliefs and practices of various human groups. But he argues that moral relativism does not follow from this diversity.
- Issue: Does Morality Need Religion?
YES: C. Stephen Layman, from Ethics and the Kingdom of God, in The Shape of the Good: Christian Reflections on the Foundations of Ethics (University of Notre Dame Press, 1991)
NO: John Arthur, from Religion, Morality, and Conscience, in Morality and Moral Controversies (Prentice Hall, 1996)
Philosopher C. Stephen Layman argues that morality makes the most sense from a theistic perspective and that a purely secular perspective is insufficient. The secular perspective, Layman asserts, does not adequately deal with secret violations, and it does not allow for the possibility of fulfillment of peoples deepest needs in an afterlife. Philosopher John Arthur counters that morality is logically independent of religion, although there are historical connections. Religion, he believes, is not necessary for moral guidance or moral answers; morality is social.
Unit: Sex, Marriage, and Reproduction
- Issue: Must Sex Involve Commitment?
YES: Steven E. Rhoads, from Hookup Culture: The High Costs of a Low Price for Sex, Society (December 2012)
NO: Raja Halwani, from Casual Sex, in Sex from Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2005)
Steven Rhoads offers evidence drawn from a variety of sources, including surveys of sexually active college students as well as research in evolutionary anthropology, to support his two main contentions: (a) casual sex is bad for society in general, and (b) casual sex is especially emotionally damaging for women. Raja Halwani first discusses the difficulties involved in defining casual sex precisely. He next examines a number of objections to casual sex, and concludes that casual sex need not be morally wrong because each of these objections involves factors that are not, for the most part, specifically intrinsic to casual sex.
- Issue: Is Abortion Immoral?
YES: Mary Meehan, from Why Liberals Should Defend the Unborn, Human Life Review (Summer 2011)
NO: Amy Borovoy, from Beyond Choice: A New Framework for Abortion? Dissent (Fall 2011)
Meehan argues that the unborn are exactly the kind of vulnerable population traditionally defended by liberals. She discusses a number of factors in support of this connection, such as scientific claims about when life begins, the obligations that arise from the act of conception, the disproportionate impact of abortion on poor women and women of color, and issues relating to disability rights and the environment. Borovoy argues that the traditional defense of abortion, which opposes the choice of the woman against the life of the fetus, does not effectively capture the unique experience of pregnancy, and finds inspiration for a more satisfying approach in Japanese culture, where the decision whether or not to have an abortion is contextualized in the womans responsibility not only to her fetus but to her family.
- Issue: Is It Morally Right to Prohibit Same-Sex Marriage?
YES: Helen M. Alvaré, from Brief of Amicus Curiae Helen M. Alvaré in Support of Hollingsworth and Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in Hollingsworth v. Perry, U.S. v. Windsor, Supreme Court of the United States (January 2013)
NO: David Boonin, from Same-Sex Marriage and the Argument from Public Disagreement, Journal of Social Philosophy, (Summer 1999)
Law professor Helen Alvaré argues that the states interest in promoting opposite-sex marriage stems from its interest in the procreation of children by opposite-sex married couples. Moreover, Alvaré traces the decline of marriage to the loss of traditional connections among marriage, sex, and children. State recognition of same-sex marriage would further undermine these connections and thus contribute to the destabilization of marriage, with negative repercussions to society, especially among the poor. Therefore, she argues, the state has an interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage. Philosopher David Boonin argues directly against positions taken by Jeff Jordan, a philosopher who opposes same-sex marriage. According to Jordan, the government should accommodate conflicting public views regarding homosexuality by refusing to sanction marriage between same-sex individuals. Boonin disagrees, asserting that government prohibition of same-sex marriage does not accommodate all public views regarding homosexuality, but favors views that oppose homosexuality. Both Jordan and Boonin address the analogy between marriage of mixed-race couples and marriage of same-sex couples, with Boonin asserting that this analogy actually supports government recognition of same-sex marriage.
- Issue: Should Human Cloning Be Banned?
YES: Michael J. Sandel, from The Ethical Implications of Human Cloning, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (Spring 2005)
NO: John A. Robertson, from Human Cloning and the Challenge of Regulation, The New England Journal of Medicine (July 9, 1998)
Political philosopher Michael J. Sandel argues that much of the talk about cloning revolves around a few limited concepts (e.g., rights, autonomy, and the supposed unnaturalness of asexual reproduction) that are inadequate and fail to express what is really wrong with cloning. We need, instead, to address fundamental questions about our stance toward nature. Law professor John A. Robertson maintains that there should not be a complete ban on human cloning but that regulatory policy should be focused on ensuring that it is performed in a responsible manner.
Unit: Law and Society
- Issue: Is Cloning Pets Ethically Justified?
YES: Autumn Fiester, from Creating Fidos Twin: Can Pet Cloning Be Ethically Justified? Hastings Center Report (July/August 2005)
NO: Hilary Bok, from Cloning Companion Animals Is Wrong, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (July 2002)
Autumn Fiester argues in support of cloning animals (in particular, peoples pets). She emphasizes the point that pet owners really care about their pets. One result of this is that they spend large amounts of money on veterinary care for their pets. Cloning their pets could serve as a useful extension of this ideaand also serve as a positive demonstration of society in general that individual pets have intrinsic value and cannot simply be replaced by new pets. Hilary Bok argues that cloning pets is immoral first of all because it causes great harm to animals. The animal that results from cloning, for example, is much more likely to have physical defects than the animal from which it was cloned. Moreover, the process of cloning itself necessarily involves harm to other animals (e.g., the animal that will carry the new pet to term). Finally, the end result simply does not provide pet owners with what they were looking for.
- Issue: Should Drugs Be Legalized?
YES: Meaghan Cussen and Walter Block, from Legalize Drugs Now! An Analysis of the Benefits of Legalized Drugs, American Journal of Economics and Sociology (July 2000)
NO: Theodore Dalrymple, from Dont Legalize Drugs, City Journal (Spring 1997)
Meaghan Cussen (a student in economics) and Walter Block (her economics professor) argue that the legalization of drugs would provide many sorts of benefits (e.g., crime would fall, the quality of life in inner cities would rise, and taxpayers would no longer have to pay for an unwinnable war on drugs). Moreover, the legalization of drugs would promote the American value of liberty. Theodore Dalrymple stresses the harm that drugs can do and the danger of giving up in the war on drugs. He takes issue with most of the claims of the supporters of legalization, and more generally with Mills harm principle: the idea that in a free society, adults should be permitted to do whatever they please (provided that they are willing to accept the consequences of their own actions, and those actions dont cause harm to others).
- Issue: Is Affirmative Action Fair?
YES: Albert G. Mosley, from Affirmative Action: Pro, in Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Unfair Preference? (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996)
NO: Roger Clegg, from Affirmative Discrimination and the Bubble, Academic Questions (December 2011)
Professor of philosophy Albert G. Mosley argues that affirmative action is a continuation of the history of black progress since the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He defends affirmative action as a benign use of race. Roger Clegg argues that affirmative action as it is now practicedwhich he calls affirmative discriminationhas contributed to unsustainable rapid growth (the bubble) in higher education as well as the reduction in quality of college education. Affirmative action in the form of preferences for minority groups, he argues, is a form of discrimination that is unfair, has negative consequences for both white and minority students, and fails to address the true problems that challenge minority students today.
- Issue: Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?
YES: Michael Welch, from The Machinery of Death: Capital Punishment and the Ironies of Social Control, in Punishment in America: Social Control and the Ironies of Imprisonment (Sage, 1999)
NO: Ernest van den Haag, from The Death Penalty Once More, U.C. Davis Law Review (Summer 1985)
Criminologist Michael Welch argues that the death penalty encourages murder and is applied in a biased and mistake-laden way to growing groups of people. Much of the recent popular support of capital punishment is due to ignorance of the facts. Professor of law Ernest van den Haag argues that the death penalty is entirely in line with the U.S. Constitution and that although studies of its deterrent effect are inconclusive, the death penalty is morally justified and should not be abolished.
- Issue: Is Torture Ever Justified?
YES: Mirko Bagaric and Julie Clarke, from Not Enough Official Torture in the World? The Circumstances in Which Torture Is Morally Justifiable University of San Francisco Law Review (Spring 2005)
NO: Christopher Kutz, from Torture, Necessity, and Existential Politics, California Law Review (February 2007)
Bagaric and Clarke remind us, first of all, that torture, although prohibited by international law, is nevertheless widely practiced. A rational examination of torture and a consideration of hypothetical (but realistic) cases show that torture is justifiable in order to prevent great harm. Torture should be regulated and carefully practiced as an information-gathering technique in extreme cases. Christopher Kutz examines the reasoning intended to justify torture in a memo produced by the Bush administration and concludes that even in extreme hypothetical cases, such reasoning is not valid because the right not to be tortured is a pre-institutional right that cannot be revoked under any circumstances.
- Issue: Is Physician-Assisted Suicide Wrong?
YES: Richard Doerflinger, from Assisted Suicide: Pro-Choice or Anti-Life? Hastings Center Report (January/February 1989)
NO: Anthony Back, Robert Baker, et al., from Appellate Brief of Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondents in Vacco v. Quill, WL 709337, Supreme Court of the United States (1996)
Admitting that religiously based grounds for the wrongness of killing an innocent person are not convincing to many people, Doerflinger argues on mainly secular grounds having to do with inconsistencies in the arguments of supporters of physician-assisted suicide. He examines the idea of autonomy, and the tendency for something like physician-assisted suicide to spread once it becomes initially accepted in a limited way. Back, Baker, and their co-authors argue that the physicians ethical duty to relieve pain and respect patient autonomy not only justifies, but sometimes even requires, physician-assisted suicide. In order to avoid negative connotations associated with the term suicide, they propose using the term physician-assisted death. Physician-assisted death, they claim, is a right that should be available to mentally competent, terminally ill patients, while safeguards must be enacted to ensure that it is not practiced on anyone else.
Unit: Humanity, Nature, and Technology
- Issue: Does Morality Require Vegetarianism?
YES: Nathan Nobis, from Vegetarianism and Virtue: Does Consequentialism Demand Too Little? Social Theory & Practice (January 2002)
NO: Beth K. Haile, from Virtuous Meat Consumption: A Virtue Ethics Defense of an Omnivorous Way of Life, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture (Winter 2013)
Nathan Nobis argues that utilitarianism, an ethical theory in which the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its consequences, requires us to be vegetarians and avoid the consumption of meat. According to Nobis, meat and other animal products are produced under cruel conditions, and utilitarian principles require that we should not participate in or support activities that are cruel or inflict unnecessary pain on animals. Beth Haile argues that the consumption of meat can be part of a life that seeks to cultivate virtue and avoid vice. Although the way in which our society produces meat for consumption is morally unacceptable, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about the consumption of meat. Once meat is produced in a morally acceptable way, a virtuous life can include the consumption of meat.
- Issue: Is It Right to Produce Genetically Modified Food?
YES: Ronald Bailey, from Dr. StrangelunchOr: Why We Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Genetically Modified Food, Reason (January 2001)
NO: Michael W. Fox, from Killer Foods: When Scientists Manipulate Genes, Better Is Not Always Best (Lyons Press, 2004)
Ronald Bailey is a strong supporter of genetically modified food (GMF). He argues that it is feared by many activists, but there is no strong proof that there are any problems with it. In fact, he suggests that there are great benefits that can be provided by GMFs, especially to the worlds poor and to those suffering from natural calamities. Michael Fox is cautious about the spread of scientism and the morally blind push for technological development. This scientism, when combined with an aggressive spirit of enterprise, threatens to upset the balance of nature. We may try to rearrange natural things (including plants and animals) to serve our own purposes, but Fox believes that in this way we end up alienating ourselves from the natural world.