Thursday, May 13, 2010



What the midterm will be like:

1) Part one: definition of concepts: 20%
you will be expected to give the definitions for 5 key concepts, in your own words, (usually in a sentence or two.) Choose any 5 from 7.

Example: define “The Categorical Imperative”

2) Part two: short answer: 20%
you will be expected to give a brief explanation of some key your own words, (usually in a short paragraph. Choose any 2 of 3.)

Example: Compare/contrast action-based moral theories with virtue-based theories.

3) Part three: essay: 60%
You will be asked to answer 1 of 2 questions, in as much detail as possible. They will be general, and open-ended, so as to give you a chance to show me how much you have learned, and how well you are able to apply it.

Example: How should we relate Scripture to morality? Divine command or virtue ethic or some other way?


1. Be sure to study your handouts. Use them as a guide to pick out what is important in the readings.

2. Important concepts and thoughts are often boldfaced and defined in the handouts.

3. When taking this kind of test, it is important to ration your time. Don’t spend all your time doing parts one and two, which are only worth 40%. Be sure to leave the majority of your time for the essay, which is worth over half of your grade.

4. When writing your essay, be sure to make an outline of what you want to say, so that you can be sure to get it all in the time allotted. Pace yourself according to the outline.

5. This is your chance to impress me with everything you’ve absorbed from your readings and from class discussion. Be clear, concise, and complete. This is not the time to be creative; show me what you have learned.

6. PLEASE call me if you don’t understand something: (744-9343) or e-mail me at

7. Begin reviewing now. Don’t wait until the night before.


Consequentialist ethics
cultural relativism
hypothetical imperative
"purity of heart"
deontological ethics
cardinal virtues
ethical egoism
theological virtues
natural law ethics
action-based moral theories
Principle of Utility
virtue-based moral theories
Categorical Imperative
divine command theory

Short Answers/Possible essays:

1. Contrast action-based moral theories with virtue-based theories.

2. Show four ways that cultural relativism is incoherent.

3. What is ethics like for a Behaviorist or sociobiologist?

4. What are some problems Utilitarians face?

5. Compare/contrast hypothetical and categorical imperatives.

6. What are some problems Kantians face?

7. What is right about Kantianism?

8. Compare/contrast the Greek view of human fulfillment with the Christian view

9. What is it that Jews, Christians, Greeks, Utilitarians, and Kantians all have in common?

10. Contrast the notion of “good” for the Greeks, the Medievals and the Utilitarians.

11. What are the four cardinal virtues? Briefly discuss.

12. What are the three theological virtues? Briefly discuss.

13. What does the Sermon on the Mount have to teach us about morality?

14. What are the Beatitudes, and what are the seven corresponding deadly sins? Explain.

15. Contrast the Thomistic conception of natural law with Modernist conception of natural law.

16. Why have Protestants been suspicious of natural law ethical theories?

17. What is the Divine Command theory? What are its advantages? Its problems?

18. What is the is-ought problem, and how do naturalists, theists, and behaviorists deal with it?

19. Briefly explain the world view of the Enlightenment (Modernism) and its bearing on ethics.

20. Briefly explain the Postmodern world view and its bearing on ethics.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PPT on virtue ethics

Here is an excellent powerpoint entitled "The Ethics of Character: Virtues and Vices" by Lawrence M. Hinman, of the University of San Diego. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ursula K. LeGuin: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

Often, philosophical ideas are best communicated through literature or film. In her short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Le Guin offers us a picture of a society structured on utilitarian principles. Here is a synopsis from Wikipedia:

In the story, Omelas is a utopian city of happiness and delight, whose inhabitants are smart and cultured. Everything about Omelas is pleasing, except for the secret of the city: the good fortune of Omelas requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness and misery, and that all her citizens should be told of this on coming of age.

After being exposed to the truth, most of the people of Omelas are initially shocked and disgusted, but are ultimately able to come to terms with the fact and resolve to live their lives in such a manner as to make the suffering of the unfortunate child worth it.

However, some few of the citizens, young or old, silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go. The story ends with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

Read this very short story here . It's worth the five minutes it will take.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"The Virtue of Selfishness" by Keith Drury

When I was a sophomore in college when Ann Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness hit the market. The title itself rocked most Christians who read it. It still does. I re-read the book three years ago and it still slaps most Christians in the face. Not because Ayn Rand was an atheist, but because labeling selfishness as good completely challenges most Christian’s worldview.

Virtue of Selfishness was one of the earliest books detailing the doctrine of “objectivism.” In this ethical system selflessness or altruism is bad or stupid and "rational selfishness” (or in its softer form, “enlightened self-interest”) is good and smart. It is a book on ethics, though Christian readers often reject Rand’s open and honest labeling of selfishness as good. This work, (along with The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) are often seen as the best effort to work out an ethical foundation for laissez-faire capitalism. The idea is simple: individuals should seek their own interest and when everybody does, everyone else is better off. In her own words, “Every human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others, and therefore, man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.”

Why this book deserves discussion today is that Christians are right now trying to think through the relation of their Christian faith to economics. Many Christians have in the last several decades supported laissez-faire capitalism adopting some of Ayn Rand’s deregulation-laissez-faire approach to capitalism and life while rejecting her own logical extension to insisting that individual women also have the right to choose abortion. Her case for rejecting altruism and enshrining selfishness is so frank and honest that when Christians read her work they often say, “It makes sense economically, but I can’t bring myself to fully accept this way of thinking as a Christian. One of the things I admire about Rand is she is absolutely honest in her work…and in the title. She really does think selfishness is a virtue and (coerced) other-oriented altruism is a vice. She thinks individuals alone should decide what to do with their time, money, and their fetuses without regulation or interference from government. IN that sense she is the mother of libertarianism.

With our economic system crashing about us, this might be a good time to discuss Rand’s thinking, and her libertarian heirs. How far can a Christian follow Ayn Rand? How free should individuals be to decide for themselves and when is it right for “the people” to step in to regulate or outlaw things?

And, to flip the issue, how far can you take the libertarian approach to how we run the church—like the freedom of an individual member to vary from doctrine and lifestyle from centralized church government?

So what do you think?

Keith Drury October 28, 2008

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Milestone #1: Material You Need to have Mastered

At this point in the class, you need to be sure you are able to:

define/identify the following concepts:

cultural relativism

ethical egoism (both varieties, objectivist and subjectivist)




the "Is-Ought" Problem

Be able to answer the following: (note that the same question can be phrased in various ways)

1. Rachel Relativists says to you: “What’s right in one culture isn’t right in another. Therefore morality is relative. There are no absolutes.” Give at least three reasons why her position is incoherent.

2. What is cultural relativism? What are some problems with it?

3. What is ethics like for a Behaviorist or sociobiologist? Give your evaluation of it.

4. Discuss in detail and evaluate one of the following ethical theories which grows out of the postmodern period:

cultural relativism
Ayn Rand’s Objectivism (modernist ethical egoism)
Nietzsch's Subjectivism (postmodern Ethical Egoism )

Be sure to explain the theory, and any problems which it has.

5) What is ethical egoism/objectivism, according to Ayn Rand? What are some of its positive insights? What are some problems with it?

6) According to B.F. Skinner, “freedom is an illusion.” Why does he say this, and what impact does this have for ethics?

7) According to behaviorism, what is ethics? (Be sure to discuss the is-ought problem in your answer.)

Books about Ayn Rand

Interested in Ayn Rand? Here are Two recent, well-researched biographies:

1) Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market” focuses on Rand’s ideas;

2)Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made” focuses on her life and the forces that shaped her philosophy, Objectivism.

"Ayn Rand Introduced Me to Libertarianism"

by Jacob G. Hornberger, February 2, 2005

BETH'S NOTE: Ayn Rand claimed not to be a libertarian, but an "objectivist," and vehmently resisted the claim that objectivism and libertarian politics had anything in common. Today, fanatical Objectivists continue to protest the link, but Rand's ideas have penetrated various groups. See this article, "Brave New Objectivism," to get a feel for the variety of forms of Rand's thought. Below is one of them.

My very first exposure to libertarianism was provided by Ayn Rand, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated today.

One afternoon in the fall of 1974, I was sitting around watching television. At the time, I was temporarily working as a waiter in Dallas, having just completed three months of infantry school in Georgia to fulfill my Army Reserves active-duty commitment, before returning to finish law school in Austin the following semester. An afternoon movie quickly engrossed me, becoming my first exposure to libertarianism — The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. The credits stated that the movie was based on Ayn Rand’s novel by that name and so I ran out at once, bought it, and read it. Howard Roark and Dominique Francon quickly became my heroes!

A few years later, I was rummaging through the Laredo public library for something to read and I discovered four volumes of a series of books entitled Essays on Liberty, which had been published by The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Irvington, New York. Reading those uncompromising essays caused the seed that Rand had planted a few years before to burst forth into what has become a lifelong love of libertarianism. Soon after that, I discovered Atlas Shrugged, which I’ve read three times (okay, skimming through Galt’s speech the third time around!), along with The Virtue of Selfishness, Anthem, We the Living, the Objectivist journal, and most of Rand’s other work.

It was Ayn Rand and FEE’s founder Leonard Read who changed the course of my life. The reason: Both of them emphasized the fundamental importance of moral principles in political and economic analysis. When it came to moral principles, Rand and Read did not deal in shades of gray but rather in black and white. It is morally wrong to take what doesn’t belong to you. It is morally wrong to coercively interfere with the peaceful choices that people make in their lives. It is morally right that people be free to make whatever choices they wish so long as their conduct is peaceful, even if — or especially if — their choices are considered irresponsible or immoral.

In the intellectual arena, that means the unfettered right to write, read, or watch whatever you want without governmental interference. In the economic arena, it means the unfettered right to pursue any business or occupation without governmental permission or interference, to engage in mutually beneficial trades with anyone else anywhere in the world, to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, and to do whatever you want with your own money — spend, save, hoard, invest, or donate it.

Thus, when it comes to morality, there was only one real choice for structuring a political order — libertarianism, where people are free to live their lives the way the choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful, and where government’s primary role is protecting the exercise of such choices by punishing violent, anti-social people who would interfere with them through such actions as murder, assault, stealing, burglary, trespass, rape, and fraud.

Fortunately, God has created a consistent universe, one in which freedom produces prosperity and harmony and nurtures the values that most of us hold dear, such as compassion, love of one’s neighbors, and honoring one’s parents. But it was not the utilitarian case that attracted me to libertarianism. It was the moral case for freedom presented by Ayn Rand, most eloquently in Atlas Shrugged, and Leonard Read.

Therefore, the main reason that I’ve never been attracted to so-called reform plans whose purpose is to reform, not repeal, socialist programs such as Social Security and public (i.e., government) schooling is that such plans, by their very nature, implicitly call for the continuation of an immoral act. As Rand and Read both emphasized, the right approach to an immoral action is to call for its end, not its reform.

One of the highlights of my life occurred in 1990 when, in response to my September 1990 Freedom Daily essay, “Letting Go of Socialism,” which criticized public-school vouchers (and Social Security reform plans), Milton Friedman leveled a criticism against me in a public speech that was later reprinted in Liberty magazine. His criticism was that my position was too uncompromising, comparing it to the uncompromising positions of Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. It was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received — and from a Nobel Laureate to boot!

Another highlight in my life was watching Rand deliver her last public speech in 1981 at Jim Blanchard’s National Committee for Monetary Reform (NCMR) annual conference in New Orleans. She died soon after that, on March 6, 1982.

As I wrote in “Letting Go of Socialism” some 15 years ago, “People everywhere are letting go of the socialist nightmare. But they are looking through a glass darkly with respect to what should be the alternative. It shall be the Americans, I am firmly convinced, who will yet let go of socialism, once and for all, and lead the world to the highest reaches of freedom ever dreamed of by man!”

When that day comes, it will be Ayn Rand who will have played a major role in the restoration of American liberty.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

"Creed" by Steve Turner

Jeremiah Mourning over the Destruction of Jerusalem --Rembrandt

by Steve Turner

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything's getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there's something in horoscopes
UFO's and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same-

at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its
compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn

We believe in Masters and Johnson
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and
Americans should beat their guns into tractors .
And the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

Steve Turner, (English journalist), "Creed," his satirical poem on the modern mind. Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book Can Man live Without God? Pages 42-44

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April 2 Class: To be held in Rexius 102 after all

Hi everyone--

Due to VCC's Good Friday services, the comfy sofas have been replaced with chairs, so we might as well stay in Rexius 102. However, starting next week we can meet in the VCC Gathering Place.


Welcome to Introduction to Ethics

This course will likely be different from what you would expect from other schools, like LCC or the U of O.
  • We will NOT take ethics to be an exercise in moral dilemmas, immediately jump into debate, with a new dilemma every week.
  • We WILL take time to survey the various ethical theories that emerge from various worldviews. We will then see how they provide different choices for action.
  • We will spend time considering an older conception of ethics, which takes character as the starting point, rather than dilemmas.

So welcome, and expect to read and talk a lot about some very engaging topics. Even more, strive to grow in virtue, and be an agent of goodness in the world around you!