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__NOTITLE__ Studying 2014/2 PHI110: Philosophy, Morality and Society. Week 1. Undertaken Study Period 2, 2014. Content is quoted and/or summarised from the university website in fair dealing for purpose of research or study. See also: StudyWISE and AIMS.

Introduction: What is Moral Philosophy?

Welcome to PHI110, Philosophy, Morality and Society. This week is an introduction to the unit and moral philosophy.



Lecturer for Section 1: Dr Robert Sinnerbrink.




Readings downloaded from e-Reserve.


  1. Explain in your own words what Blackburn means by the 'ethical environment'. Why would this environment be 'strangely invisible' (p. 2)?
    • Blackburn's 'ethical environment' relates to conceptions about what is right or wrong; how individuals should behave and how they should not behave; and the structure and content of an individual's emotional and/or rational response to affairs or things as they are.
    • Blackburn suggests that the ethical environment is 'strangely invisible' because people are often unconscious of their ideas and dispositions which frame socially constructed reality as we find it.
  2. What are some of the features of our current ethical environment (or climate) which Blackburn picks out (pp. 3-4)? Can you think of your own examples?
    • Blackburn suggests that in the present ethical climate is an individual's greater regard for their 'rights' than for their 'good'.
    • Blackburn compares contemporary ethics (as accepted within what he calls "modern constitutional democracies") to Ancient Greek and Eastern thought and concludes that people these days have less regard for the private vices of the members of their society than they used to.
    • Blackburn says that in contemporary thought the Victorian conception of devotion to 'duty' is lost.
    • As regards my own thoughts about features of our current ethical environment I would simply point at the topics raised later in this course, which is itself an articulation and example of contemporary ethical thought, e.g.:
      1. Indigenous rights
      2. Immigration and refugee policy
      3. Foreign aid policy for wealthy nations
      4. Environmental/pollution policies
      5. Animal rights
    • And I might add some other contemporary topics, i.e.:
      1. Gay marriage
      2. Medical marijuana
      3. The role of government (if any!) in assuring equality of the individuals in our society
  3. What does Blackburn mean by 'moralizing' (p. 3)? How is this different to seeking to understand the ethical climate?
    • I have no idea what Blackburn means by 'moralizing', nor do I understand his intent with comparing a 'moralistic climate' to an 'ethical climate'. He seems to accept one (the 'ethical climate') and eschew the other (the 'moralistic climate'), but he doesn't make clear a distinction between one or the other as regards what constitutes them.
    • Further, I find his remark "thinking that will itself be a something that affects the way we live our lives" elusive. What does he mean? Does he mean that thinking is something that affects the way we live our lives, or does he mean that we believe the human faculty/experience of 'will' gives rise to an effect on the way we live. Is he talking about 'will' or 'thought'? His grammar is questionable.
  4. Blackburn thinks we might tend to eschew thinking about morality entirely. Do you agree that people have such a tendency? If so, why do you think they do?
    • I would disagree that people don't care to talk about or consider morality. My Facebook feed is full of moral questions and statements. People thinking about topical moral/political issues and expressing their disposition or preferences. I don't think it's unusual to see people engaging in moral thought. That said, many moral questions can be hard to find a solution to, and often our preferences give rise to contradictions, and when we see this we might get stuck and lose patience with the entire project of articulating or justifying our ethical position.
    • To give one example of the difficulty in ethics consider the topic of abortion: on the one hand you have the rights of the foetus as a potential (or actual?) human-being; and on the other hand you have the rights of the mother (and to some extent the father). If the mother doesn't want to avail her body to the birth of a child should she be free to terminate the life of a foetus? It can be hard to make a decision because you believe in the rights of the foetus and the freedom of the mother. Thus, ethics is difficult and perhaps, at times, intractable.
  5. After reading this text and listening to the first lecture, what are your thoughts about why reflecting on ethics is important? What difficulties are likely to be encountered in thinking about ethics?
    • I think ethics has utility because it gives us the opportunity to elucidate (consciously) what might otherwise have been unconscious or unconsidered preferences. It can help us conclude and articulate the content of our morality. It gives us the opportunity to consider and weigh our moral preferences and judgements. Through this process we can come to understand what we will and won't accept and how we will and won't live.
    • Difficulties are inherent in ethics because often our preferences give rise to contradictions and in order to make progress we need to unravel the tension between conflicting beliefs and come to conclusions.




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Herewith a list of new and/or interesting words and selected definitions:


The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.


Refers to norms that are more widely observed and have greater moral significance than others.


To behave in a manner conformable to what is right, proper, or expected.


Causing or tending to cause injury; harmful.


Severe or stern in disposition or appearance; somber and grave.


Human flourishing; happiness; welfare.


Pertaining to epistemology, a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.


Based on speculative or abstract reasoning; highly abstract or theoretical; abstruse.


Difficult to understand; recondite.


Not easily understood; abstruse.


To set right; remedy or rectify.