Discuss which absolute
principles in ethics would be important to Elizabeth Kim. Why would they be
Use The Elements of Moral
Philosophy to support your answer.
Incorporate at least one piece
of support from this week’s reading assignment(s), cited and referenced Using
APA formatting. ( attached documents)
Reference your sources at the
bottom of your post.
This post must be 250-350
words. Neither the quotation, nor references count toward the word
count.reference of the attached documents Rachels, J. & Rachels, S.
(2015). The elements of moral philosophy (8th ed.). New
York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. — Chapter 9 (pp. 126-35)CHAPTER
Are There Absolute Moral
You may not do evil that good may come,
SAINT PAUL, LATTER TO THE ROMANS (CA. ADM
9.1. Harry Truman and Elizabeth Anscombe
Harry S. Truman will always be remembered as the man who
made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. When he became president in 1945, following
the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman knew nothing
about the bomb: Roosevelt’s advisors had to fill him in. The
Allies were winning the war in the Pacific, they said, but at
a terrible cost. Plans had been drawn up for an invasion of
Japan, but that battle would be even bloodier than the D-Day
assault on Normandy, France, had been. Using the atomic
bomb on one or two Japanese cities might bring the war to a
speedy end, making the invasion unnecessary.
At first Truman was reluctant to use the new weapon.
The problem was that each bomb would obliterate an entire
city-not just the military targets, but the hospitals, schools,
and homes. Women, children, old people, and other non-
combatants would be wiped out along with the military per-
sonnel. The Allies had bombed cities before, but Truman
sensed that the new weapon made the issue of noncombat-
ant deaths more acute. Moreover, the United States was on
record as condemning attacks on civilian targets. In 1939
before America had entered the war, President Roosevelt had
sent a message to the governments of France, Germany, Italy
Poland, and Great Britain, denouncing the bombardment of
ARE THERE ABSOLUTE MORAL RULES 129
Anscombe’s husband, Peter Geach (1916-2013), agreed
with this. Anscombe and Geach were the 20th century’s fore-
rules are absolute.
most philosophical champions of the doctrine that moral
9.2. The Categorical Imperative
The idea that moral rules have no exceptions is hard to
break a rule-we can simply point to cases in which following
the rule would have terrible consequences. But how can we
defend not breaking the rule in such cases? We might say that
moral rules are God’s inviolable commands. Apart from that,
what can be said?
Before the 20th century, there was one major philoso-
pher who believed that moral rules are absolute. Immanuel
Kant (1724–1804) argued that lying is wrong under any cir-
cumstances. He did not appeal to religion; instead, he held
that lying is forbidden by reason itself. To see how he reached
this conclusion, let’s look at his general theory of ethics.
Kant observed that the word ought is often used
• If you want to become a better chess player, you ought
to study the games of Magnus Carlsen.
• If you want to go to college, you ought to take the SAT.
Much of our conduct is governed by such “oughts.” The
pattern is this: We have a certain desire (to become a better
chess player, to go to college); we recognize that a certain
course of action will help us get what we want (studying
Carlsen’s games, taking the SAT); and so we follow the indi-
Kant called these “hypothetical imperatives” because they
tell us what to do provided that we have the relevant desires.
A person who did not want to improve her chess would have
no reason to study Carlsen’s games, someone who did not
want to go to college would have no reason to take the SAT.
Because the binding force of the “ought” depends on having
the relevant desire, we can escape its grip by letting go of the
desire. So, for example, I can avoid taking the SAT by decid-
ing that I don’t want to go to college.
THE ELEMENTS OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY
vas arrested while protesting outside
hurch’s ban on contraception, she wrote a pamphlet explain-
ng why artificial birth control is immoral. Late in her life, she
a British abortion clinic.
Huct of war, which brought her into conflict with Truman.
She also accepted the church’s teaching about the ethical con-
Harry Truman and Elizabeth Anscombe crossed paths
n honorary degree in thanks for America’s wartime help,
ncontroversial. But Anscombe and two other faculty
nd those proposing the honor assumed that it would be
n what would otherwise have been a rubber-stamp approval.
hen, while the degree was being conferred, Anscombe knelt
ers opposed the idea. Although they lost, they forced
utside the hall, praying.
Anscombe wrote another pamphlet, this time explain-
g that Truman was a murderer because he had ordered the
ombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman, of course,
ought the bombings were justified because they had short-
ned the war and saved lives. For Anscombe, this was not good
nough. “For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means
their ends,” she wrote, “is always murder.” To the argu-
ent that the bombings saved more lives than they took, she
plied, “Come now: if you had to choose between boiling
ne baby and letting some frightful disaster befall a thousand
eople—or a million people, if a thousand is not enough,
nat would you do?”
Anscombe’s example was apt. The bomb blast at Hiro-
ima, which ignited birds in midair, did lead to babies being
iled: People died in rivers, reservoirs, and cisterns, trying
vain to escape the heat. Anscombe’s point was that some
ngs may not be done, no matter what. It does not matter if
a baby; it
could accomplish some great good by boiling a
der no circumstances, she said, may we intentionally kill
simply wrong. Anscombe believed in a host of such rules.
mocent people; worship idols; make a false profession
2 acts of another; or commit treachery, which she describes
“obtaining a man’s confidence in a grave matter by prom-
s of trustworthy friendship and then betraying him to his
ARE THERE ABSOLUTE MORAL RULES? 127
cities in the strongest terms. He had called it an “inhuman
The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians
has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thou-
sands of defenseless men, women, and children, has
ity. If resort is had to this form of inhuman barbarism
and has profoundly shocked the conscience of human-
sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman,
during the period of the tragic conflagration with which
the world is now confronted, hundreds of thousands of
innocent human beings who have no responsibility for,
tilities which have now broken out, will lose their lives.
and who are not even remotely participating in, the hos-
Truman expressed similar thoughts when he decided
to authorize the bombings. He wrote in his diary, “I have
told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military
objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not
women and children. … The target will be a purely mili-
tary one.” It is hard to know what to make of this, because
Truman knew that the bombs would destroy whole cities.
Nonetheless, it is clear that he was worried about the issue
It is also clear that Truman was sure of his decision.
Winston Churchill, the wartime leader of Great Britain, met with
Truman shortly before the bombs were dropped. “The decision
whether or not to use the atomic bomb,” Churchill later wrote,
was never even an issue. There was unanimous, automatic,
unquestioned agreement around our table.” Truman said that
he “slept like a baby” after signing the final order.
Elizabeth Anscombe, who died in 2001, was a 20-year-
old student at Oxford University when World War II began.
At that time she co-authored a pamphlet arguing that Britain
should not go to war because countries at war inevitably end
up fighting by unjust means. “Miss Anscombe,” as she was
always known-despite her 59-year marriage and her seven
children-would go on to become one of the 20th century’s
most distinguished philosophers and perhaps the greatest
woman philosopher in history.
Miss Anscombe was also a Catholic, and her religion
was central to her life. Her ethical views reflected traditional
130 THE ELEMENTS OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY
Moral obligations, by contrast, do not depend
particular desires. The form of a moral obligation is not ”
you want so-and-so, then you ought to do such-and-such.”
Instead, moral requirements are categorical: They have the form
“You ought to do such-and-such, period.” The moral rule is not
for example, that you ought to help people if you care about
them or if you want to be a good person. Instead, the rule is
That is why moral requirements cannot be escaped by saying
Hypothetical “oughts” are easy to understand. They
merely tell us to do what is necessary to achieve our goals.
Categorical “oughts,” on the other hand, are mysterious. How
that you should help people no matter what
“I don’t care about that.
can we be obligated to behave in a certain way regardless of
our goals? Kant has an answer, Just as hypothetical “oughts”
are possible because we have desires
, categorical “oughts” are
possible because we have reason. Categorical oughts, Kant
are derived from a principle that every rational person must
accept: the Categorical Imperative. In his Foundations of the
Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Kant expresses the Categorical
Imperative as follows:
Act only according to that maxim by which you can at
the same time will that it should become a universal law.
This principle provides a way to tell whether an act is
morally allowed. When you are thinking about doing some-
thing, ask what rule you would be following if you actually
did it. This rule will be the “maxim” of your act. Then ask
whether you would be willing for your maxim to become a
universal law. In other words, would you allow your rule to
be followed by all people at all times? If so, then your maxim
is sound, and your act is acceptable. But if not, then
Kant gives several examples of how this works. Suppose,
he says, a man needs money, but no one will lend it to him
unless he promises to pay it back-which he knows he won’t
be able to do. Should he make a false promise to get the
that this rule become a universal law? Obviously not, because
promise to repay it, even if you know you can’t. Now, could he will
need a loan,
loan? If he did, his maxim would be: Whenever you
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