Daily Archives: April 4, 2006

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Each week for Philosophy class we are required to do a "reflection paper" on a specific question... This is mine for this week:

(let me note: This is philosophy class. The object is not to be "right", it's to earn an "A")

Summarize Hume's critique of rationalistic ethics. Then construct a Humean analysis of some contemporary moral issue. What are the advantages of Hume's approach? The disadvantages?

Hume believed that the ethics/morals are largely rooted in personal passions and experience and that many of what we call “morals” is sentiment based on sympathy for those who are affected by a trait or action.

My “contemporary moral issue” is polygamy.

Reasons that people believe polygamy is morally wrong Objective reasoning to support (or not)
Relationships do not scale arithmetically but exponentially. This is a “human issue”, not a moral one.
Mathematically polygamy ends up producing a 'surplus male' problem There would be a surplus of males, but is this necessarily a problem? It certainly is not a moral problem.
The Bible says that marriage is “one man and one woman”. But the Bible never says that polygamy is morally wrong.
Since the social benefits do not seem to exceed the social negatives I think the burden is on pro-polygamists to make their case for expanding the law. This seems to be more of a math problem than a moral one.
There are numerous possible versions of polygamy and if we decided to have it there's no clear 'default' There would not need to be a “default”

1) Relationships do not scale arithmetically, but exponentially. This is true. With a plural marriage with two wives you have two relationship with the husband and each wife, as well as the relationship between the two women AND the relationship that includes all three.

For example, what happens in a three person marriage if one wants out? Are the two left married or does the whole thing dissolve and the two people have to choose to marry as a couple? What happens if the family cannot agree on some major decision? Suppose a man is sick and cannot make his own medical decisions. What happens if the wives do not agree? Are women allowed to marry multiple men or just men marry multiple women?

However, just because there are different ways for people in the relationship to interact, does not mean the act is morally wrong.

2) Mathematically polygamy ends up producing a 'surplus male' problem. If 1 out of 10 men marry 3 women then that means for the 9 remaining men there are only 7 women. Needless to say the remaining 9 men probably aspire to not one but three wives so there's going to be a core of men who are not able to marry.

Again, this is true. With polygamy, there will be fewer women available for the unmarried men. Although this could cause rioting and other distress, it could also have the effect of forcing young men to be productive in order to compete for the women that are “available”.

3) The Bible says that marriage is “one man and one woman”. Actually, the Bible says that “in the beginning” there was one man and one woman. But very early on, there were polygamous marriage and the Bible (or the Law) never condemned them. The Bible has always been read with one eye on the text and another on tradition. For example, there is no text in the Bible that specifically says Jesus never married. Yet the understanding has been that Jesus never took a wife despite this lack of actual text. We cannot use the Bible (or tradition based on the Bible) to say that polygamy is morally wrong.

4) Since the social benefits do not seem to exceed the social negatives I think the burden is on pro-polygamists to make their case for expanding the law.

Social benefits vs. social negatives may be practical (human) issues, but they are not moral questions.

5) There are numerous possible versions of polygamy and if we decided to have it there's no clear 'default'.

This argument mainly comes from people who fear that allowing homosexual marriage would lead to other formed of marriage that are “outside the norm”. To these people, other versions of polygamy (legal marriage) include “one woman, multiple men”, “multiple same sex partners”, “multiple men, multiple women”, all of unspecified numbers.

Yet again, this argument falls into “human issues” and not moral issues.

To wrap it up, I actually solicited these “arguments” from a variety of people. There are a wide variety of reasons that polygamy would be impractical, unwise, weird or otherwise undesirable, but not objectively immoral.

The benefit to this type of system would be that logic, not passion rules. The disadvantage is that it leaves out one vital component of decision making – God.

I know I have a few people that stop by - I would seriously like some input to give me food for thought.

I have a writing assignment (due tonight).

The question: Summarize Hume's critique of rationalistic ethics. Then construct a Humean analysis of some contemporary moral issue. What are the advantages of Hume's approach? The disadvantages?

My "contemporary moral issuse": polygamy.

In a nutshell, "Hume's position in ethics, which is based on his empiricist theory of the mind, is best known for asserting four theses: (1) Reason alone cannot be a motive to the will, but rather is the “slave of the passions” (see Section 3) (2) Morals are not derived from reason (see Section 4). (3) Morals are derived from the moral sentiments: feelings of approval (esteem, praise) and disapproval (blame) felt by spectators who contemplate a character trait or action (see Section 7). (4) While some virtues and vices are natural (see Section 13), others, including justice, are artificial (see Section 9). There is heated debate about what Hume intends by each of these theses and how he argues for them. They are best understood in the context of Hume's meta-ethical theory and his ethic of virtue and vice."