Ultimate Norm of Morality

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Philosophy
Exam 2
4/13/12

Topic #2
Many examples of theoretical arguments for God's existence start from the fact of ethical normativity. Human beings are aware of actions as being right and wrong, obligatory and forbidden. Such awareness carries with it the thought that they are bound to do some things and bound to avoid doing others. Moral qualities have a binding attached to them shown in the force of the moral “ought” and the moral “must”. If I make a promise, the promise creates an obligation to deliver what is promised. The normative fact is, first, not dependent on my own goals and ends and, second, possessed of a universal force. The fact that I am bound by the normative truth “do what you promised” does not hold because I have ends which I cannot achieve unless I fulfill the promise. The obligation created by the promise holds independent of my particular goals because it reflects a universal rule, holding at all times and places and applying to any human being as such.

Utilitarianism, in its most general form, claims that one should assess persons, actions, and institutions by how well they promote human (or perhaps sentient) happiness. This claim Mill shares with his forbears. But he modified their assumptions about human motivation, the nature of happiness, the relationship between happiness and duty, and the justification of utilitarianism. Some of Mill's most significant innovations to the utilitarian tradition concern his claims about the nature of happiness and the role of happiness in human motivation. Bentham and James Mill understand happiness hedonistically, as consisting in pleasure, and they believe that the ultimate aim of each person is predominantly, if not exclusively, the promotion of the agent's own happiness. Mill rejects their psychological egoism and significantly modifies their assumptions about happiness when he introduces his doctrine of higher pleasures. To appreciate Mill's innovations here, we need to...
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