Philosophy 341, Fall, 2001


Note:  The answers included here are only sketches.   They are not exhaustive or complete.  But they should give you some idea of what we were looking for.

Final Examination

Part I: Write a brief (20 minute) essay in response to one of the following two questions. Be sure that you focus on answering the question at the same time as demonstrating your grasp of relevant material from the readings and lecture. (13 points)

1. In Roe v. Wade Blackmun writes, "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer." Why is this the wrong question to ask? What is the right question to ask?

Blackmun makes it sound like a biological question. Nobody could sensible deny that embryos are alive. What then could one be asking. The right question to ask is, "At what point should we include fetuses in our moral community and grant them a right to life?" There is no further biological question to be resolved and indeed little if anything relevant to be discovered. The task is rather to decide.   One might make reference to Warren's discussion of the equivocation on "human".

2. Although Brody believes that abortion is impermissible even to save a woman's life, he thinks that it is permissible early in pregnancy. At what stage in pregnancy does Brody believe that abortion should be morally permissible? What are his reasons? How could someone who maintains that from the moment of conception all fetuses and embryos have a right to life respond to Brody?

According to Brody, we should employ the definition of death to determine when fetuses count as human lives. So before they have functioning hearts, lungs and brains, or at least before they have functioning brains, they do not count as living humans. Right to lifers don't have any particularly good response, because they don't have any particularly good argument that "life begins at conception." The main point to be made is that regardless of whether any organs are functioning, embryos and fetuses have futures.  One might, however, attempt to respond to Brody using Marquis.

Part II: Write a brief (20 minute) essay in response to one of the following two questions. Be sure that you focus on answering the question at the same time as demonstrating your grasp of relevant material from the readings and lecture. (13 points)

1. In one sense of "deserve," utilitarians agree that criminals should get the punishments they deserve and only the punishments they deserve. What is this sense of "deserve"? Does this sense of "deserve" capture what retributivists mean when they say that criminals should get the punishments they deserve? If not, what other meaning of "deserve" is there?

As Rawls points out, utilitarians have no problem at all with a "rule-determined" notion of desert. If the law says that those who carry out such and such a crime should get punishment X, then those who carry out this crime deserve punishment X. Retributivists such as Reiman can accept this notion of desert, but they need a rule-determining notion as well, since desert is supposed to determine what punishments are legislated, not just what punishments are administered, given what has been legislated. It's possible that utilitarians might make sense of a stronger notion of desert, but this is the basic answer.

2. What's wrong with the following argument? "Even though there is no statistical evidence showing that capital punishment is a better deterrent than imprisonment, we can tell from our own reactions and from the efforts of convicted killers to avoid execution that capital punishment must be a better deterrent."

This argument confuses the question, "Which is the better deterrent?" with "Which is the more frightening threat?" The important qusetion is which penalty will, both through its effect as threat and via its effect as part of the whole societal system of moral education will lead to fewer murders, and there is no way to introspect the answer or to read it off the reactions of convicted killers (who have not been deterred).  Both Mill and van den Haag recognize this point, though both assume that it weighs in favor of capital punishment.

Part III: Write two brief (20 minute) essays in response to the following questions. Be sure that you focus on answering the question at the same time as demonstrating your grasp of relevant material from the readings and lecture. (13 points each, 26 total points)

1. Sher offers a defense of preferential hiring as a sort of compensation, but not as a way of redressing or rectifying past injustice. How is this possible? What is his defense?

Preferential hiring and admissions can compensate for inequalities in opportunities available to African Americans. The point is not to rectify an injustice, but to restore equality in opportunity. In this way, one can make sense of the fact that the costs of affirmative action fall exclusively on Whites who are competing for admissions and jobs. "Paying" these costs is not paying a debt, but a way of facing less unequal prospects, of surrendering unfair benefits.  In the case of Sher, compensation is not seen so much as a way of balancing implicit racist biases in hiring and admissions as of making up for prior inequalities of opportunity with the lives of the applicants.

2. In his 1965 speech, Lyndon Johnson said, "We seek . . .not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result." Is this a noble and justifiable goal or is it an unjust and unjustifiable goal? What do you think and why?

If equality of result is conceived of as the goal that African Americans will be represented in every institution and profession in exactly the percentage of the population as a whole that they constitute -- or, more radically, that every group will have such proportional representation -- then the ideal is absurd and a threat to liberty (as Pojman, for example, argues). But it's not absurd to deny that there is genuine equal opportunity if Blacks do not enjoy their proportionate share of income and wealth, since there is no evidence that they have a culture that values income and wealth less than the culture of European Americans.

3. What are the main difficulties with the view that affirmative action is justified as a means of rectifying the injustices of slavery?

There's a long list. Many derive from Levin's article. How would things have been if the injustices of slavery had never taken place? Is there any way to approximate such a state of affairs? Why the special focus exclusively on injustices tied to slavery rather than to injustices generally? What argument is that preferential hiring or admission is a better way of rectifying injustices than alternatives? Shouldn't the focus be on those who are relatively worse off?

4. The Shape of the River is in effect a "report card" on preferential admission to highly selective colleges. What are the most important findings? Do they constitute a strong argument in support of affirmative action?

Important findings that favor preferential admissions include (a) high rates of success, (b) distribution across the curriculum rather than concentrating in "soft" subjects, (c) high incomes and occupation of community leadership roles by those assisted, (d) high rates of informal contacts, friendships, and so forth. Most serious negative finding is that African Americans do worse than their grades and SATs predict they should.


Part IV: Take about forty minutes to answer the following question. Answer the following question in a single long essay. Be sure to respond to each of the parts of the question, but in doing so, try to tie together your remarks into a general diagnosis concerning how Pojman thinks about the inequalities between African Americans and European Americans. Feel free in responding to draw on other readings or materials discussed in lecture (48 points).

Pojman offers the following analogy (p. 181). The Green family devote their resources to educating their two children while the Blue family have 15 children and lack the means to take care of them, with the result that the Green's children are well-qualified and the Blue's children are poorly qualified. Pojman writes, "But now enters AA. It says that it is society's fault that the Blue children are not as able as the Greens and that the Greens must pay extra taxes to enable the Blues to compete. No restraints are put on the Blues regarding family size. This seems unfair to the Greens. Should the Green children be made to bear responsibility for the consequences of the Blue's voluntary behavior?"
a. How good an analogy is this?
b. What explanation does Pojman's analogy suggest for the fact that on average African American teens have lower SATs or ACTs? To what extent can the social facts be explained by the choices of parents?
c. At the end of his essay, Pojman writes, "yet if we want to improve our society, the best way to do it is to concentrate on families, children, early education, and the like." Doesn't his analogy of the Greens and the Blues suggest that it would be unfair to use tax money for these purposes?
d. How (if at all) can special assistance to African Americans be justified?

It's a bad analogy, because it supposes that the differences depend on individual choices, without any causal role of social factors. It suggests that the worse performance of African Americans is entirely the responsibility of their families. It's hard to pass up the point that even granting the story, the Blue children are as innocent as the Green children; and there seems no reason why they should bear the responsibility for their parent's behavior. The analogy seems to prove too much and seems to pose an objection to any transfer payments. "If African Americans are poor, it's their own fault, and those who are doing better owe them nothing" would seem to summarize his view. There is a serious point here, which I pointed to in the honey-on-the-book story. It's also mistaken to suppose that "society" makes kids poor and ill-prepared RATHER THAN their parents. The choices of parents matter fatefully, and some people do better and some people do worse. But the choices are not made in a vacuum, and the explanation of social outcomes in terms of individual choices can be hopelessly shallow. Apart from motives of charity, special assistance to African Americans has little justification from a consequentialist perspective unless one believes that it can alleviate the inequalities and it has little justification from a non-consequentialist perspective unless one believes that the inequalities trace back to unfair inequalities in opportunity.