Midterm Study Questions, Introduction to Philosophy
Chapter One: What is Morality?
- What does Rachels think about the relationship between morality and feeling? Do you agree with him
on this? Why or why not?
- According to Rachels, is morality a matter of personal taste? Why or why not? Do agree with him?
- According to Rachels, what determines if an act is right or wrong?
Chapter Two: Cultural Relativism
- Consider the following argument: "The burial practices of the Callatians differ from those of the
Greeks. The Eskimos have very different marriage customs than we do. There are an indefinite
number of examples of this cultural diversity in moral codes. Since different cultures have different
moral codes, it follows that there are no right answers to moral questions." Does Rachels think this is
a good argument? Explain why or why not in detail.
- Consider the following statement: "What is right for members of a culture is determined by whatever
their culture's moral code says is right." What are two of the consequences which Rachels thinks
follow from this position? Does Rachels agree or disagree with these consequences? Does he agree
or disagree with the original statement? Explain why.
- Describe the practice of "female circumcision" as it is manifested in several African countries. Does
this practice support or cause problems for the doctrine of cultural relativism? Why might someone
believe that this example undermines cultural relativism? Is it intolerant to try to prevent this practice
from continuing to occur in other cultures?
- Does Rachels think all cultures share some values in common? Explain Rachels' argument for either
agreeing or disagreeing with this position.
- Give an example in which it looks like we have a significant disagreement in value between two
cultures and yet the disagreement between the two is really a disagreement in belief about factual
- What does Rachels think we can learn from cultural relativism? What dimension of this doctrine is
true and valuable, on his view?
- Is it "an objective moral truth" that we should be tolerant of others? Is it always appropriate to be
tolerant of the behavior of others and other cultures? Why or why not? What does Rachels think
- What is contextual or situational relativism?
- Are there any moral rules which do not have exceptions (which are absolute)?
- Explain the difference between moral rules which are universally accepted and moral rules which are
Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature: Rolston
- Does Rolston believe that a scientific understanding of nature is necessary and/or sufficient for the
aesthetic appreciation of nature? Does he think it is necessary for the most appropriate aesthetic
appreciation of nature? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
- What are the two components that Rolston thinks are necessary for a proper aesthetic appreciation of
nature? Which of these does Daniel Boone lack? Which of these might a scientist lack?
- If one aesthetic appreciation is based on a false belief, does that mean one's appreciation is deficient?
Using an example explain both Rolston's view and your own view.
- Do you accept that there are better and worse aesthetic appreciations of nature?
- Is science the only way we can know what something really is?
- Must one appreciate an object for what it is in order to properly appreciate the object?
Chapter Three: Subjectivism
- What is subjectivism about morality? How is it different from cultural relativism? What does
Rachels think about subjectivism? What is Rachels' own position about the nature of morality? Is it
subjectivistic or objectivistic? Explain.
- Define simple subjectivism. What are the two objections that Rachels gives to simple subjectivism?
- Define emotivism (and distinguish it from simple subjectivism). Explain how emotivism avoids the
two objections to simple subjectivism. What is Rachels objection to emotivism?
- Rachels argues that the appeal of subjectivism is based on a false belief that we only have two options
(a "false dilemma"). What are those two options? What is the third option that Rachels suggests we
could (and should) adopt?
- According to Rachels, are there proofs in ethics? (What is one of Rachels' examples.) What are
some of the reasons Rachels gives for why people think there are no proofs in ethics?
- Describe the ways in which gays are treated differently from other members of society. Are all, some,
or none of these discriminatory practices justified? Explain.
- What is a stereotype? Are all stereotypes false? What is the strongest argument against treating
people according to stereotypes? According to Mohr, what is the social functions of stereotypes?
- Describe the two ways in which Mohr claims gays are stereotyped. According to Mohr, what social
purposes do these stereotypes serve? Is he right about these claims?
- What are the religious arguments against homosexuality which Mohr describes and how does he
respond to them? Evaluate his response to them.
- Evaluate the following argument: Homosexuality is unnatural and therefore immoral. Distinguish
four different possible meanings of "unnatural" and evaluate the argument under each of these
interpretations. Do you think homosexuality is "unnatural?" If so, does that show it is immoral?
- Does Mohr think that being gay is a matter of choice? What is his argument either for or against this
position? Is it a good argument? Why or why not? Assume being gay was not a matter of choice,
what consequence would this have on the morality of being gay?
- What is Levin's reason for the claim that homosexuality is abnormal? Does being abnormal in this
sense suggest that there is something wrong with the abnormality?
- Why does Levin think that the abnormality of homosexuality gives us a reason for thinking
homosexuality will be less satisfying lifestyle?
- Does Levin think being homosexual has an important genetic component?
- Does Levin agree with Mohr that if homosexuality is genetic then it is wrong to discriminate against
homosexuals? What are the reasons he gives for his view?
- Does Levin accept or reject civil rights for gays? For blacks? For women? What reasons does he
give for his view. Do you think these are strong reasons?
- What is Levin's views about whether or not we ought to permit discrimination against gays based a on
non-rational, visceral negative reaction to them? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Taylor on the Cosmological Argument
- State, in detail, Taylor's version of the Cosmological argument for god's existence (the argument from
contingency). Is it a good argument?
- Assume Taylor's argument succeeds in proving the existence of a necessary being. How might
someone argue that Taylor still hasn't provided proof of God's existence?
- What is the principle of sufficient reason? Must there be an explanation for why there is something
rather than nothing? Does the existence of God provide such an explanation? Does God's existence
require an explanation according to Taylor?
- Explain the sense in which Taylor's argument claims that the world is dependent on God. What is the
analogy he uses to help explain this? How is this notion of "ontological dependence" different from
the traditional understanding of God's creative power (as temporal and causal)?
- What is the difference between creation as ontological dependence and as a preceding cause bringing
something into existence?
- Explain the difference between saying there was a temporally first being and claiming that there is a
necessary being on whom things depend.
- What is problematic about the notion of God as a self-caused being in the sense of a being who
brought him/herself into existence? In what sense does Taylor think God is self-caused?
- What is a necessary being? A contingent being? An impossible being? An eternal being? Give
examples. Is a necessary being an eternal being? Might a contingent being be eternal? Is the idea of
a necessary being intelligible?
- What reason does Taylor provide for claiming that the world is not a necessary being?
- Does Taylor deny that the world could have always existed? Do you think it is possible the world
could have always existed?
- Why does Taylor think that the possibility that the universe has always existed does or does not
undermine the possibility of arguing that God must exist to explain the existence of the world?
- How would Taylor respond to someone who argued that the world has always existed, and thus that
we do not need to postulate God to account for its existence? Is Taylor's response a good response?
- What would Taylor say about the claim that the world came into existence without a cause? What
would he say to the claim that the world has always existed without any cause?
- Is there anything left unexplained by positing an infinite series of dependent beings each causing the
next in the series? Is each being in the series explained? If each member in a series is explained, does
it follow the entire series is explained?
- What reason might be given for the claim that there had to always have existed something--there
could never have been nothing--(whether that something be the world or God or both)?
Russell on Religion and Christianity
- Russell claims (p. 44 packet): "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there
can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God. . . . There is no reason why
the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor on the other hand is there any reason
why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning
at all." Which of these statements would Richard Taylor agree with and which disagree with and
why? Where they disagree, do you support Taylor or Russell? Why?
- What must one believe in order to be "a Christian" according to Russell? Is this a good definition of
- What are Russell's reasons for not being a Christian? Are these good reasons? Why or why not?
- What "moral defects" does Russell find in Jesus' character? Do you agree that these are moral
defects? Why or why not?
- According to Russell, what motivates people to be religious (besides fear of eternal damnation)? Do
you think he is right? Why or why not?
- Explain Russell's reasons for claiming that religion has, on balance, been a negative force in human
history. Do you agree with him?
- What contemporary social issues have some religious sects powerfully addressed? Is it appropriate
for religions to get involved in social and political issues?
- Why might a deeply religious person be strongly in favor of environmental protection?
- Explain why Russell thinks that religious belief is "unworthy of free and rational people." Do you
think he is right?
- Can an atheist be a morally good person? Why or why not? Can an atheist consistently believe in
objective morality? Why or why not? Is it true that "without God, everything is permissible?" Why
might some think this is true?
- Explain the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Is it more difficult to defend atheism than
agnosticism? Why or why not?
- According to Russell, the theory of evolution undermines the design argument for God's existence
(pp. 45-46). What is the design argument and how does evolution undermine it (according to
- Is the theory of evolution atheistic? That is, if evolution is a true scientific theory does that make
religious belief untenable?
The Problem of Evil
- What is the problem of evil? State the problem as clearly and explicitly as you can. What sort of God
would not have a problem of evil?
- What does it mean to provide a "theodicy?"
- Explain the difference between moral and nonmoral evil, as Hick defines it.
- Is it inappropriate to claim that what happens in nature (independent of any human or divine
involvement) is morally wrong? Why or why not? Explain how one might negatively value what
happens in nature (independent of human involvement) without saying that something morally wrong
is taking place.
- State Hick's free will defense for the existence of evil as fully and forcefully as you can. Is this an
adequate theodicy? Why or why not?
- Does the free will defense address all kinds of evils(=bads) in the world? Why or why not?
- How might Hick answer the following questions/objections: Why didn't God make people who were
unable to sin? Why didn't God make people who were able to sin, but in fact never did sin? Why
didn't God just not make people given they would create so much evil?
- Why does Hick think that it is no limitation of God's power to say God can't produce the logically
impossible? Give examples.
- Explain the difference between logical and physical impossibility. Give examples.
- Explain the "paradox of omnipotence."
- What reasons does Hick give for thinking that a good bit of hardship and suffering is necessary for the
best possible world? Do you agree with Hick on this point?
- Is an afterlife a necessary part of a theodicy? What does Hick think about this and what are his
reasons for his view?
- What is the difference between a bookkeeping view of the rewards of heaven and Hick's views
concerning the infinite future good?
- How would Hick respond to Ivan's and Alyosha's suggestion (in the reading from Dostoevsky) that all
the value in the world is not worth the pain and suffering of one small child tortured to death? Do you
think it is worth it?
- Evaluate the following theodicies: God didn't create evil, humans did; There is more good in the
world than evil; Evil is necessary as a contrast with good; God's ways are incomprehensible and God
has reasons for allowing evil that we can't understand; We have no right to question God's ways.
Rachels on Does Morality Depend on Religion?
- Describe the divine command theory of morality. What are the two interpretations of this theory that
Rachels discusses. Explain how they are different from each other. What are the strengths and
weaknesses of each interpretation?
- Describe the Natural Law Theory of the relationship between religion and morality (in Chapter Four
of Rachels). Explain the senses in which it ties religion and morality together and also how it keeps
them separate. Do you agree with this theory of the relationship between religion and morality? Why
or why not?
- Explain in what sense Rachels thinks the relation between religion and morality is like the relation
between religion and science. Do you agree with him about this? Why?
- Discuss some of the problems that Rachels identifies with accepting the dictates of one's church or of
a holy book as morally authoritative. In what way does Rachels' own position on the nature of
morality conflict with such approaches to ethics?