Discussion Summary on Singer

Question 1: Do you think that if everyone lived the way that Singer suggests in his article, poverty would no longer exist?

  • In his article, “Famine, Affluence and Morality”, Singer suggests that if everyone bought only the necessities to support themselves and their families, and donated all of their remaining money to charity (rather than spending it on unnecessary items, like nice clothing or a new TV), we would be able to end large-scale issues such as famine and poverty.

Our answers:

  • In theory, yes this would work – but human nature gets in the way.
    • Singer is being very idealistic and in reality society will never function this way → Overall, the majority of people aren’t willing to live in the way he is suggesting. 
    • Many people are motivated to get high-paying jobs  BECAUSE of the money.
      • If everyone adopted this way of living, it would result in less people willing to do skilled labour (ie. less people becoming doctors/ lawyers) because they would no longer be motivated by money.
      • So, this may actually be worse for society.
  • People would take low-paying jobs, just enough to support themselves; however, society NEEDS people taking on high-paying skilled labour (ie. doctors/ lawyers) in order to function smoothly. 
  • Often, the incentive for wanting a high-paying job comes from wanting nice things for ourselves/ our families.
    • By donating all extra money to charity, the incentive is no longer there.

Question 2: Why does Singer looks solely at monetary donations, and not at donations of time (ie. volunteering)? What would Singer say about people who volunteer their time/ energy to charitable organizations (local and/or global)? Are they still morally obligated to donate money to such organizations?

  • In his article, Singer only talks about donating money to charity. He does not mention anything about volunteering or donating time. This may lead us to believe that, according to Singer, giving money is more valuable than giving time.

Our Answers:

  • We assume that Singer thinks money is more important than volunteering.


  • The replaceability argument
    • If you want to help the poor, do not become a social worker.
    • If you are a social worker, you are replaceable by someone who wants to do the same thing.
    • Instead, have a career that makes a lot of money – and instead of spending it, donate it all to charity.
      • This way, you are not replaceable.
    • We have abundance of people who want to help. What we are lacking is people who have a lot of money to donate (to properly to equip all those who want to help).
    • According to utilitarianism, and in terms of replaceability, it is much better to make a lot of money and donate it to those in need, than it is to become a social worker and ‘help’ those in need.

Summary Of O’Neill Discussion

Question 1:For those who are vulnerable are they more susceptible to injustice, and why do you think so?

– This question tries to analyze what this would look like and tries to see if there are any counter examples that exist against O’Neill’s statement: “Since anyone hungry or destitute is more than usually vulnerable to deception, violence, and coercion, the possibilities and temptations to injustice are then especially strong.” (263)

Question 2: When we use someone for their means, usually there is a way in which they will allow us to use their skills/knowledge. This can be in the form of exchanging money or a favor. So does this mean that when we do not carry out an exchange we are using people for their mere means?

  • This question ties into O’Neill’s discussion about Kant’s ways of how it is acceptable to “use” others in exchange for their knowledge or services.(261) This question tries to ask if it is okay to receive free help.

Summary of Discussion

– Question 1

O’Neil makes the argument that those who are poor or vulnerable will have a higher chance of being coerced in doing things that are unjust(263). We then analyzed various situations where we could think of his occurring. We came up with the a similar example as used in class: poor single mother with a young boy. This mother has to feed not only herself but her child as well. With this idea, we realized that because of this vulnerable situation she in some ways loses some of her autonomy. Of course, she still is able to make her own decisions except these decisions can be easily mutable because of the state of vulnerability. This is because she doesn’t have much choice and can be easily coerced into for instance stealing bread. It was difficult to come up with a counter example of which this rule didn’t exist.

– Question 2

I presented the group with an example: you ask someone for lunch, and later you will pay them back. Both agree that it is okay to do this exchange of service. Now let’s say you ask someone for lunch and they agree to provide lunch for you for free. You continue to do this every day but the person continues to agree for you not to pay. We recognized that this was unfair but it being unfair doesn’t mean that it was using someone for there mere means. So we decided that you can still use someone for their menes despite it being unfair. In which case using someone for their menes does not require a mutual exchange. This is also a very unique situation, and so in most cases, people would not appreciate this type of action and would see it more as using someone for their mere means.

Discussion Summary — Morals


Can you think of some maxims that one could evaluate using the second Categorical Imperative?

This question relates to Kant’s key idea of “Categorical Imperatives” specifically the second version – that of using others as means to an end versus using others as an end in themselves. This is a large part of what was discussed in this weeks readings. O’Neill stressed the importance of this view underlining the fact that Kant believed humans are “rational and autonomous beings.” (O’Neill, 262). In discussing maxims and their effects on society, we are able interpret how the world would function should everyone hold and follow the views of Kant.

In-Class Discussion:

During our discussion we revisited the idea of theft – the maxim being I will steal things in order to benefit myself or others I know. It was fairly simple to agree that when one is stealing simply for personal benefit they are using others simply as a means to an end. As Kant believes one should never use another simply as a means to an end, stealing is morally wrong in his eyes. Even if one was stealing medicine, to save the life of a child, the person they are stealing from is not being treated as they should. We also discussed the morality behind killing. Kant would say it’s morally wrong to kill someone because you are, quite obviously, using them as a means to an end and disregarding their ability for autonomous action (O’Neill, 262). However, how might one apply this to more “gray scale” circumstances? For example, if there is a dangerous criminal threatening the life of a civilian or a police, who continues to approach/goes to attack with a weapon in their immediate possession, and refuses to stand-down after several warnings, is it morally acceptable for a police to shoot this person in order to save the life of the one being attacked? Kant would say no, it is not morally right, but many people would agree that if it is the police’s only option to save the innocent victim then they should do it.


Do you think Kant’s perspective of morals makes more sense than utilitarianism? Why?

This relates to this weeks readings in a much more general way. It is a way of examining and evaluating Kant’s perspective as using others as a means to an end versus using others as an end in themselves, and the idea of justice and beneficence in relation to topics and views we’ve already discussed in depth. O’Neill describes Kant’s views of justice as “[requiring] action that conforms (at least outwardly) to what could be done in a given situation while acting on maxims that use nobody” (O’Neill, 263). In comparing Kant’s views to the concept of utilitarianism we may evaluate which is a better or more realistic version of ethics and morals.

In-Class Discussion:

Our discussion was not conclusive as to whether one view was significantly better than the other. We agreed that compared to utilitarianism, Kant’s views of morals are more difficult to follow and understand. Our general basis for this question was that neither form of viewing morals works in every situation as they are often too general – they over-simplify and disregard the situation at hand. In this regard, Kant’s perspective offers a tad more lenience as what is morally right depends on the maxim at hand unlike utilitarianism where when something is morally wrong, it is wrong in any situation. However, his views also add their own conflict as even maxims used purely for justice must not use another simply as means to an end (O’Neill, 263). Comparing these two views highlighted that each have significant flaws in the foundation of the theories.

Discussion Summary on O’Neill

(1) at least two discussion questions you brought to the group to talk about

  1.  “Act in such a way as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of anyone else, always as an end and never merely as a means” (O’Neill 259). Is this a more appropriate formulation than the universal maxim? Why or why not?
  2. Leading on from the idea of treating humanity as rational and autonomous, would Kant consider the TOMS shoes program as morally right according to the CI of human formulation? How do we think we should be treating aid relief programs using this CI formulation? Would doing nothing be more beneficial? Would providing simply autonomous action or paternalistic relief in the extremes senses be more morally correct?

(2) an explanation how these questions relate to one or more of the author’s main argument(s) in the text(s) assigned for that week

  • There are two main aspects that which my questions are relevant to Kant’s, through O’Neill’s writing. These are:
  1. Exploring the second categorical imperative for moral rules. This is, to “act in such a way as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of anyone else, always as an end and never merely as a means” (O’Neill 259)
  2. Delving further into imperfect duties/beneficence with regard to helping others. O’Neill writes that we should be sustaining and extending others capacities for autonomous action with respect to this matter. (O’Neill 262). O’Neill writes that for Kantian thinking, paternalistic aid is at the very least, questionable (O’Neill 267)

(3) a brief summary of what your group discussed in trying to answer one or both of your questions

Your post should have enough detail to explain what you said, because the discussion leader can’t hear all of the presentations in each group when they’re going on simultaneously.

Discussion Question 1:

  • All seemed to agree that the second categorical imperative with respective to treatment people as an ends rather than merely a means as more intuitive and applicable than the universal maxim. The universal maxim seemed to rigid to apply in practice and too fallible to be taken seriously in a practical sense. One group member discussed specifically how the universal maxim seems to only work in a theoretical sense as it must be universally applied. On the other hand, the second categorical imperative worked closer to human intuition in respect to ideas of empathy and consent.

Discussion Question 2:

  • Received varied responses in respect to this question.  Overall while all agreed that it would be more beneficial to provide those in need with greater autonomy and in essence the tools with which they can pull themselves out of poverty, it is not always practical to do so. One group member brought up the concept of soup kitchens in parallel with the TOMs shoes example, highlighting how although the soup kitchens would be considered paternalistic and therefore questionable in Kantian thinking; satisfying the need of hunger in that moment would be of greater pertinence than for example teaching said person how to cook.  With respect to the TOM shoes example in particular, I explored more into the fact in providing these shoes, you would be stripping the shoe making economy out of those countries in effect removing autonomous capabilities of this country and would therefore be in conflict with Kantian thinking. The group seemed to agree to this

Discussion Kant

For my discussion I chose to compare the ideas of morality between Kant and J.S Mill. During the discussion we briefly summarized the differences between Mill and Kant. A difference between the two that I choose to discuss was Mill’s approach to happiness across all sentient beings. Kant clearly differs in his idea of morality, our only moral concern is the happiness of human beings. The other main difference between the two philosophers we determined was the idea of action versus inaction. Kant believes that if with a given act there is a scenario where a bad thing can happen (no matter how unlikely) that action must not be done. Mill however believes that the an individual must take action to produce the most happiness and least pain. After distinguishing the differences between Kant and Mill I introduced my first question. The question was how would Kant act given the train scenario? This is a significant question as it shows the difference between utilitarianism and Kant’s universalization. As a group we came to the consensus that Kant would take no action in switching the lever because it would directly cause the death of one person. By not acting Kant is in no way responsible for the death of the four people and therefore morally justified (in his opinion). For my second question I choose to discuss the idea of sentient beings and their worth. I put my group into a scenario where they must chose between their own life and the life of two puppies. The reason I chose two puppies is because it would be two lives versus one. This question proved important because it showed a very influential difference between Kant and Mill.  I asked my group first what Mill would do. We decide that mill would take his own life in order to save the two puppies because in his view the life of a sentient animal is worth the same as a human being. Next I asked what Kant would do. We decided Kant would choose his on life over the dogs and would do so no matter how many dogs would be sacrificed. This is because he is only concerned with the happiness of human beings and therefore gives no comparative value to any amount of dogs. Finally I asked my group what number of dogs would there need to be in order for you to take your own life? Those who answered could not give a number because (similar to Kant’s view) there is no comparison between the life of a dog and their own. To conclude it seems that by the end of my short discussion many of the students identify more with Kant’s approach to morality than Mill’s. Sorry for the late post I thought I had until the following Wednesday, I understand marks will be deducted.

Discussion Summary

I focused my group discussion on the different thoughts between Mill and Kant, mostly contrasting their different philosophies when it came to what makes an act moral. First, we discussed the general ideas of both philosophers to make sure we all had a general understanding of their ideas. We mainly focused on Mill and Kant’s opinion on intentions and motives. As a group, we established that Kantianism cares very much about an intention and motive of an action when deciding if it is a moral one or not, whereas Mill’s philosophies disagree; he believes only the consequences matter and it is a moral action as long as the greatest amount of good has occurred through some action, no matter how awful the intention/motive may be.


My first discussion topic was “Do you think a moral action should be based on its Maxim or its consequences?” This was to just get a general idea of where people stood. Do they lean towards Kant’s view or Mills? I found out that everyone in my group (except myself) seemed to side with Kant. They seemed to think that having the intention of doing good meant more than having the intention of doing something bad, and accidentally doing good from the immoral. Personally, I lean towards Mills style of thinking whereas I believe the outcome of the action is far more important than the action itself.


To further the question, I presented the group with two scenarios:

  1. A company is donating money to a charity so that it has a better rep and can sell more product. They do not care about the act of donating, rather only care about growing their business and making more money. Is this moral?
  2. John wanted to kill Bill because he bumped into him at the grocery store. John kills Bill and later finds out that Bill was a serial killer who murdered ten innocent people. Were Johns actions moral? Now, what if John knew he was a serial killer…

For scenario 1, the majority of the group said that the action was not morale due to the bad intentions, siding with Kantianism. Again with scenario 2, most people said it was wrong of John to kill Bill, either way, no matter the consequences, again siding with the thoughts of Kant.


The second question I brought up was “Do you agree with Kant that happiness is not the highest good? That “good will” is the best thing”? I brought this question up because Mill believed that pleasure or happiness was the greatest good in life (Mill, Utilitarianism, 2) whereas Kant disagreed. Kant believed simply that good will in itself is the highest good (Hendricks, Kantian Ethics, Slide 14). The replies from the group matched the results from the first question in that most people agreed with Kant. There was one point brought up (first mentioned in lecture by Prof Hendricks) that a good will can never be bad, even if the consequences are negative. Compare that to pleasure, something which can be bad. For example, no one can be bad for trying to do the best action possible, whereas one can receive pleasure from an awful action like murder or rape. Individually, I had been leaning towards utilitarianism the whole time but even I could not get by this comment. Maybe good will is the greatest good: who knows.

Discussion Summary on Kant

My first question is: Assuming there is a scenario, if a person whose daughter is in serious illness(such as cancer), he really needs numerous money to save her life, but he is really poor. So he defrauds to his friends for the money. Do you think it is morally right according to Kant’s view on it? First of all, Kant clearly rejects the idea of lying promise(Early Modern Text p.5), lying is not morally right according to him as well. In this scenario, although his intention is good and positive(saving his daughter), he still lies to his friends(defraud). Because based on Kant, the way we tell whether it is morally right is based on categorical imperative, that is, if you can universalize the maxim and, if your maxim can gain fairness and consistency. Unfortunately, in this case, father fail to follow both these principles. Firstly, lying cannot be universalized to general rule, which is our common sense of morality. Secondly, lying can’t be good for everyone, even though the father has a good will to save his daughter. As result, it is not morally right according to Kant. In the discussion group, I have two other members. One member thinks it is right because of his good will, the other thinks it is not right because it harms to others. We then come to the conclusion that Kant rejects this action because of his principle of categorical imperative, fairness and consistency.

The second question is what do you think of the difference between Kant and Mill’s theory on morally right? Mill is focusing on happiness and pleasure, and see whether the rule or movement can produce as much as happiness, then it comes into general rules, and people follow it. However, Kant emphasizes on can you universalize the maxim and good will. They are totally different, even conflicted with each other. In the article<the kantian perspective fairness and justice>, author claims Kant remains the opposition voice of  utilitarianism by Mill. In my discussion group, members’s answers of this question is quite consistent with mine.

Discussion Summary for Mill

The first question brought up in the discussion is in reference to Mill’s support to the Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP), in which he states that “Utilitarians look not just to one’s own happiness, but to that of all concerned with action; impartiality between one’s own happiness and that of all others” (Mill, 5). The question is concerned with how Mill might view impartiality in terms of consequentialism and the GHP.

Q1: With this quote from Mill in mind, how do you think an Utilitarian would respond to a situation in which he/she were only given 2 choices: one choice would yield more happiness for you but less for someone else, and the other choice yielding more happiness for the other person and less for you. Assuming that the amounts of happiness were the same for each option, what choice would Mill make?

While it took a bit for the group to respond, they came up with an interesting look to the question. At first glance, it may seem like there is no one correct choice for this situation. Both options produce equal amounts of happiness, yet the difference is in terms of whether you or the other person experiences this pleasure. However, the group came to an interesting conclusion which stated that Mill would most likely choose to generate more happiness for the other person. This is due to his views on impartiality. Mill states that it is important to be impartial between your own happiness and the happiness of others, meaning that one must make a decision in which he/she must be satisfied with the outcomes of other people involved in the situation as if it was their own outcome. Therefore, in order to practice this in the selected situation at hand, the Utilitarian would pick to yield more happiness for the other, as it is the option that practices impartiality towards the happiness and outcomes of others and not one’s self.

The second question stems from Mills words: “[I]t is universally considered just that each person should obtain that (whether good or evil) which he deserves, and unjust that he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does not deserve” (Mill, 14).

Q2: If Mill thinks that it is universally just that people should obtain what they deserve, good or evil, then what if one is confronted with a situation in which one was to either get what they deserve, even if it produces the most pain. Would Mill chose to the path of “justice” even though it produces more pain than happiness? An example of this is death sentence.

The group was a bit more hesitant to answer this question.  They believed that Mill would most likely choose the path of justice. This is partly due to that fact that, to Mill, the heart at what produces happiness is the security and justice: what people have a right to do, and what protects their security. If an individual has acted against the security of another, and thus has acted unjustly, it would be prudent that the individual obtains what he/she deserves in order to protect the security of others. Within the context of death sentence, it is important to enforce the consequences of those who act unjustly, and to not let an unjust action go under the radar and perceived as acceptable.

JS Mill discussion summary

The questions I chose for discussion were about how to interpret contrasting passages from Mill’s Utilitarianism. The central issue is that Mill indicates different things about his metaethical views in different places, in some instances seeming to support what we now call act utilitarianism, and in others seeming to support what we now call rule utilitarianism.

In chapter II, p. 2, Mill states the Greatest Happiness Principle (the proportionality doctrine), which is that ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness’. As David Brink explains in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry ‘Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy’, this passage seems to express a Bentham-like hedonistic view which would suggest act utilitarianism.

Conversely, when Mill expands his conception of utility in chapter V, he details the moral relevance of rights, duties, sanctions, and justice which seem hard to square up with act utilitarianism and which strongly suggest rule utilitarianism. For example, a right is ‘something which society ought to defend me in the possession of’ (p. 16) — even if that is not what would bring the most pleasure. The conflicting suggestions leave no clear answer as to how to interpret Mill’s point of view in the text.

I also touched briefly on the links between Mill and Epicurus, not only in terms of the foregrounding of happiness or pleasure as the highest good (or telos), but also regarding evidence towards either side of the act/rule distinction: on the act-utilitarian side, the analysis of different pleasures as sensual or intellectual vs kinetic or static; and on the rule-utilitarian side, the connection between Mill’s potential rules (rights, duties, etc.) and Epicurus’s virtues (courage, prudence, etc.)

My questions were:

  1. In light of the textual ambiguity, do you think Mill’s views are better characterized as act utilitarian or rule utilitarian?
  2. Which of the two doctrines do you personally find more convincing?
  3. Is Epicurus any more or less clear on the act/rule distinction? What are the similarities and differences?

The group didn’t come up with a clear answer to any of these questions (which makes sense as they’re pretty contentious even today). We evaluated textual evidence that could indicate either side of the question and arrived at no certain conclusion as to whether he was an act or rule utilitarian. Likewise, people’s personal leanings on the subject were mixed. People generally agreed that Epicurus was more definitely an act utilitarian (more hedonistic or ‘self-centred’) due to his central focus on pleasure.