Discussion on Nussbaum

  1. Using Nussbaum’s view, how do you think using the ten central capabilities to help solve poverty?
  • In our discussion, we find that using the capabilities we could essentially send poverty children to gain education, education provides rational thinking which is key to fulfill the other capabilities
  • With education, they will gain free thinking (depending on the type of education gained) this allow them to work towards control over the mental and political environment which creates poverty in the first place
  • Practical reasoning help set goals within the poverty affected people and these goals help reach their capabilities in life
  • It is key to educate the people of poverty, providing them with rations and monetary items only relieve their short-term pains, educating them to think practically, freely help them help themselves. There is a saying in “if you give someone a fish they will starve the next day, teach them how to fish and they can fish for themselves” this is extremely powerful tool to help solve poverty issues around the world instead of eliminating the short-term problem by donating money

discussion summary on Nussbaum

Question 1: How does Nussbaum argue the advantages of capabilities approach(CA) compared to utilitarianism:

In Nussbaum’s opinion, utilitarianism has three main problems. The first problem of utilitarianism is that this theory tends to think of the social total and neglect the silence of the boundaries between individual lives. Instead, CA considers the same rights for each human being, which is more equal and fair.  The second problem of utilitarianism is that this theory deny the existence of irreducibly plural goods and tries to measures everything by a single metric.Instead, CA thinks e quality of life seems to consist of a plurality of distinct features, which cannot be reduce to a single factor.  The third problem of utilitarianism is the the satisfactions are not reliable indicators for the quality of life because of “adaptive preferences”.

Therefore, utilitarianism fails to reflect the quality of life.

Question 2: What is the relationship between CA and equality in Nussbaum’s idea?

Some people think that the CA is equal to a theory of equality because CA pay much attention to the same rights between human beings. However, Nussbaum thinks holding the equality of capabilities as a goal for CA is inappropriate. CA helps to compare lives and nations within a relevant space and informs us of what kind of equalities are important, but CA cannot tell us if a equal distribution should be valued.

Trolley Problem Discussion Summary

My discussion questions are a bit different in that it compares the situations of the Trolley Problem to each other. In my discussion, I talked about three situations that Thomson describes from Foot’s Trolley Problem: the Trolley Driver situation (Thomson 1985 P. 1395), the Surgeon situation (Thomson 1985 P. 1396) , and the Fat Man situation (Thomson 1985 P. 1409). I decided to build my questions around these situations, rather than the text itself, because I felt that it would be more effective if I did so.

My questions were addressed to the class:

What would you do in each situation?

One person said, “As long as you are aware of the situation and the weight of your decision, you can [sacrifice the one to save the five]”

For the Trolley Driver situation, most people would pull the switch, saving the five but killing the one in the process.

For the Surgeon situation, most people would choose to do nothing and let the one healthy person live, but let the five patients die.

For the Fat Man situation, most people would do nothing and let the five people die, but sparing the fat man.

In each of these situations, when and why is it morally permissible or not morally permissible to sacrifice the one to save the five?

The class answered that the Fat Man Situation and the Surgeon situation are different from the Trolley Driver situation because there is a difference in agency and there is a presence of bystanders that you are potentially forcing into the situation, as opposed to the Trolley Driver situation.

The situation changes for each of these situations, and that is why the morals are different.

Discussion Summary PHIL 102 L07 (Fri. 11:00 pm) – Singer and Nussbaum

Mark Epshtein

PHIL 102 003

Singer’s Paradox: To what extent can we give or save?


Question #1: Singer stresses the need for everyone to donate funds, time, expertise, etc. and help people from starvation and death (Bengal), to what point should you give away your time and money to struggling people in other countries, that you have never known or will never know? Is it once both of you are at the same level? How much are you, individually, willing to sacrifice?


Relation to philosopher #1:

            Pgs/Readings: Famine, Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer, paragraphs 1-10

Quotes: “My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it. By “without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance” I mean without causing anything else comparably bad to happen, or doing something that is wrong in itself, or failing to promote some moral good, comparable in significance to the bad thing that we can prevent. This principle seems almost as uncontroversial as the last one. It requires us only to prevent what is bad, and to promote what is good, and it requires this of us only when we can do it without sacrificing anything that is, from the moral point of view, comparably important.”



Answer/Summary #1:


In answering this question, it is important to acknowledge that many people are in danger of starvation and various other problems across the world. Many people in developed civilizations refrain from donating to the poor simply because they do not see these effects first hand. However, I believe that any moral person would donate to the struggling populations if they saw their circumstance in person, rather than just hearing about it on the news. That being said, it is conclusive, as discussed in our discussion group, that most people would give until they had just a little more than the originally poor person. In sum, give until you have just a slight edge over the other person(s) as you have indeed earned your wealth and deserve that slight edge. Singer advocates to live minimally and give as much as you can and I believe that this is what our answer supports, to live a minimalistic style with just the basic needs and give the rest away to people who need it. It is in all humans to give, but only to a certain level of comfort, then it becomes too extreme; in other words, there is a limit to giving and donation.





Question #2: Taking a turn from the child drowning in a pond example: If you saw a person struggling to stay afloat in the ocean would you go in and swim after him/her knowing that you would get wet? What if you had no lifeguard experience as sometimes drowning people can drag you to death along with them? What if you couldn’t swim?


Relation to philosopher #2:

            Pgs/Readings: Famine, Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer, paragraph 6

Quotes: “An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.”




Answer/Summary #2:


As a connection from Singer’s original dilemma of the small child in a pond, this question plays on the factors of morality, utilitarianism and personal beliefs. When asking this question, I received a lot of contradiction between my discussion group as some people would still go in and save the drowning person and some wouldn’t, which is what I expected. I noticed that most answered yes to helping the person from drowning if they could swim, despite risking their own life, as many drowning incidents have more than one victim. However, many were hesitant to help the drowning person if they could not swim, playing on factors of utilitarianism. Again, this question can be answered with a yes, but to a certain extent. The world does need our help, yes, but there is only so much the wealthy or privileged can give until it is dangerous for them. Singer oversimplifies this dilemma with the child in the pond, making it seem obvious to help the child, but when it is put into another context, like this question, the answers become much more varied.

Summarizing Singer – The Discussion


Discussion Summary Questions: 

  1. Peter Singer believes that all of your income should go towards helping others unless it’s of moral significance, he gives examples of what people should be doing but doesn’t exactly define what moral significance means. Do you think he should specify what moral significance means or is he right for leaving it open to interpretation? Do you agree with his statement and what is your definition of moral significance and does it include things like university education, sports teams, dance classes, private tutoring and music lessons? Why or why not?

Source: Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (1972), available here: http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm

 Connections to Text: For the first question I wanted to discuss the implication in “Famine, Affluence and Morality” because Singer speaks about “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it” yet he mentions how items such as new clothing don’t need to be bought because old clothing can be worn again and the money for new clothes should be given away to famine relief but at the same time at the end of his article he says he has left the meaning of moral significance open to the individual readers to their own “sincere judgement.” Since he has left it this way it can change the way people perceive the point of his arguments and its strength. Furthermore, it leaves room for people to accept or disregard other aspects of life that can be considered futile by some and morally significant by others.

In-Class Discussion: After bringing up this question, my group had varied answers, such as, leaving it open to interpretation could be dangerous in the sense that people could be subject to make excuses for not helping but the upside was that people could find their own reason to the argument and agree to what extent they felt was reasonable instead of finding Singer’s exact point of view unreasonable and not following his argument at all so we came to the conclusion that Singer choosing to leave it open for interpretations had its pros and cons but in the end he was right for doing this because there will always be people who make excuses anyways. When asked if they agree with his statement and their definition of moral significance, the answers involved appreciating Singers aspirations but they weren’t realistic as it’s important to treat yourself to a quality life as well as helping others but they said moral significance involves things of survival like shelter, food, water and education and a right to leisure but not in an overly indulging sense but in a helps you grow into a better person sense. Which is why we agreed that university education, sports teams, dance classes, private tutoring and music lessons are of moral significance but we should keep giving to charity as well until everyone else can also have the option to enjoy them too. Someone brought up it may not be necessary for everyone to have a mansion but we should accept other’s need to have an expensive coffee everyday if that’s what provides them energy and the means to get through the day without being irritated or tired.

2.  Singer states that for all of someone’s income to go into helping others unless it’s of moral significance would mean “An American household with an income of $50,000 spends around $30,000 annually on necessities … Therefore, for a household bringing in $50,000 a year, donations to help the world’s poor should be as close as possible to $20,000. The $30,000 required for necessities holds for higher incomes as well. So a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000”. Do you think this would ever be possible given the assumption it becomes more publicized by society attaching a negative stigma to a person for basically being a “Bob choosing his Bugatti over a child’s life” if they don’t participate in donating most of their income? If so, how do you think it would become a reality?

Source Singer, “The Singer Solution to World Poverty” (New York Times Magazine, 1999): http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/19990905.htm & Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (1972), available here: http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm

 Connections to Text: For this question, I used the quote “An American household with an income of $50,000 spends around $30,000 annually on necessities … Therefore, for a household bringing in $50,000 a year, donations to help the world’s poor should be as close as possible to $20,000. The $30,000 required for necessities holds for higher incomes as well. So a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000” (The Singer Solution to World Poverty) to illustrate Singer’s perspective on what his argument would ideally to him look like in the real world while keeping the horrors of the Bob and his Bugatti situation (The Singer Solution to World Poverty) in mind as well as Singer’s reminder that “we ought to give the money away [unless it’s of moral significance] and it is wrong not to do so” (Famine, Affluence and Morality) to have my group take a stance if this could be plausible given the assumption society decided look down on those who didn’t participate in this and if they agreed, how this would happen.

In-Class Discussion: Once again my group we had varied responses to this question. The responses consisted of that anything is possible so maybe not in the near future but one day this could be possible because something similar happened in communist Russia where most of peoples incomes were taken away so to have everyone participate we would need the law to create policies forcing people to do this and then over the years not doing this would be considered bad like breaking any other law and currently in 2018, this would be extremely unlikely to happen, only people as rich as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates would want to participate without the law the enforcing society to do so.

Discussion Summary on Nussbaum


Explain who Nussbaum is and her core beliefs

  • Philosopher who believe in the “Capabilities Approach”
  • She believes in the idea that all individuals should focus on creating the world a better place from within themselves out
  • Criticisms of her beliefs, stem from the fact that she is against distribution and globalization, and that her theories are counter productive due to their selfish nature

Question 1

  • Based on Nussbaum, how do you think you should live your life? Keep in mind the Ten Central Capabilities and the Capability Approach.

Group response and analysis:

Nussbaum’s theories have good insight and focus on how individuals can flourish and live well with human dignity. It is often asked what people are actually able to do and be, and Nussbaum offers an answer to that question. She proposes that all humans in order to be fully successful and happy, they must be able to perform their capabilities in a solid functioning environment that allows them to practice their skills to the best of their ability. The capability approach is defined by its choice of focus upon the moral significance of an individual’s capability of achieving lives they have reason to value. Based on this premise if an individual can reach their highest potential of value, then they therefore are at the peak of their moral significance.

Question 2

  • Upon analysis on Nussbaum’s work, would you suggest, in compliance with critics, that her view on morality and ethics are substantive and self centred?

Group Response and Analysis:

Majority said yes – She is focussing too much on an individuals success – her ten central capabilities are very vague and offer only individualistic successes. Her ideas are difficult to generalize as they show little to no regard for other people. Does her advocation for individualism, hurt or help the chances of having the best world? How can people truly be their best without having interpersonal relationships and basing everything off of a narcissistic and egotistical origin? As you can see, her ideas raise many questions and are too open to discourse. Nussbaum’s definition of a human, is an individual as a being or as a doing. This adds to her selfish perspective on ethics, as you can see that she only ever speaks about the person outwards. In a flipped world, if there was only one human ever in existence then it would be okay to base her idea’s off his success, but it is ignorant to ignore interpersonal relationships as invaluable. With her beliefs it is also safe to propose that her universalist ethics have a limit, as it rarely focusses on the outside but on the inside of a person.


Discussion Summary – Kant

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with Kant’s anti-paternalistic views? Or do you think that, when helping others, a paternalistic approach would ultimately be more beneficial and, therefore, justifiably moral?
  2. Do you find the Categorical Imperative (particularly the first one) to be a good method when determining the morality of actions, or are there obvious exceptions?

For the first question, I chose to discuss Kant’s idea that, when helping others, we must focus on acting in such a way as to preserve the autonomy of those in the vulnerable state of needing to be assisted. Kant is assertive is pointing out that “happiness secured by purely paternalistic means, or at the cost (for example) of manipulating others’ desires, will not count as beneficent in the Kantian picture” (Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems, p.264-265). However, this particularly stood out to me as a concept to be discussed because, in a case where there is great struggle and desperate need for help, would it truly matter to those in need whether their autonomy in the situation is being preserved or not? Wouldn’t solving the problem, even if by imposing the means to on them, be of more importance in this case rather than making sure their autonomy is preserved? In this sense, then, we could even come to justify a paternalistic approach – if solving the problem is the concept of utmost importance, then in several cases it would come to be the most objective, solution-yielding approach to helping those in need.

When discussing with my group in class, we came to the conclusion that, despite agreeing with Kant’s anti-paternalistic views on a moral level – it is indeed desirable to preserve the autonomy and ways of those in need -, it is simply far too unrealistic when applied into a real-life context. When we take cases such as the genocide in Rwanda, where the civil war was generating unimaginable violence and hundreds of children and innocent civilians were being brutally murdered on a daily basis, the interference of the UN peacekeeping troops was certainly pivotal in helping cease the attacks – the population of Rwanda did not have the means to do so. They certainly, however, took a paternalistic (and, therefore, anti-Kantian) approach to the situation – but sparing the lives of thousands of future victims of brutality certainly outweighs Kant’s morality principles in this case. Approaching the problem from a paternalistic perspective was, in this sense, the right thing to be done – the moral thing. Ultimately, we came to argue that, considering the vulnerable state of many groups in need in today’s society, making sure that the problem is dealt with is far more important than ensuring that the autonomy of those involved is preserved, particularly if they do not have the means to deal with it alone.

Moving on to the second question, I chose to discuss the idea behind the first Categorical Imperative – the concept that one must be able to universalize a maxim. Kant is quick to point out that we must “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, p.94), when determining whether an act is moral or not (something highly esteemed by Kant), but are there clear exceptions to this rule? Are there situations in which a person is indeed acting out of purely good will, and yet their action could not be universalized?

When discussing this question, my group and I came across a series of mundane situations in which a subject was doing something we did not find to be immoral, and yet they could not be universalized. We began to discuss the issue of abortion – if every single person chose to have one, mankind would certainly fail to evolve; at some point, there would be no human beings left. However, if the person who is choosing to have an abortion is doing so because they know they would not be able to have the resources or capability to raise a child under reasonable conditions, then they are most definitely acting out of good will – something that Kant believes is the root of all morality. We came to the conclusion that, despite working in most cases, Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be easily contradicted, particularly when looking at more complex situations such as that of abortion. We noted that there are far too many nuances and issues to be taken into consideration when looking at what is to be considered moral or not – it cannot simply come down to “is it universalizable or not?”. Of course, there are cases where this is greatly applicable – we cannot, for instance, all deceive each other, so we can see why lying is considered immoral. However, when looking at the overall scenario of issues, there are clear cases in which Kant’s ideas are, in essence, far too simplistic and cannot be generalized.

Discussion Summaries Kant Mill March 9th

  1. Do you agree with Kant’s perspective on the example with the murderer at the door? Why or why not?

At the end of Wednesday’s lectures, Dr. Hendricks briefly brought up an example, illustrating Kant’s stance on legal responsibility. The hypothetical scenario includes a murderer knocking on your door, looking to kill your friend. Your friend, however, is in the other room, hiding. Wanting to save your friend, you lie to the murderer, saying that your friend is absent. The murderer then heads towards the back of the house. Your friend, unable to hear your interaction with his would-be killer, decides to sneak out the back door. Unfortunately, they run into each other, and your friend is slain.

Because of your lie, your friend was murdered; therefore, suggesting that you played a role in the friend’s demise. Kant argues that, in this case, you are responsible for your friend’s death, whereas if the murderer had entered the building and killed your friend, the responsibility lies solely on the killer, not you.

My first question is relevant to our class because it exemplifies how Kant is not a Consequentialist, also it helps students realize the imperfection of his theory. My peers have a hard time accepting Kant’s perspective as their own. They say that it is impossible to predetermine the murder’s decision to move to the back, as well as your friend’s decision to try to sneak out the back door, hence the events that took place were simply out of your control. Therefore, it should not be your fault. In fact, my peers believe it would be even more morally unacceptable if you did not attempt to help your friend in that situation. According to Kant’s first categorial imperative of universalism, if everyone refused to help those in need of aid, the way of life would prove to be unsustainable. On the other hand, if everyone lied with the maxim of getting out of a difficult situation, it would not be possible either. This dilemma exposes a flaw in Kant’s categorical imperative theory.

  1. What do you think Kant and Mill would say about the topic of assisted suicide? Do you think they would agree or disagree with one another?

In class, we learn that Mill is a consequentialist and an utilitarian, while Kant is known to not be concerned with the consequences, instead he judges intentions, and is considered an universalist. I was curious to see if there was any way the different point of views would be able to come to similar conclusions. In this scenario, my peers and I suggest that both Mill and Kant would be against the controversial topic of assisted suicide. For Kant, he explicitly stated that life itself is good, therefore ending it would be putting an end to something that is intrinsically good. As for the utilitarian Mill, he may consider the death of one would cause many of their loved ones to be upset, ultimately generating more unhappiness than happiness. Though for different reasons, here we can see that it is possible for Mill and Kant to agree on controversial topics.

Kant Discussion Summary


“Kant does not, however, try to generate a set of precise rules defining human obligations in all possible circumstances; instead, he attempts to provide a set of principles of obligation that can be used as the starting points for moral reasoning in actual contexts of action. The primary focus of Kantian ethics is, then, on action rather than either results.” Kantian Approaches to some Famine Problems (2)

From this quote I was interested in the concept of ‘principles of obligation’ compared to rules that define what we, as humans, should and should not do which lead me to pose the questions:

Could the principles of obligations be considered a type of conformity (in some sense) that aims for all to have the same systems of moral reasoning?

 Is it fair for everyone to be set to the same general standards in terms of what is right and what is wrong?

Here are some possible answers we discussed:

  • The principles of obligation set by Kant still seem to be rules since if they are not followed, the action that took place instead can be considered morally wrong. Although the principles may not be as specific as rules may be, they do set limitations on what humans can and cannot do.
  • The principles could be seen as a form of conformity because the ideal outcome would be all humans having a very similar (if not the same) thought process. Since Kant is concerned with the importance of consistency and fairness, the principle of universalizability could lead people to become more alike in their behaviour. (ideas from The Fundamentals of Ethics)
  • It was also mentioned that it is a little strange for Kant to have created the principles of obligation when he himself contradicts his own thoughts and opinions at times.
  • To Kant, the principles of obligation may not be considered unfair because that is his personal way of thinking what the ideal world would be like.
  • The principles may not always be applicable in the real world because everyone is different. We all come from various backgrounds and we all have our own stories about how we got to where we are today. What is completely immoral for one person may be much less immoral for another.
  • We quickly talked about how many things are relative to the specific situation as well.



“When we want to work out whether a proposed act or policy is morally required we should not, on Kant’s view, try to find out whether it would produce more happiness than other available acts. Rather we should see whether the act or policy is required if we are to avoid acting on maxims that use others as mere means and act on maxims that treat others as ends in themselves.” Kantian Approaches (4)

This quote lead me to wonder about the difference between whether we should make decisions based on happiness and the greatest happiness principle from a utilitarian point of view or if we should base our decisions off of how we treat others (either as mere means or as ends in themselves). I was curious as to which ideas from Mill and Kant are applied when making choices.

When deciding if an action is moral, is happiness a prominent factor that comes into play? Does your happiness and the happiness of others matter when making a decision?

  • Happiness does come into play when making bigger decisions.
  • Usually the happiness of others outweighs my happiness when I am trying to make what I believe to be the right choice.
  • It often depends on how well you know the others that will be affected by the decision you make when choosing. If it is a close family member that will be affected you may be more willing to make decisions that are in their favour compared to making a decision that will affect a stranger.

Say you become the primary care giver of a dying family member… You cook meals for them, clean their house and do their chores, read to them etc., except you aren’t doing these things for the sake of your family member. You are caring for them because you wish to preserve a place in their will or want to make a very positive impression on other people that think you are doing this from the kindness in your heart. Your dying family member does not know of this ulterior motive and is so happy to see you everyday, thoroughly enjoying each visit. Although this act may not be considered immoral, is it still something you should continue doing since your family member will die happy? What would Kant or Mill think about this?

  • Since Kant reasoning is based off of the motive he would think that this is act is immoral since you are simply treating another as mere means. If you were to treat your family member as an end in themselves you would be taking care of them because you wish to make them happy before they pass away.
  • This act would be considered wrong because of the maxim. (Everyone would be treating others well because they wish to receive something out of it, not because they believe in kindness.)
  • Mill might consider this act to be okay since both you and your family member benefit from this. You and your family member are happy in the situation (although it is for different reasons). You should continue to act this way because it leads to good consequences.
  • A question that came from my question: If a maxim such as this is universalized, would it be considered moral or immoral? (It could be seen as moral because everyone is taking care of each other and treating each other nicely, the act leads to good consequences and everyone is happy or it could be seen as immoral because everyone is treating each other as mere means, it is deceiving since you have other ulterior motives, and although the consequence is good the motive is not.)

Discussion Summary on Kant & O’Neill

  1. What do you think of the scenario on the famine agencies problem? Is it acceptable like Kant says for them to use each other as long there is no manipulation? Do you agree or disagree?

In the text, there is an example provided where a government agrees to “provide food to famine-relief agencies [where] both uses and is used by the agencies, a peasant who sells food in a local market both uses and is used by those who buy the food.” (pg. 260) Kant says this is acceptable because there is consent in between those transactions because they are not deceiving each other, therefore, it is not considered mere means.

In class discussion:

Since there are no manipulations, there is nothing that makes it lead to it being considered mere means, so it is acceptable. People are economists, and since these transactions are made without any of the members deceiving each other, it is fair. We do agree with Kant’s view on this scenario.

2. If someone were to be dead, and you take something from them for the greater good to help someone else without their consent (since they are dead), is it acceptable?

Since the person is dead, it is universalized, therefore it would be acceptable in this first part of the case. The consent part is the missing act for this to be acceptable because without it, you are using the person as mere means. So, it will not be acceptable, since the person isn’t able to give any opinion on the whole situation nor, provide a answer.

In class discussion:

We do agree that it is acceptable to an extent because the person is already dead, and if the dead person has something, such as an organ that could be used to save someone, it should be done. This makes it universalized, but since the second part of Kant’s perspectives is on mere means, this would reject this. Without having a fully consent from the person, you are considered to be using them as mere ends.