Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

How Crazy is too Crazy to Execute?

February 14, 2013 Leave a comment

How Crazy is too Crazy to Execute?

For those of you who do not know, I oppose a fairly strict abolition of capital punishment. I would prefer to see this enacted as a federal mandate, thereby banning it across all states immediately. Common arguments that support capital punishment, such as the deterrent nature of it, are rarely effective reasoning except to those who already support the death penalty. The example above—how the death penalty deters future criminals—has been demonstrated to be nothing more than a myth. The evidence points to no relationship between the existence of capital punishment and the rate of crimes committed that could result in it.

Regardless, as one who opposes capital punishment outright, I believe I stand in firm fellowship with many of you who may support it in this:  the demonstrably mentally ill should never be executed. Those who are in such a degree of separation or disconnection between their minds and reality cannot reasonably be held responsible for their crimes to such a degree as to face death for committing them. It seems absurd that we should even have to argue for this. It should be a presupposed aspect of our justice system in the United States that the mentally ill, those whose perceptions of reality are so distorted by faulty synapses, abusive childhoods, and psychosis, cannot be held, in good conscience, to death for crimes which they committed in those states of mental duress.

Andre Thomas is a diagnosed paranoid, delusional schizophrenic who has multiple times (before the commission of the crime, and following incarceration) attempted suicide; who has believed to have heard from God for years; and who believed that his wife was Jezebel, his son the anti-Christ, and his daughter and evil spirit. Following his arrest, he gouged at his right eye, because from there is the fountain of righteousness in him. After being placed on death row, he gouged out his left eye. His crime was murdering his wife, his son, and his daughter, each of whose hearts he removed in order to save their lives from possession by evil spirits. Despite being found insane during the trial, court doctors determined that his insanity bore no relation to the trial at hand and had him declared fit for trial, where he was condemned to be executed.

Tell me: Is this just?


October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Joel Feinberg on happiness

September 9, 2012 1 comment


An exclusive desire for happiness is the surest way to prevent happiness from coming into being. Happiness has a way of “sneaking up” on persons when they are preoccupied with other things; but when persons deliberately and single-mindedly set off in pursuit of happiness, it vanishes utterly from sight and cannot be captured. This is the famous “paradox of hedonism”: the single-minded pursuit of happiness is necessarily self-defeating, for the way to get happiness is to forget it; then perhaps it will come to you. If you aim exclusively at pleasure itself, with no concern for the things that bring pleasure, then pleasure will never come. To derive satisfaction, one must ordinarily first desire something other than satisfaction, and then find the means to get what one desires.

Joel Feinberg, “Psychological Egoism”


Francis Schaeffer on Ethics and Christianity

Christianity gives a moral solution on the basis of the fact that God exists and has a character which is the law of the universe. There is therefore an absolute in regard to morals. It is not that there is a moral law in the back of God that binds both God and man, but that God himself has a character and this character is reflected in the moral law of the universe. Thus when a person realizes his inadequacy before God and feels guilty, he has a basis not simply for the feeling but for the reality of guilt. Man’s dilemma is not just that he is finite and God is infinite, but that he is a sinner and guilty before a holy God. But then he recognizes that God has given him a solution to this in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Man is fallen and flawed, but he is redeemable on the basis of Christ’s work. This is beautiful. This is optimism. And this optimism has a sufficient basis.

Francis Schaeffer, from his essay “Some Perspectives on Art” found in Art and the Bible

Jesus and Ethical Considerations

April 30, 2012 2 comments

If the Kingdom of Heaven were not advancing, then Christ’s commands would be of the most wicked variety.

I laugh when I see people call Jesus a great moral teacher but no Messiah. If he weren’t a Messiah reconciling the world to God, his teachings should be thrown out, for they call us to forsake our lives for his and to give up everything we hold dear and to love others with a wholly self-sacrificial and self-denying love that would have no place in a YOLO (Oh, somebody shoot me for using that) universe.

He would have no authority, and no ethical justification, for calling us to sell all that we have and give to the poor, to deny ourselves, and to die for his sake, if the Kingdom of Heaven were not rapidly and truly advancing. It’s not even if he sincerely believed that it were but it actually wasn’t—unless the Kingdom is actually advancing, Christ’s obligating commands are meaningless and dangerous.

I leave you with this quotation by the deceased Christopher Hitchens,

When C.S. Lewis, for example, says–now, I don’t particularly admire the writer but he did have some moral courage–says, ‘If this man [Jesus] was not the Son of God, then his teachings were evil. Because, if you don’t believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and that you can’t get to it by the Way, the Truth, and the Life offered by the Gospel, then there’s no excuse for telling people, “Take no thought for tomorrow,” for example if he did. There’s no excuse for telling people that they don’t have to practice thrift, care about their children; they must leave everything and follow him. That would be a wicked thing to say–it would be like Jim Jones–if he didn’t sincerely believe that the story–the preaching–was true. It would be an evil nonsense.’

I extend his argument:  even if Christ sincerely believed it, unless it were existentially and ontologically true that the Kingdom of Heaven is advancing, Christ’s commands are worthless. The Kingdom of Heaven must be advancing and Christ must be the Son of God for these commands to have merit.

The inadequacy of reason alone to discern moral absolutes

We come to a startling realization, for which the Holocaust provides a profound confirmation: reason cannot deduce the absolute prohibition against murder that was revealed at Mount Sinai any more than it can deduce the utterance of “I am the Lord thy God, who brought you out of Egypt.” The sophisticated thinkers of the Third Reich demonstrated that human reason can find a rationale for opposing any moral dictum deduced by human reason. Indeed, the absolute prohibition against murder is not a moral dictum; it is a divine revelation voiced at Mount Sinai and affirmed at Auschwitz. Only by hearing both Voices can we view the human being as one who is created in the image of the divine.

David Patterson, Emil L. Fackenheim: A Jewish Philosopher’s Response to the Holocaust

Implicit Anti-Semitism in Sartre’s Anti-Semite and the Jew and the Potentiality of a Second Holocaust

April 7, 2012 4 comments

One does not need to look far into history to see the underpinnings of the modern conception of anti-Semitism. Nazi ideology and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party under Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and 40s embodied anti-Semitism perhaps most fully. Immediately following World War II, Jean-Paul Sartre composed his book, Anti-Semite and the Jew, as a theoretical understanding of the “Jewish problem.” It is Sartre’s application of his existential philosophy in Being and Nothingness to the “Jewish problem,” using the full range of his terms, including freedom, facticity, for-itself, in-itself, etc.

For this reason, however, Anti-Semite and Jew has been criticized as being too narrow in its understanding of the Jewish experience. I intend to broaden this criticism. This paper will begin by outlining Sartre’s argument to combat anti-Semitism, moving to define fundamental philosophical problems with Sartre’s argument, continuing further to point out the implicit anti-Semitism in Sartre’s work, and concluding with the implications of Sartre’s philosophy as it ethically concerns such events as the Holocaust. I argue that Sartre’s philosophy, as it is applied in Anti-Semite and Jew, necessarily opposes individuals and people groups, such as the Jews, who define themselves as separate from society as such and that this conception may be implicitly responsible for such moral travesties as the Holocaust in particular or genocide in general.

We must first define terms key to Sartre’s understanding of the anti-Semite. Sartre defines the Jewish people in a particular way. He uses the concepts from Being and Nothingness and defines the Jewish people as “neither national nor international, neither religious, nor ethnic, nor political:  it is a quasi-historical community” (Sartre 145). The Jewish people are not an established, historical community, according to Sartre. One cannot look into the history books and see the Jewish State, Israel, or the Promised Land. Neither are the Jews an international collection of one ethnic group, e.g. refugees who have fled from an original home to other sovereign states. Sartre makes a bold claim in defining them as a “quasi-historical community,” rather than the traditional understanding of at least a religious, if international, community.

However, this claim fits into Sartre’s philosophical system, as he defines the Jewish consciousness in the same way as my body for myself as known by others. Sartre presupposes two realms of  being:  being-for-itself and being-in-itself. Being-for-itself is embodiment, consciousness; being-in-itself is everything outside of consciousness. Sartre defines embodiment, or consciousness, in three distinct realms:  my body as it is for me; my body as it is for others; and my body for myself as known by others. The first realm is our firsthand experience with the world via our consciousness and unmediated by outside consciousnesses. The second realm is the third-person perspective concerning our bodies; it is the embodiment that we study rather than live.

The third, and final, realm, and the one that I want to define most closely, is our body as we live but as mediated by an outside consciousness. This realm is susceptible to and defined by the opinions of others; this realm is not wholly determined by the individual. This third realm—my body for myself as known by others—is defined by the Other[i]; through stereotypes and imposed obligations and aspirations, this third realm is the realm with which Sartre defines the Jewish people. They are not their own, self-determined people; rather, they are determined at least in part by how the Other perceives them.

Sartre then defines anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, according to Sartre, is “a passionate effort to realize a national union against the division of society into classes” (Sartre 148). Anti-Semitism is the vigorous effort of men and women against a class-divided society. This “passionate effort” is focused against groups of people which embrace class distinctions and embrace being defined as separate from society. The anti-Semite seeks to assimilate at the cost of individuality, thereby removing from the Jews their distinctive quality of Jewish-ness. The anti-Semite does not allow the Jews to define themselves as separated from society; rather, they must assimilate at the cost of their own identity.

With these two definitions in mind, Sartre defines for us the root of anti-Semitism. He explains, “[I]t is not the Jewish character that provokes anti-Semitism, but, rather, that it is the anti-Semite who creates the Jew” (Sartre 143). Sartre defines the Jewish people as “quasi-historical” and the anti-Semite as one that has a “passionate effort” against class-distinctions, and then he proposes that the anti-Semite creates the Jew. The one opposed to class-distinctions, i.e. the anti-Semite, creates the character that embraces and embodies class-distinctions. This seems paradoxical. However, in Sartre’s defense, this is empirically based on the observation that individuals, or groups, that desire total assimilation often seek out and attack others that seemingly resist this in virtue of their “separate” identity. Therefore, Sartre proposes that, as long  as the anti-Semite exists, total assimilation is impossible, both for the Jew and for the Black, the Muslim, the Female, etc (Sartre 144, 153).

In response to the anti-Semite, Sartre proposes a “concrete liberalism. By that [he means] that all persons who through their work collaborate toward the greatness of a country have the full rights of citizens of that country” (Sartre 146). Sartre suggests not removing the class-distinctions but offering the same rights to all members of a society who facilitate such a collaboration. He refuses to concede that it is their dignity as humans which affords them this right; rather, he claims that it is their “active participation” in that culture (Sartre 146).[ii] The Jew, according to Sartre, because he works for the greatness of France as well as does the Catholic, ought to be afforded the same rights and properties without fear of persecution.

Sartre extends this point, though. Because he claimed earlier that the anti-Semite defines the Jew, it is the anti-Semite, not the Jew, who must be acted against by society at large (Sartre 147). Sartre claims that France must not permit a society wherein the Jews are seen contemptuously for being Jewish and the anti-Semites are free to have this view of the Jew. He offers a resolution:  the freedom and perspective, with which the anti-Semite now decides, should be changed to other foundations, thereby avoiding the anti-Semitic thoughts, motives, and actions (Sartre 148). He explains, “Since he, like all men, exists as a free agent within a situation, it is his situation that must be modified from top to bottom. In short, if we can change the perspective of choice, then the choice [of anti-Semitism] itself will change. Thus we do not attack the freedom, but bring it about that freedom decides on other bases, and in terms of other structures” (Sartre 148). By resituating the perspective of the anti-Semite, Sartre hopes to eliminate anti-Semitism.

Sartre continues with his final solution for anti-Semitism. He claims that “the social revolution is necessary to and sufficient for the suppression of the anti-Semite” (Sartre 150). The dissolution of classes, for Sartre, will eliminate the class-consciousness and class-distinctions that breed anti-Semitism. “It is for the Jew also that we shall make the revolution,” Sartre exclaims (151). Through the social revolution, the perspective and freedom of the anti-Semite is changed, and therefore his freedom to act as an anti-Semite is removed because of the impossibility of a Jewish problematic existent.

Unfortunately for Sartre, his position is inconsistent on several points. The first problem is the problem of perspective. Sartre composed this piece in the immediate shadow of World War II, on the heels of the worldwide discovery of and reflection on the Holocaust. So grand a travesty with such wide implications requires a broader, more extensive philosophical approach that Sartre offers (Sungolowsky 68). One ought not limit his approach to an event such as the Holocaust with self-imposed definitions, themes, and ideas. However, this is not as damning as other inconsistencies.

The second problem Sartre faces is that he changes the Jewish people from an actual, historically existing people to an ethereal ideal. This is more severe. Sartre’s contends that anti-Semitism is not motivated by any outside force but is merely a passion motivated solely by the “idea of the Jew” (Sungolowsky 68). This approach to the Jewish question is naïve at best. Although it fits well within his philosophical framework, the Jew is not an idea. The Jew is a situated individual who defines himself as a Jew. Sartre represents the Jewish people as lacking essential qualities inherent to being Jewish, “Sartre’s representation of the Jew is removed from anything inherently Jewish (Jewish properties), or even subjectively Jewish (as perceived by Jews). His conception of ‘the Jew’ is based on categories he developed in Being and Nothingness” (Morris-Reich 104). He does not allow the Jew to define himself; rather, the ‘Jew’ is a social stigma placed upon him because of the anti-Semite and the anti-Semite alone.

If Sartre limits those with the power to define Jewishness to be the anti-Semite and to the philosopher, he does not allow the Jew an equivalent possibility or freedom in the ‘my body as it is for me’ realm of consciousness, which is the self-definition realm, to define himself. Sungolowsky explains, “One could agree partially with Sartre that the anti-Semite reminds the Jew of his Jewishness, but he certainly does not ‘create’ the Jew who, after all, has a past of his own and a will to maintain himself despite anti-Semitic persecutions” (Sungolowsky 70). The Jew is reminded of his Jewishness by the anti-Semite, but this reminder is not creation. The Jewish people persist despite persecution; they do not exist because of persecution. To deny the Jews everything as a people is to deny the Jews the freedom to determine for themselves who they are, and such a notion is central to Sartrean existentialism.

Third, the insistence that anti-Semitism was born in Nazi ideology is a misunderstanding of history. The Jews have been periodically persecuted for over three thousand years. Whether or not one accepts the historicity of the Jewish people as found in the Torah, one cannot disregard the fact that the Jewish people have existed as a distinct people group since before the Roman Empire. “[F]or it has been shown that anti-Semitism existed before the so-called crime of deicide. Seneca had called the Jews a ‘criminal race’ and those Romans who were landholders despised the economic activities of the Jews” (Sungolowsky 70). We see that the Jews have been a determined, historical people since at least the Roman Empire and certainly well before.

The second and third criticisms are the most revealing concerning Sartre’s presuppositions. Without presupposing the truth behind the Jews’ claim to have a covenant with God, one cannot deny that this claim is what unites the Jews as separate from the outside world, the Other according to Sartre. They established themselves as a separate, distinct, and chosen-from-the-world people group, a group which must oppose assimilation as Sartre puts forth. However, Sartre refuses to acknowledge that the Jews positively determine themselves. In fact, his presupposition that the Jews desire assimilation seems to be assumed for the sake of his argument. Sartre says concerning assimilation, “Certainly they wish to integrate themselves in the nation, but as Jews, and who would dare reproach them for that?” (Sartre 145). He refers to potential policies that would require forced assimilation at the expense of the Jewish people’s cultural doings and religious practices (Sartre 143-4). Yet, he presupposes that the Jews desire to assimilate at all. Certainly, they wish to avoid be stigmatized and persecuted, but does this desire necessarily translate into a desire for assimilation? That seems to be a large leap for Sartre to make.

Further, Sartre refuses the historical situation of the Jews. If Sartre accepts that the Jewish people have a self-determined, historical situation, then his argument concerning the creation of the Jew via the anti-Semite immediately crashes. His solution for the Jewish problem may not change, although it probably will, but his presuppositions must undergo a radical shift. However, this shift is necessary for Sartre to remain historically sound, “In [opposing a portrait of the Jew and seeking to define him], Sartre refuses to consider the Jew as part of a national community because, according to him, that community has been dispersed for the past twenty-five centuries. … Therefore, Jews do not constitute an historical community, and, because of their dispersal, the Jews lack an historical past” (Sungolowsky 69). Because the Jews lack a nation-state, e.g. Israel, and are forced into the Dispersion, they, according to Sartre, lack a historical community and a historical past.[iii] And again, Sartre must account for these inconsistencies in his work, “Harold Rosenberg deplores the fact that Sartre has cut the Jews off from their past and he invites Sartre to ‘indicate at what point the Jews of former times had ceased to exist and a different Jew was born out of anti-Semitism’” (Rosenberg qtd. in Sungolowsky 70). Sartre refuses the Jewish people a positive definition, instead forcing them to be negatively defined by the Other.

Sartre’s blanket refusal to allow the Jewish people a historical community or common thread is implicitly anti-Semitic. Again, Sartre refuses the Jews the same freedom that any other religious, ethnocultural, or historical community has or deserves, which is to define itself. The presupposition that Sartre uses in Anti-Semite and Jew is an implicit anti-Semitic stance,

Sartre employs these distinctions in Anti-Semite and Jew: ‘Jew is one whom other men consider a Jew:  that is the simple truth from which we must start.’ He negates different possibilities for determining the Jew (religion, a historical community of memory, etc.) and claims that ‘if they have a common bond, if all of them deserve the name of Jew, it is because they have in common the situation of a Jew, that is, they live in a community which takes them for Jews.’ (Morris-Reich 105)

It seems odd to suggest that the Jews are Jews because they are in the Jewish situation. Sartre, for whom existence precedes essence[iv], makes a surprising claim. The essence of the Jewish people, while not determined by the Jews themselves, is determined by the Other; and this essence is predetermined by their situation, never by the Jews themselves. To claim that the “Jew is one whom other men consider a Jew” is to render the Jewish people nearly into objects, because they do not have the appropriate consciousness to determine for themselves their own identity. If the anti-Semite creates the Jew, the Jew can never create himself.

We have seen how Sartre defines both the Jew and the anti-Semite. The Jew is one determined from the outside by the Other’s imposing the Jewish situation onto him, while the anti-Semite is one who seeks to destroy the Jewish people at the expense of their Jewish situation. And yet, Sartre has implicitly fallen into another brand of anti-Semitism, namely a paternalistic and contemptuous anti-Semitism; he refuses to allow the Jews the power to determine for themselves an identity, even going so far as to deny the historicity of the Jewish people without accounting for the point in time that the Jews ceased being the Jews historically. If a self-proclaimed liberator of the Jews is implicitly anti-Semitic, what then results from his philosophy? It becomes inconsistent at points; but, even more so, it becomes dangerous to the targets of its liberation.

When the Other holds the power to define the Jew, the Jews are no longer their own consciousness. To this point, the Jews have become Sartre’s being-in-itself, the world, the objects of consciousness. When a people lose the ability to determine for themselves their own identity—the inherent Sartrean freedom for every consciousness, they become an object. And an object, for all Sartre’s concerns and exhortations to not destroy the Jewish people as such, does not hold a moral obligation from anybody. The in-itself embodiment is strictly an object of another’s consciousness. What greater anti-Semitism is there than to revert a group of people to mere objects–unable to determine their own identity? The Nazis did not see the Jews as people; the Jews were objects, toys; they were not sub-human, for there was nothing human about them. What is to prevent a majority (or even minority) from imposing the same restrictions that Sartre imposed on the Jews onto other ethnocultural groups? To limit it to the Jews seems arbitrary. In fact, Sartre does compare the Jews with all other groups when he explains that, as long as there are anti-Semites, there can be no assimilation of the Female, the Black, the Muslim, etc. If this condition were imposed from the outside by the Other onto the bourgeoisies or the Republicans or the land-owners—with nothing that the imposed upon can do to prevent it, what is to prevent these groups from being treated as mere objects, perhaps deserving of care and sympathy but no more? The implications of Sartre’s philosophy are startling when we keep in his mind his presupposition that the Jew is one defined as others by a Jew. If the same can be said of others, there is nothing to prevent others from suffering the same injustices as the Jews, except for a powerful pity and compassion. But where individuals are diminished to objects of consciousness, there is no moral imperative to treat them as human beings.


Morris-Reich, Amos. “The ‘Negative Jew’ and Individuality.” Jewish Quarterly Review 97.1 (2007):  100-127. Muse. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <;

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Anti-Semite and Jew. USA:  Shocken Books, Inc., 1948. Web. 143-153.

Sungolowsky, Joseph. “Criticism of Anti-Semite and Jew.” Yale French Studies 30 (1963):  68-72. JSTOR. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <;

[i] The “Other” is the collection of alien consciousnesses. The Other is each of the foreign consciousnesses, which also play an integral role in actively shaping the world; the Other is not being-in-itself but is being-for-itself, as experienced by other consciousnesses.

[ii] Although I disagree with this utilitarian rendering of the worth of humans, I will assume its veracity for the sake of Sartre’s argument. The trouble with this is that, whenever somebody ceases to become valuable toward the greatness of a society, that person may be eliminated, or killed. At what point does one determine when somebody is no longer useful? What happens when the government or the majority determines that a specific group of people, such as the Jews, are not only useless but actually a danger to the greatness of French society?

[iii] It would be interesting to see how Sartre’s conception of the Jew and anti-Semitism has changed since the creation of the Israel state. Since they have now determined for themselves an identity, are they a self-determining consciousness?

[iv] Simply meaning that an individual is not born into this world with a preconceived destiny or role; rather, they are born and then out of the empty canvass they choose how to live, their essence.


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The Moral Route and the Amoralist: An Exegesis of Bernard Williams’ “The Amoralist”

March 22, 2012 4 comments

Williams constructs a picture of a person who poses, perhaps, the greatest objection to the necessity of morality. The amoralist is a person who, despite acquiescing to the public’s claims of moral considerations, holds no such considerations himself. In other words, the foundational principles of morality, which guide—for the most part—the actions of others, do not have the same sway on the amoralist’s decisions. For example, an amoralist may choose not to lie, but he would not do so from a moral principle that defines lying as bad; rather, the amoralist would choose not to lie from self-interest or any other non-moral consideration. In short, Williams argues that an amoralist is one who is not bound by any sort of morality.

Williams uses the example of a stereotypical gangster to illustrate his point. This man “one might picture … as having some affections, occasionally caring for what happens to somebody else. … He is still recognizably amoral, in the sense that no general considerations weigh with him, and he is extremely short on fairness and similar considerations. Although he acts for other people from time to time, it all depends on how he happens to feel” (Williams 9). The gangster—the amoralist—is not convinced by the necessity of morality for humanity. He will argue that all morality is simply “social conditioning” and therefore invalid as sufficient for a general and obligating consideration (Williams 6).

However, even if we were to grant that all morality is simply social conditioning, Williams argues that this would not dismiss the relevance of morality to everyday living within society. Extending the amoralist’s claim, Williams claims that, if because of social conditioning he dismisses morality from relevance, then he must necessarily dismiss “his language, his methods of thought, his tastes, and even his emotions” (Williams 6, 7). He would be forced to dismiss these things necessarily, because they too would be derived from social conditioning. The amoralist must be consistent here if desires to be rational.

But, the amoralist would counter that there are more foundational, animalistic impulses that are self-interested contra other-centric values found in morality. Williams, though, finds these claims to be insufficient. For he questions why the Hobbesian State of Nature ought to be standard by which we judge “what men are really like,” if men are rarely placed into that position. Nevertheless, Williams finds that the amoralist’s impulses to be Hobbesian in nature, in the sense that they are interested in self-preservation and the preservation of others insofar as they suit his whims. (Williams 7)

Williams contrasts the amoralist, the one who is not bound by morality, with the psychopath. He defines the psychopath as the one who is unaffected by the sufferings or distresses of anybody other than himself. The fundamental difference between the psychopath and the amoralist is the ability and desire to care for somebody other than one’s self. Even if such a care is wholly self-interested and contingent on how one is feeling on a particular day, this fleeting feeling distinguishes the amoralist from the psychopath (Williams 8). And for this reason, Williams dismisses the psychopath as being a possible alternative to living a moral life. The psychopath merely “appalls” us, and he leads us to seek to understand why (Williams 9).

And so, having dismissed the psychopath from the conversation, Williams claims that the amoralist remains a viable opponent to moral living. Nonetheless, the amoralist is absolutely dependent on the moral systems already in place. In Williams’ word, the amoralist is a “parasite” on the moral framework (4). This parasite would be nonexistent and ineffective unless others were bound by a specific framework, around which he could maneuver and within which he could take refuge from being taken advantage of himself. The gangster illustration is apt here as well:  a gangster would find it much harder to exist in a Hobbesian reality; the gangster has certain rights secured to him, even if he were to be arrested—because he violated the laws, or the moral rules, of the state—because he lives within the social contract already established; and the gangster can operate with greater impunity because he knows that others do bind themselves to the moral considerations of society as a whole. And so, as the parasite is dependent upon another, the amoralist necessarily needs others to live morally so that he can live peacefully. However, Williams does not consider these worries to be particularly troubling for the amoralist, as society does not seem as if it will devolve into a State of Nature.

However, and into the mind of the amoralist we go, he faces a number of problems. First, according to Williams, what distinguishes the amoralist from the psychopath is the potential to care for other people, especially in their distress or their suffering (8). This potential is the springboard into moral thinking (10, 11). Once the amoralist begins to grant in his mind that “[t]hey (the others) need help,” then he may begin to think morally. As Williams explains, “This man is capable of thinking in terms of others’ interests, and his failure to be a moral agent lies (partly) in the fact that he is only intermittently and capriciously disposed to do so. But there is no bottomless gulf between this state and the basic dispositions of morality” (Williams 10). It is a short step between acknowledging that others have needs, desiring to help them, and morally considering their plight. Williams argues that, if we push the amoralist to at least imagine someone else’s plight, he may begin to consider and acknowledge their situation as something that exists apart from him and his interests. Upon this consideration and acknowledgment, “we extend his sympathies. And if we can get him to extend his sympathies to less immediate persons who need help, we might be able to do it for less immediate persons whose interests have been violated, and so get him to have some primitive grasp on notions of fairness” (Williams 10). Once this occurs, our amoralist will no longer be an amoralist.

A second problem facing the amoralist is that of universalization. The amoralist cannot, without forsaking his amoralism, think that it is okay, permitted, right, or proper, in a moral sense, for others to behave as he does. Once he approaches the arena of obligatory and permitted actions and calculating those within his mind, the amoralist has entered the realm of morality (Williams 3). And if he sees his amoralism as a courageous act and worthy of consideration, then the amoralist has undoubtedly placed himself firmly within the moral realm. As the amoralist’s reasons concerning the way he lives begin to develop into universal ought and ought nots, the amoralist has moved out of amoralism, for his particular considerations have evolved into general considerations for the way others ought or ought not live.

In universalization, the amoralist faces particularly difficult problems. The mental hoops through which the amoralist must jump, Williams suggests, are impossible to count. By extension of Williams’ argument, the amoralist may neither suggest nor accept that others’ ways of life are as good or acceptable as his own, for then he would approach cultural relativism, a moral position. Considering the mental tasks and fortitude required of an amoralist, it seems that he is at least a theoretical implausibility.

Williams seems to suggest throughout this article that an amoralist is theoretically possible but altogether practically impossible. He sets up a trichotomy between the psychopath, the amoralist, and the moralist. He points out that the difference between the psychopath and both the amoralist and moralist is the fact that the psychopath is unable and unwilling to care for another, even in periods of great suffering and distress. Nevertheless, the difference between the amoralist and the moralist is not so great as it may seem. Williams exaggerates the gap when he explains that it is not a bottomless gulf; in fact, the difference is quite small. Once the thought in the amoralist’s mind has shifted from I like this person and he is in trouble; so I should help them to This person is in trouble; so I should help them, the amoralist is on the slow, but steady, path to moralism. Williams claims that the man with “extended sympathies” to those outside of his “own immediate involvement” is clearly within the realm of morality (Williams 11). For Williams, the amoralist merely has to begin to consider the needs of those not immediately tied to him, whether societally, geophysically, or economically, and, when he has begun to consider those people, he approaches morality.


Williams, Bernard. Morality:  An Introduction to Ethics. New York:  Harper and Rowe, 1972. “The Amoralist.” 1-12. You may purchase the book cheaply here.


Do not attempt to copy this and use it as your own. It has been submitted into the TurnItIn Database, and I need not explain to you how foolish it is to steal a paper for an ethics course.

Julian Baggini on the foundation of morality for both the atheist and theist

March 9, 2012 4 comments

Anyone who thinks it’s easy to ground ethics either hasn’t done much moral philosophy or wasn’t concentrating when they did. Although morality is arguably just as murky for the religious, at least there is some bedrock belief that gives a reason to believe that morality is real and will prevail. In an atheist universe, morality can be rejected without external sanction at any point, and without a clear, compelling reason to believe in its reality, that’s exactly what will sometimes happen.

Julian Baggini

People currently awaiting the death penalty in Tennessee:

February 8, 2012 11 comments

As of 2/08/2012:

  1. John Bane
  2. Devin Banks*****
  3. Gdongalay Berry
  4. Byron Black
  5. Andre Bland
  6. Kevin Burns
  7. Tony Carruthers
  8. Preston Carter
  9. Walter Caruthers
  10. Ronnie Cauthern
  11. Tyrone Chalmers
  12. Gary Cone
  13. Jerry Davidson
  14. Lemaricus Davidson
  15. Christopher Davis
  16. James Dellinger
  17. Jessie Dotson
  18. David Duncan
  19. Robert Faulkner
  20. John Freeland
  21. Jon Hall
  22. Leroy Hall
  23. William Hall
  24. James Hawkins***
  25. Kennath Henderson
  26. John Henretta****
  27. H.R. Hester
  28. Anthony Hines
  29. Henry Hodges
  30. Michael Howell
  31. Stephen Hugueley
  32. Olen Hutchinson
  33. Billy Irick
  34. David Ivy
  35. Donnie Johnson
  36. Nickolus Johnson
  37. Henry Jones
  38. James Jones
  39. David Jordan
  40. David Keen
  41. Roy Keough
  42. Terry King
  43. Marlon Kiser
  44. Robert Leach
  45. Larry McKay
  46. David McNish
  47. Donald Middlebrooks
  48. David Miller
  49. Farris Morris
  50. Clarence Nesbitt
  51. Harold Nichols
  52. Richard Odom
  53. Pervis Payne
  54. Christa Pike*
  55. Sidney Porterfield
  56. Gerald Powers
  57. Corinio Pruitt
  58. Derrick Quintero
  59. Paul Reid
  60. Charles Rice
  61. Michael Rimmer
  62. Gregory Robinson
  63. William Rogers
  64. Steven Rollins
  65. Michael Sample
  66. Joel Schmeiderer
  67. Hubert Sexton
  68. Vincent Sims
  69. Oscar Smith
  70. Jonathan Stephenson
  71. William Stevens
  72. James Stout
  73. Donald Strouth**
  74. Dennis Stuttles
  75. Nicholas Sutton
  76. Gary Sutton
  77. Steven Thacker
  78. Andrew Thomas
  79. Gregory Thompson
  80. Heck Tran
  81. Stephen West
  82. Howard Willis
  83. Charles Wright
  84. Leonard Young
  85. Edmund Zagorski

* The only female.

Quick facts:

  • All but one of the convictions were Murder in the 1st Degree.
  • The only exception was Murder in Preparation of a Robbery.
  • 47/85 are White (non-Hispanic).
  • 35/85 are Black.
  • 1/85 is Hispanic.
  • 1/85 is Asian.
  • 1/85 is Indian.
  • ** The longest time on death row belongs to Donald Strouth, who has sat here since 9/4/78.
  • *** The shortest time on death row belongs to James Hawkins, who has sat here since 6/11/2011.
  • **** The eldest on death row is John Henretta, born 2/12/1943.
  • *****The youngest on death row is Devin Banks, born 8/2/1983.

This is not a political post. I want you to know that this is a group of 85 people who desperately need prayer, spiritual leadership, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are no better. It is but for the grace of God that we are not in prison, having been convicted to death for a crime we willingly committed. If the Spirit prompts you to pray for them, please do.

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