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If one always ought to act so as to produce the best
possible circumstances, then morality is extremely
demanding. No one could plausibly claim to have met the
requirements of this "simple principle." . . . It would
seem strange to punish those intending to do good by
sentencing them to an impossible task. Also, if the
standards of right conduct are as extreme as they seem,
then they will preclude the personal projects that humans
find most fulfilling.
From an analytic perspective, the potential extreme demands
of morality are not a "problem." A theory of morality is no
less valid simply because it asks great sacrifices. In
fact, it is difficult to imagine what kind of constraints
could be put on our ethical projects. Shouldn't we reflect
on our base prejudices, and not allow them to provide
boundaries for our moral reasoning? Thus, it is tempting to
simply dismiss the objections to the simple principle.
However, in Demands of Morality, Liam Murphy takes these
objections seriously for at least two distinct reasons.
First, discussion of the simple principle provides an
excellent vehicle for a discussion of morality in general.
Perhaps, in a way, this is Murphy's attempt at doing
philosophy "from the inside out.". . . Second, Murphy's
starting point tells us about the nature of his project.
Murphy must take seriously the collisions between moral
philosophy and our intuitive sense of right and wrong. He
[must do so] because his work is best interpreted as
intended to forge moral principles from our firm beliefs,
and not to proscribe beliefs given a set of moral
[Murphy] argues from our considered judgments rather than
to them. . . For example, Murphy cites our "simple but
firmly held" beliefs as supporting the potency of the over-
demandingness objection, and nowhere in the work can one
find a source of moral values divorced from human
Murphy does not tell us what set of "firm beliefs" we ought
to have. Rather, he speaks to an audience of well-
intentioned but unorganized moral realists, and tries to
give them principles that represent their considered moral
judgments. Murphy starts with this base sense of right and
wrong, but recognizes that it needs to be supplemented by
reason where our intuitions are confused or conflicting.
Perhaps Murphy is looking for the best interpretation of
our convictions, the same way certain legal scholars try to
find the best interpretation of our Constitution.
This approach has disadvantages. Primarily, Murphy's
arguments, even if successful, do not provide the kind of
motivating force for which moral philosophy has
traditionally searched. His work assumes and argues in
terms of an inner sense of morality, and his project seeks
to deepen that sense. Of course, it is quite possible that
the moral viewpoints of humans will not converge, and some
humans have no moral sense at all. Thus, it is very easy
for the moral skeptic to point out a lack of justification
and ignore the entire work.
On the other hand, Murphy's choice of a starting point
avoids many of the problems of moral philosophy. Justifying
the content of moral principles and granting a motivating
force to those principles is an extraordinary task. It
would be unrealistic to expect all discussions of moral
philosophy to derive such justifications. Projects that
attempt such a derivation have value, but they are hard
pressed to produce logical consequences for everyday life.
In the end, Murphy's strategy may have more practical
effect than its first-principle counterparts, which do not
seem any more likely to convince those that would reject
1) The author suggests that the application of
Murphy's philosophy to the situations of two different
a) would help to solve the problems of one group but
not of the other.
b) could result in the derivation of two radically
different moral principles.
c) would be contingent on the two groups sharing the
same fundamental beliefs.
d) could reconcile any differences between the two
2) Suppose an individual who firmly believes in
keeping promises has promised to return a weapon to a
person she knows to be extremely dangerous. According to
Murphy, which of the following, if true, would WEAKEN the
notion that she should return the weapon?
a) She also firmly believes that it is morally wrong
to assist in any way in a potentially violent act.
b) She believes herself to be well-intentioned in
matters of right and wrong.
c) The belief that one should keep promises is shared
by most members of her community.
d) She derived her moral beliefs from first-principle
3) The passage implies that a moral principle derived
from applying Murphy's philosophy to a particular group
would be applicable to another group if:
a) the first group recommended the principle to the
b) the moral viewpoints of the two groups do not
c) the members of the second group have no firmly held
d) the second group shares the same fundamental
beliefs as the first group.
4) According to the passage, the existence of
individuals who entirely lack a moral sense:
a) confirms the notion that moral principles should be
derived from the considered judgments of individuals.
b) suggests a potential disadvantage of Murphy's
c) supports Murphy's belief that reason is necessary
in cases in which intuitions are conflicting or confused.
d) proves that first-principle strategies of ethical
theorizing will have no more influence over the behavior of
individuals than will Murphy's philosophical approach.
5) Which of the following can be inferred about "doing
philosophy from the inside out?"
a) Murphy was the first philosopher to employ such an
b) It allows no place for rational argument in the
formation of ethical principles.
c) It is fundamentally different from the practice of
d) It is designed to dismiss objections to the "simple
6) A school board is debating whether or not to
institute a dress code for the school's students. According
to Murphy, the best way to come to an ethical decision
would be to:
a) consult the fundamental beliefs of the board
b) analyze the results of dress codes instituted at
c) survey the students as to whether or not they would
prefer a dress code.
d) determine whether or note a dress code has ever
been instituted in the school's history.