78 Improved Sentences and Short Passages

Here are 78 examples of how I've improved the writing in chapters 9-13 of The Elements of Moral Philosophy. I'll give you the fifth edition (5/e) versions followed by the sixth edition (6/e) versions.


Examples from Chapter 9, "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?"

"The idea that moral rules hold without exception is hard to defend. It is easy enough to explain why we should make an exception to a rule--we can simply point out that, in some circumstances, following the rule would have terrible consequences." (5/e, 120)
"It is easy enough to explain why we should break a rule--we can simply point to cases in which following the rule would have terrible consequences. But how can we defend not breaking the rule in such cases?" (6/e, 127)

"They merely require us to adopt the means necessary to achieve the ends we seek." (5/e, 121)
"They merely require us to do what is necessary to achieve our goals." (6/e, 128)

"How can we be obligated to behave in a certain way regardless of the ends we wish to achieve? Much of Kant's moral philosophy is an attempt to explain how this is possible." (5/e, 121)
"How can we be obligated to behave in a certain way regardless of our goals? Kant has an answer." (6/e, 128)

"This principle summarizes a procedure for deciding whether an act is morally permissible. When you are contemplating doing a particular action, you have to ask what rule you would be following if you were to do that action. (This will be the 'maxim' of the act.)" (5/e, 121-122)
"This principle provides a way to tell whether an act is morally permissible. When you are thinking about doing something, ask what rule you would be following if you actually did it. This rule will be the 'maxim' of your act." (6/e, 128)

This is a continuation of the above passage:
"Then you have to ask whether you would be willing for that rule to be followed by all people at all times. (That would make it a 'universal law' in the relevant sense.) If so, the rule may be followed, and the act is permissible. However, if you would not be willing for everyone to follow the rule, then you may not follow it, and the act is morally impermissible." (5/e, 122)
"Then ask whether you would be willing for your maxim to become a universal law. In other words, would you allow your rule to be followed by all people at all times? If so, then your maxim is sound, and your act is acceptable. But if not, then your act is forbidden." (6/e, 128-129)

"Suppose, he says, a man needs to borrow money, and he knows that no one will lend it to him unless he promises to repay. But he also knows that he will be unable to repay. He therefore faces this problem: Should he promise to repay the debt, knowing that he cannot do so, in order to persuade someone to make the loan?" (5/e, 122)
"Suppose, he says, a man needs money, but no one will lend it to him unless he promises to pay it back--which he knows he won't be able to do. Should he make a false promise to get the loan?" (6/e, 129)

This is a continuation of the previous passage:
"If he were to do that, the 'maxim of the act' (the rule he would be following) would be: Whenever you need a loan, promise to repay it, regardless of whether you believe you actually can repay it." (5/e, 122)
"If he did, his maxim would be: Whenever you need a loan, promise to repay it, even if you know you can't." (6/e, 129)

"Another of Kant's examples has to do with giving aid. Suppose, he says, someone refuses to help others in need, saying to himself, 'What concern of mine is it? Let each one be happy as heaven wills, or as he can make himself, I will not take anything from him or even envy him; but to his welfare or to his assistance in time of need I have no desire to contribute.'" (5/e, 122)
"Kant gives another example, about giving aid. Suppose, he says, I refuse to help others in need, saying to myself, 'What do I care? Let each person fend for himself.'" (6/e, 129)

"For at some time in the future, this man will himself be in need of assistance from others, and he would not want others to be so indifferent to him." (5/e, 122)
"For at some time in the future, I myself will need the help of others, and I will not want them to turn away." (6/e, 129)

"Kant thought that the rule against lying was one such rule. Of course, this is not the only absolute rule Kant defended--he thought there are many others; morality is full of them. But it will be useful to focus on the rule against lying as a convenient example. Kant devoted considerable space to discussing this rule, and it is clear that he felt especially strongly about it." (5/e, 122-123)
"Kant believed that there are many [absolute] rules. However, it will be useful for us to focus on the rule against lying. Kant had especially strong feelings on the topic." (6/e, 129)

The following sentence introduces Kant's main argument against lying: "His primary reason for thinking that lying is always wrong was that the prohibition of lying follows straightaway from the Categorical Imperative." (5/e, 123)
"His main argument relies on the Categorical Imperative." (6/e, 129)

"In this case, most of us would think it is obvious that we should lie." (5/e, 124)
"Under these circumstances, most of us think you should lie." (6/e, 130)

"During World War II, Dutch fishermen smuggled Jewish refugees to England in their boats, and the fishing boats with refugees in the hold would sometimes be stopped by Nazi patrol boats." (5/e, 126)
"During World War II, Dutch fishermen smuggled Jewish refugees to England in their boats, and sometimes they would be stopped by Nazi patrols." (6/e, 132)

"Harry Truman, too, would no doubt have agreed that anyone else in his particular circumstances would have good reason to drop the bomb." (5/e, 128)
"President Truman could also say that anyone in his position would have been justified in dropping the bomb." (6/e, 135)

"One might say, instead, that Truman was wrong because other options available to him would have had better consequences--many people have argued, for example, that he should have negotiated an end to the war on terms that the Japanese could have accepted. But saying that negotiating would have been better, because of its consequences, is very different from saying that Truman's actual course violated an absolute rule." (5/e, 128-129)
"One might say, instead, that Truman was wrong because he had better options. Perhaps he should have tried negotiating with the Japanese before dropping the bomb. Saying that, however, is very different from saying that what Truman did violated an absolute rule." (6/e, 135)

Examples from Chapter 10, "Kant and Respect for Persons"

"Kant does believe that it is wrong to torture animals, but the reason is not that they would be hurt; the reason is that humans might suffer indirectly as a result of it, because 'he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.'" (5/e, 130)
"Kant did condemn the torture of animals, but not because the animals would be hurt. He worried, rather, about us: 'he who is cruel to animals also becomes hard in his dealings with men.'" (6/e, 136)

"But Kant's idea also has a deeper implication. The beings we are talking about are rational beings, and 'treating them as ends-in-themselves' means respecting their rationality."(5/e, 132)
"But Kant's idea also has a deeper implication. To treat people as ends requires treating them with respect." (6/e, 138)

"Kant's conception of human dignity is not easy to grasp; it is probably the most difficult notion discussed in this book. We need to find a way to make the idea clearer. In order to do that, we will consider in some detail one of its most important applications. Kant believed that if we take the idea of human dignity seriously, we will be able to understand the practice of criminal punishment in a new and revealing way. The rest of this chapter is devoted to this example." (5/e, 133)
"Kant's ethical system is not easy to grasp. To understand it better, let's consider how Kant applied his ideas to the practice of criminal punishment. The rest of this chapter is devoted to that example." (6/e, 139)

"Kant, who was a retributivist, was aware of this implication and openly embraced it." (5/e, 133)
"Kant, a retributivist, openly embraced this implication of his view." (6/e, 139)

"In other words, [punishment] can be justified only if it will have positive results that, on balance, outweigh the evil done." (5/e, 134)
"In other words, punishment can be justified only if it does enough good to outweigh the bad." (6/e, 140)

"Third, the practice of punishment helps to reduce crime by deterring would-be criminals." (5/e, 134)
"Third, punishment reduces crime by deterring would-be criminals." (6/e, 140)

"If a person is breaking society's rules, he is a danger to society and may first be imprisoned to remove the danger. But while he is behind bars, his problems should be addressed ..." (5/e, 135)
"If someone is committing crimes, we may imprison him because he is dangerous. But while he is behind bars, his problems should be addressed ..." (6/e, 141)

"Moreover, the aim of 'rehabilitation,' although it sounds noble enough, is actually no more than the attempt to mold people into what we think they should be." (5/e, 136)
"Moreover, rehabilitation is really just the attempt to mold people into what we want them to be." (6/e, 142)

"This second principle leads Kant inevitably to endorse capital punishment; for in response to murder, only death is a sufficiently stern penalty." (5/e, 137)
"Kant's second principle leads him to endorse capital punishment; for in response to murder, only death is appropriate." (6/e, 143) [By the way, it was false to say that Kant's moral philosophy "inevitably" led him to endorse capital punishment; Kant might have opposed the death penalty for fear that it would be used against innocent people.]

"Kant's two principles do not constitute an argument in favor of punishment or a justification of it. They merely describe limits on what punishment can justly involve: Only the guilty may be punished, and the injury done to the person punished must be comparable to the injury he has inflicted on others." (5/e, 137-138)
"Kant's two principles describe a general theory of punishment: Wrongdoers must be punished, and the punishment must fit the crime." (6/e, 143)

"What does it mean to treat someone as a rational being? ...[paragraph break] We need to bear in mind the difference between treating someone as a responsible being and treating someone as a being who is not responsible for his conduct." (5/e, 138)
"What does it mean to be a responsible being? [paragraph break] Consider, first, what it means not to be such a being." (6/e, 144)

"We are allowing him to decide how he is to be treated, and so we are, in a perfectly clear sense, respecting his judgment, by allowing it to control our treatment of him." (5/e, 139)
"We are, in a perfectly clear sense, respecting his judgment, by allowing it to control how we treat him." (6/e, 145)

Examples from Chapter 11, "Feminism and the Ethics of Care"

"The idea that women and men think differently has traditionally been used to justify subjugating one to the other." (5/e, 160)
"The idea that women and men think differently has traditionally been used to justify discrimination against women." (6/e, 146)

"Against this background, it is not surprising that the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s rejected the idea of psychological differences between women and men." (5/e, 160)
"Against this background, it is not surprising that the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s denied that women and men differ psychologically." (6/e, 146)

"More recently, however, feminist thinkers have reconsidered the matter, and some have concluded that women do indeed think differently than men." (5/e, 160)
"These days, however, most feminists believe that women do think differently than men." (6/e, 146)

"[Kohlberg's] humanistic, cognitively oriented project showed a different way of pursuing psychological investigations." (5/e, 163)
"Kohlberg's humanistic, cognitive approach pursued knowledge in a more appealing way." (6/e, 149)

"But why should we make any such assumption?" (5/e, 164)
"But why should we assume that?" (6/e, 149)

"Women traditionally have been responsible for maintaining the home and raising the children; even if this is nothing but a sexist outrage, the fact remains that women have occupied this role. It is easy to see how being assigned to such duties and coming to understand this as 'one's place' could induce one to adopt the values that go with it." (5/e, 165-166)
"Traditionally, women have been expected to do the housework and take care of the children; even if this expectation is sexist, the fact remains that women often stay home and raise the kids. It is easy to see how taking care of a family could lead one to adopt an ethic of care." (6/e, 151)

"Not all women philosophers have been self-consciously feminist; nor have all feminists embraced the ethics of care." (5/e, 167)
"Not all female philosophers are feminists, and not all feminists embrace the ethics of care." (6/e, 152)

"By contributing to their work, we could prevent many of these deaths." (5/e, 168)
"By contributing to their work, we could save many lives." (6/e, 153)

"Almost all of us have resources that we waste on relatively trivial things--we buy fancy clothes, carpets, and television sets." (5/e, 168) [Note how old-fashioned this list is.]
"Almost all of us spend money on luxuries." (6/e, 153)

"If we take this approach, we may interpret the ethics of care as a supplement to traditional theories of obligation rather than as a replacement for them." (5/e, 169)
"If we take this approach, we may interpret the ethics of care as supplementing traditional theories rather than replacing them." (6/e, 154)

"Noddings observes that because we are human, our emotional responses to other humans are different from our responses to nonhumans." (5/e, 170)
"Noddings observes that our emotional responses to humans are different from our responses to animals." (6/e, 155)

"Men dominate public life, and in politics and business, one's relations with other people are often impersonal and contractual. Sometimes the relationship is adversarial--others have interests that conflict with our own." (5/e, 171)
"Historically, men have dominated public life, where relationships are often impersonal and contractual. In politics and business, relationships can even be adversarial when interests collide." (6/e, 156)

"A moral theory that accounted for women's concerns would look very different." (5/e, 171)
"A moral theory tailored to women's concerns would look very different." (6/e, 156)

"To be loving, loyal, and dependable is to be a certain kind of person, and neither as a parent nor as a friend is it the kind of person who impartially "'does his duty.'" (5/e, 171)
"To be loving, loyal, and dependable is to be a certain kind of person, which is very different from impartially 'doing your duty.'" (6/e, 156)

Examples from Chapter 12, "The Ethics of Virtue"

"With the coming of Christianity a new set of ideas was introduced." (5/e, 173)
"With the coming of Christianity, a new set of ideas emerged." (6/e, 158)

"The Greeks had viewed reason as the source of practical wisdom--the virtuous life was, for them, inseparable from the life of reason." (5/e, 173)
"For the Greeks, the life of virtue was inseparable from the life of reason." (6/e, 158)

"They have argued that modern moral philosophy is bankrupt and that, in order to salvage the subject, we should return to Aristotle's way of thinking." (5/e, 174)
"Moral philosophy, they say, is bankrupt, and we should return to Aristotle's way of thinking." (6/e, 159)

"This idea was put forth in 1958 when Elizabeth Anscombe published an article called 'Modern Moral Philosophy' in the academic journal Philosophy. (5/e, 174-175)
"This idea was suggested fifty years ago by Elizabeth Anscombe in her article, "Modern Moral Philosophy." (6/e, 159)

"We should be as generous with our resources as is consistent with conducting our ordinary lives in a minimally satisfying way." (5/e, 178)
"We should be as generous with our resources as we can be while still carrying on our normal lives." (6/e, 163)

"Some people's 'ordinary lives' are quite extravagant--think of a rich person whose everyday life includes luxuries without which she would feel deprived." (5/e, 178)
"Some people's 'normal lives' are quite extravagant--think of a rich person who has grown accustomed to great luxuries." (6/e, 163)

"To make this a 'reasonable' interpretation of the demands of generosity, we need a conception of ordinary life that is itself not too extravagant." (5/e, 178)
"To make this interpretation of generosity 'reasonable,' we need a conception of normal life that is not too extravagant." (6/e, 163)

"There is no obvious reason why the first view must be accepted. On the contrary, there is reason to favor the second. To see why, we need only consider why lying is a bad thing in the first place. The explanation might go like this:" (5/e, 179)
"Why must we accept the first view? There is, in fact, good reason to favor the second. Consider why lying is a bad thing:" (6/e, 163)

"It seems natural to think that they forfeited any right they had to the truth from him when they set out to persecute him unjustly." (5/e, 180)
"... they had forfeited their right to his honesty when they set out to persecute him unjustly." (6/e, 164)

"Friends can be counted on. They stick by one another even when things are going badly and even when, objectively speaking, the friend might deserve to be abandoned." (5/e, 181)
"Friends can be counted on. You stick by your friends even when things are going badly and even when, objectively speaking, you should abandon them." (6/e, 165)

"The answer, of course, may vary depending on the particular virtue in question." (5/e, 182)
"The answer may depend on the virtue in question." (6/e, 165)

"However, Aristotle believed that it is possible to give a more general answer to our question ..." (5/e, 182)
"However, Aristotle offered a general answer to our question ..." (6/e, 166)

"Other virtues may be necessary for successfully doing that job or pursuing those interests--for example, perseverance and industriousness." (5/e, 182)
"Those activities might call for other virtues, such as perseverance and industriousness." (6/e, 166)

"But it cannot be right to say simply that whether any particular character trait is a virtue is never anything more than a matter of social convention." (5/e, 184)
"But it cannot be right to say that social customs determine whether any particular character trait is a virtue." (6/e, 168)

"Why do some philosophers believe that an emphasis on the virtues is superior to other ways of thinking about ethics? A number of reasons have been suggested. Here are two of the most important." (5/e, 184)
"Virtue Theory is often said to have two advantages over other theories." (6/e, 168)

"Therefore, the argument goes, theories of ethics that emphasize only right action will never provide a completely satisfactory account of the moral life." (5/e, 185)
"Therefore, the argument goes, theories that focus on right action cannot provide a completely satisfactory account of the moral life." (6/e, 168-169)

"It may be doubted, though, whether impartiality is really such an important feature of the moral life." (5/e, 186)
"It may be doubted, though, whether impartiality is really such a noble ideal." (6/e, 169)

"Some virtues are partial and some are not. Love and friendship involve partiality toward loved ones and friends; beneficence toward people in general is also a virtue, but it is a virtue of a different kind." (5/e, 186)
"Some virtues are partial and some are not. Loyalty involves partiality toward loved ones and friends; beneficence involves equal regard for everyone." (6/e, 169)

"I can see no reason why this is not possible." (5/e, 190)
"I don't see why not." (6/e, 172)

"We could then go on to consider both the question of what sorts of actions and social policies would contribute to this goal and the question of what qualities of character would be needed to create and sustain individual lives. An inquiry into the nature of virtue could profitably be conducted from within the perspective that such a larger view would provide." (5/e, 190) Yuck!
"We could then ask which actions, which social policies, and which qualities of character would most likely lead to that result. An inquiry into the nature of virtue could then be conducted from within that larger framework." (6/e, 172)

Examples from Chapter 13, "What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?"

"A satisfactory theory would, first of all, be sensitive to the facts about human nature, and it would be appropriately modest about the place of human beings in the scheme of things." (5/e, 191-192)
"A satisfactory theory would be realistic about where human beings fit in the grand scheme of things." (6/e, 173)

"Thus, we take the fact that an action would help satisfy our desires, needs, and so on--in short, the fact that an action would promote our interests--as a reason in favor of doing it." (5/e, 192-193)
"Thus, if an action would help satisfy our desires, needs, and so on--in short, if it would promote our interests--then we take that as a reason to do it." (6/e, 174)

"Like the lower animals, we would act from impulse or habit, or as Immanuel Kant put it, from 'inclination.'" (5/e, 193)
"Like the other animals, we would act from instinct or habit." (6/e, 174)

"One way of being inconsistent is to accept a fact as a reason on one occasion, while refusing to accept a similar fact as a reason on another occasion, even though there is no difference between the two occasions that would justify distinguishing them. (At the end of Chapter 8, I referred to this as 'Kant's basic idea.') This happens when one unjustifiably places the interests of one's own race or social group above the comparable interests of other races and social groups." (5/e, 193)
"One way of being inconsistent is to accept a fact as a reason on one occasion but to reject it as a reason on a similar occasion. This happens when one places the interests of one's own race above the interests of other races, despite the absence of any reason to do so." (6/e, 175)

"If we are to flourish, we need to obtain the good treatment of others." (5/e, 195)
"If we are to flourish, we need others to treat us well." (6/e, 176)

"We might imagine a system in which the only way for a person to ensure good treatment by others is somehow to coerce that treatment from them, or we might imagine that good treatment always comes as charity." (6/e, 195)
"We might imagine a system in which a person can get good treatment only by force, or by luck, or as a matter of charity." (6/e, 176)

"There are, of course, many other valuable sorts of motives that come into play as people go about their lives:" (5/e, 196)
"Of course, people may have many other valuable motives:" (6/e, 177)

"The desire to create, pride in doing one's job well, and other such motives contribute both to personal happiness (think of the joy of having created something beautiful or the satisfaction of having done a job well) and to the general welfare (think how much worse off we would be without music and good teachers)." (5/e, 196)
"Taking pride in one's job, wanting to create something of value, and many other noble intentions contribute to both personal happiness and the general welfare." (6/e, 177)

"And then I noted that there are other morally important motives that apparently have nothing to do with the impartial promotion of interests." (5/e, 197)
"And then I discussed some morally important motives that seem unrelated to the impartial promotion of interests." (6/e, 177-178)

"But this does not mean that we should always be motivated by that standard in the ordinary course of our lives." (5/e, 197)
"But this does not mean that we should always think in terms of making people as happy as possible." (6/e, 178)

"Suppose we had a fully specified list of the virtues, motives, and methods of decision making that would characterize a person whose life is both satisfying to himself or herself and contributes positively to the welfare of others." (5/e, 198)
"Suppose we had a fully specified list of the virtues, motives, and methods of decision-making that would enable a person to be happy and to contribute positively to the welfare of others." (6/e, 179)

"Humans, as we have noted, are only one of the species that inhabit this planet." (5/e, 200-201)
"Humans are not alone on this planet." (6/e, 181)

"Classical Utilitarianism was criticized for failing to account for the values of justice and fairness." (5/e, 201)
"Utilitarianism has been criticized as unfair and unjust." (6/e, 181)

"This is blatantly unjust, yet taking the Principle of Utility as our ultimate standard, it is hard to explain why it is wrong." (5/e, 201)
"This is blatantly unjust, yet the Principle of Utility seems to endorse it." (6/e, 182)

"If a policy of treating people as they deserve is justified by the general utilitarian standard, this may permit a somewhat different view of punishment than utilitarians have customarily taken. (In fact, the resulting view of punishment will be close to Kant's.)" (5/e, 201)
"However, our theory takes a different view of punishment than utilitarians have usually taken. In fact, our view of punishment is close to Kant's." (6/e, 182)

"... the innocent person has not done anything to deserve being singled out for such treatment." (5/e, 201)
"... the innocent person has done nothing to deserve such treatment." (6/e, 182)

"A just society, according to our conception, would be one in which people may improve their positions through work (with the opportunity for work available to everyone), but they would not enjoy superior positions simply because they were born lucky." (5/e, 202)
"In a just society, people could improve their circumstances through hard work, but they would not benefit from a lucky birth." (6/e, 183)