Changes in the new edition, chapters 6-8


Here is a detailed description of changes I made in the sixth edition of The Elements of Moral Philosophy. In what follows, "5/e" = fifth edition; "6/e" = sixth edition; "Jim" = James Rachels; and "we" = Stuart Rachels and James Rachels.


Chapter 6, "The Idea of a Social Contract"


This chapter felt wordy. The new version is 1,298 words shorter.

In earlier editions, this chapter came later. However, the main version of the Social Contract Theory is egoistic ("the moral rules are justified because it is in your interest to agree to them"). So, I put this chapter after the chapter on egoism.

In 5/e we said, "Suppose we take away all the traditional props for morality. ...suppose that there are no 'moral facts' built into the nature of things." (141) This is a poor use of the phrase, "moral facts." If I suppose there are no moral facts, then I am supposing that nihilism is true--but this is not what Jim wanted me to suppose. So I now say, "suppose that no 'natural purposes' are built into the nature of things." That is the real point of the supposition: to reject Natural Law, not moral facts. (6/e, 80)

Hobbes's "four basic facts about human life" have been rewritten so that each fact comes immediately after the corresponding bullet-point. For example, the fourth bullet-point now begins, "Finally, there is limited altruism." (6/e, 81) In 5/e, the phrase "limited altruism" doesn't occur until the third sentence. (5/e, 143)

When governments collapse and laws are not enforced, people "hoard food, arm themselves, and lock out their neighbors." In 5/e we said that countries behave in the same way when international law is weak: "they are constantly at one another's throats, armed and distrustful." (5/e, 143) In 6/e, I made the description of how countries behave parallel to the description of how individuals behave. Individuals "hoard food, arm themselves, and lock out their neighbors;" countries "guard their borders, build up their armies, and feed their own people first." (6/e, 82)

The last full paragraph on p. 143 was an orgy of verbiage. The new version is 85 words shorter. (5/e, 143; compare 6/e, 82, second full paragraph) Also, the next few paragraphs have been simplified and rewritten. (5/e, 143-144; compare 6/e, 82-83) I now distinguish between social rules' being enforced by law and enforced by "the court of public opinion." (6/e, 82)

Rousseau says that a civilized person may listen to his "voice of duty" which "requires him to set aside his private, self-centered 'inclinations' in favor of rules that impartially promote the welfare of everyone alike." (5/e, 145) This makes Rousseau sound like a utilitarian--which is confusing in the middle of a chapter about the Social Contract Theory. So, I now say that the voice of duty "requires him to set aside his self-centered designs in favor of rules that benefit everyone." (6/e, 83) This sounds more like the contract theory.

In 5/e, we described the Prisoner's Dilemma as "a paradoxical situation." (5/e, 147) But it is not a paradox. Paradoxes involve contradictions; the Prisoner's Dilemma does not. So I now say: "It's a curious situation: Since you and Smith both act selfishly, you both wind up worse off." (6/e, 85)

The subsection, "Morality as the Solution to a Prisoner's-Dilemma-Type Problem" has been more accurately renamed, "Morality as the Solution to Prisoner's-Dilemma-Type Problems." (5/e, 147; 6/e, 85) I deleted the two indented criteria for the presence of a PD-type situation--they were unnecessary, abstract, and pedantic. (5/e, 147) I now go straight into discussing the two strategies of living: acting in one's own interests and cooperating with others. I now call the former "acting selfishly" instead of "acting egoistically." (6/e, 85) "Selfish" is a word that students will immediately grasp; "egoistic" is a word that philosophers will immediately grasp.

In "Some Advantages of the Social Contract Theory," the second question was, "Why is it reasonable for us to follow the moral rules?" (5/e, 150) I changed "reasonable" to "rational" because 'rational' sounds more like a social-contract-theory kind of word. More importantly, I've rewritten the contract theorist's answer to this question. (6/e, 87-88)

The third question is, "Under what circumstances is it rational to break the rules?" The contract theorist's answer is that you can break the rules when others have done so. In 5/e, I mention a complication: what if someone breaks the rules in his dealings with you, but in general he upholds the rules? Must you follow the rules in your dealings with him? (5/e, 150) I now omit that complication. Not every thought in my head belongs in the book.

How much can morality demand of us? We ask: should a contract theorist accept the rule, "If you can save many lives by sacrificing your own life, then you must do so"? (6/e, 89) I deleted a difficult paragraph arguing that, while it might be rational to agree to such a rule, it would be irrational to act on it. (5/e, 151-152) But I kept (and improved) the paragraph arguing that it would be foolish to accept such a rule, because others will not keep their end of the bargain. Few people will sacrifice their lives for others, even if they promised they would do so.

In 6.4, "The Problem of Civil Disobedience," I now give examples of civil disobedience: Gandhi's march to the sea in India in 1930 and Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of the bus in Alabama in 1955. (6/e, 90) Jim probably felt it was unnecessary to give examples, because he lived through the Civil Rights era--indeed, he participated in a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter in Georgia. But times have changed. Someone born in the 1990s might not know what civil disobedience is. Jim also forgot his audience when he wrote, "it takes great effort to recall how controversial [King's] strategy of civil disobedience was [at the time]." (5/e, 153) Only people who were alive in the 1960s have any hope of "recalling" how controversial King's strategy was. For a moment, Jim was writing to people his own age.

In 4/e, Jim said that the Social Contract Theory has no need for "objective moral facts." (4/e, 152) I explained why I disagree with this in 5/e. (155-156) However, that discussion--an abstract foray into metaethics--was more for the professors who had taught 4/e than for their students. In 6/e, I eliminated it (it would have been on p. 93).

In 5/e, we discussed two objections to the Social Contract Theory. The first we deemed inconclusive; the second, decisive. (5/e, 156-159) In 6/e, I say that the first objection refutes one version of the theory, and the second objection refutes another version. (6/e, 93-96) Previously, we did not distinguish different versions of the Social Contract Theory.

The first objection is that the theory is based on a fiction: nobody, in fact, ever agreed to the contract, so we cannot be bound by it. In response, one might say that we implicitly agreed to the contract by accepting the benefits of social living. In 5/e, I said, "it is not clear how effective this response is." (5/e, 158) In 6/e, I say that the response fails. In explaining why it fails, I include a great passage from David Hume. (6/e, 94) Thus, the first objection appears decisive.

However, this objection doesn't refute every version of the Social Contract Theory. It refutes only the version that bases morality on the fact that people have promised to abide by certain rules. Instead, the theory might be based on self-interest: the moral rules are valid because people are better off when those rules are followed. (6/e, 94-95) This makes the Social Contract Theory a working-out of Ethical Egoism--much like "Ethical Egoism as Compatible with Commonsense Morality," discussed in the previous chapter. (6/e, 73) I don't mention this last point in the book, because the book is written so that the chapters are independent of one another.

The egoistic version of the theory falls to a different objection: Some individuals cannot benefit us. Therefore, we can ignore their interests and do horrible things to them. I discuss four groups whom we could trample upon: human infants, nonhuman animals, future generations, and oppressed populations. (6/e, 95) If the Social Contract Theory implies that we may torture stray cats and abandoned children, then the theory is false.

(Jan Narveson has tried to defend the theory's indifference to children by saying that infanticide is not obviously wrong. But egoism does not merely condone killing infants--it condones torturing them for fun. Narveson does not mention that implication.)

I did not include the mentally handicapped on my list of "vulnerable groups" because they might be protected: since each of us might, through accident or disease, become mentally handicapped one day, we should agree to rules protecting the handicapped. Another vulnerable group would be persons with severe genetic impairments, visible at birth. Self-interest would not impel us to protect them, since we will never have what ails them. However, I did not include this idea in the book.

I am sometimes asked why I don't discuss Rawls in the Social Contract chapter. There are four reasons: (i) Rawls' theory concerns only the structure of the basic institutions in society; it is not a general moral theory. (ii) Rawlsian contractualism is so different from traditional contract theories that it might not belong in the same chapter. (iii) Rawls' theory may be too abstract for introductory ethics classes. (iv) I do not see, even dimly, how Rawls gets from the original position to his two principles of justice. He often refers to a "derivation," but I can't figure out how it goes.


Chapter 7, "The Utilitarian Approach"


I deleted the first paragraph, which began, "Philosophers like to think their ideas can change the world. Usually, it is a vain hope." (5/e, 89) This paragraph, I felt, would not interest first-year students. The second paragraph--about the big changes that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries--seemed like a better lead-in.

I got rid of the indented passage in which Bentham defines Utilitarianism. (5/e, 90; compare 6/e, 97-98) Bentham's prose is turgid, and the quote was unnecessary.

Jim wrote, "In his little book Utilitarianism (1861), Mill presents the main idea of the theory in the following way: First, he says, we should envision a certain state of affairs that we would like to see come about--a state of affairs in which all people are as happy and well off as they can be." (5/e, 90) Where in Utilitarianism does Mill ask us to envision this? Nowhere, as far as I can tell. And Jim gave no reference. So I got rid of this claim.

Previously, we talked about the euthanasia of Matthew Donnelly:

"Matthew Donnelly was a physicist who had worked with X-rays for 30 years. Perhaps as a result of too much exposure, he contracted cancer and lost part of his jaw, his upper lip, his nose, and his left hand, as well as two fingers from his right hand. He was also left blind. Donnelly's physicians told him that he had about a year to live, but he decided that he did not want to go on living in such a state. He was in constant pain. One writer said that 'at its worst, he could be seen lying in bed with teeth clinched [sic] and beads of perspiration standing out on his forehead.' Knowing that he was going to die anyway, and wanting to escape this misery, Donnelly begged his three brothers to kill him. Two refused, but one did not. The youngest brother, 36-year-old Harold Donnelly, carried a .30-caliber pistol into the hospital and shot Matthew to death." (5/e, 91)

Very compelling. But fictitious. My father did not know this, since he said: "This, unfortunately, is a true story ..." (5/e, 92) In 2006, I asked on my website whether anyone knew what became of Harold Donnelly's legal case. Professor Lance Basting was good enough to ask Robert Veatch, who described the Donnelly case in his book Case Studies in Medical Ethics (1977). Professor Veatch said that he constructed the Donnelly case by combining two real events. In one, Lester Zygmaniak shot his brother George, who was paralyzed but wasn't dying and didn't have chronic pain. The other case--which might have been suitable for the book--was never made public, so I don't know the details.

I replaced the Donnelly example with the story of how Sigmund Freud died. (6/e, 98-99) Freud was euthanized, and it is hard to imagine anyone calling it murder. Freud was elderly and dying; he was in wretched pain; he requested the euthanasia, in sound mind; his physician, who was also his friend, had promised to euthanize him when the moment arose; and Freud had long believed that people should be killed under such circumstances. Yet, Freud's euthanasia would be considered murder or manslaughter in every American state. I'm surprised the Freud story is not better known.

I deleted the dreadful transitional sentence, "This question is connected with the more general question of what the purpose of the law ought to be." (5/e, 93) I made that paragraph crisper in several ways, reducing its length by 78 words. (6/e, 100-101; compare 5/e, 93-94)

This chapter felt thin to me. Also, I thought the book needed a discussion of illicit drugs. So I added a section on marijuana. (6/e, 101-104) Students will be especially interested in this material. Pot is popular on college campuses, and marijuana has been in the news, with 40% of Americans now favoring legalization--an all-time high.

We begin the discussion of animals by quoting Aquinas twice. (5/e, 94-95; 6/e, 104) The quotes are accurate, but our citations were nonsense. We said, "The quotations from Aquinas about animals are from Summa Theologica, 11, 11, Q. 64, Art. 6; and Summa Contra Gentiles, 111, 11, 12." (5/e, 206) Those numbers correspond to nothing. It took me several hours to find the right reference (both passages are from Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 3, Chapter 112). When I looked on the internet, all I found was the citation we gave--evidently, someone had copied our error.

In 5/e, our vivisection example was taken from 1953--it was the same example that Jim used in 1/e, cribbed from Peter Singer. (1/e, 87-88; 5/e, 97) I replaced it with some recent examples discussed by Richard Ryder. Ryder, I now say, coined the word "speciesism"--a word that previously didn't appear in our book. (6/e, 106)

In 5/e, we said, "The facts about meat production are at least as harrowing as the facts about animal experimentation." (5/e, 98) This was an understatement. I now say: "The facts about meat production are more disturbing than any facts about animal experimentation." (6/e, 107)

I rewrote the paragraph about veal calves. The new version is clearer, better organized, and 87 words shorter. (6/e, 107; compare 5/e, 98-99)

In 5/e, the utilitarian argument against factory farming concludes: "we should become vegetarians." (5/e, 99) As Larry James and others pointed out, this is the wrong conclusion. A utilitarian might be willing to eat free-range meat. So, we now say, "We should either become vegetarians or else treat our animals humanely before killing them." (6/e, 108)

The final sentence of the chapter was: "But we are only one species among many inhabiting this planet; and morality must acknowledge that fact as well." (5/e, 99) But the word 'species' gives the wrong emphasis. The discussion has been about pain, and many species are insensate. So I now say: "But we are not the only animals on this planet, and an adequate morality must acknowledge that fact as well." All animals, I believe, are sentient. (6/e, 108)


Chapter 8, "The Debate over Utilitarianism"


I deleted the quote by Mill in the first paragraph. (5/e, 100; compare 6/e/, 109) Ornaments are for Christmas trees.

I combined and simplified the next two paragraphs. (5/e, 100-101; 6/e, 109)

The second section--"Is Pleasure the Only Thing That Matters?"--is now called, "Is Pleasure All That Matters?" (5/e, 101; 6/e, 109) This makes its name parallel to 8.3, "Are Consequences All That Matter?" (6/e, 111)

I reversed the order of the two counterexamples to Hedonism (5/e, 101-102; compare 6/e, 110). The shorter example should come first.

I deleted the paragraph that began, "In this way, Hedonism seems to misunderstand the nature of happiness." It was complicated and unnecessary. Also, it conflated motivational issues with evaluative issues. (5/e, 102; compare 6/e, 111)

"[A]lthough the hedonistic assumption of the classical utilitarians has largely been rejected, contemporary utilitarians have not found it difficult to carry on. Mostly, they do so by urging that Hedonism was never a necessary part of the theory in the first place." (5/e, 103) The word "mostly" is misleading: all utilitarians who reject Hedonism believe that Hedonism is inessential to Utilitarianism. So, I simply deleted the second sentence. (see 6/e, 111)

I reduced the preamble of 8.3., "Are Consequences All That Matter?" from 100 words to 47 words. (6/e, 111; compare 5/e, 103)

I made the McCloskey passage easier to understand, by paraphrasing something in brackets; I corrected a typo in it (in 5/e, 103, the word "utilitarian" is first lower-cased and then capitalized); and I got to the point faster, after the quote. (6/e 111-112; compare 5/e, 103-104)

Jim attributed the York v. Story decision to a nonexistent court: "the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (Southern District of California)." (5/e, 104) The York v. Story case arose out of Southern California, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit covers several states (not just Southern California). I checked the quotation and noticed that two words had been omitted ("... or legitimate"). (6/e, 112)

After considering the York example--in which police officers photographed a woman in the nude and passed around pictures of her--we consider a typical Peeping Tom case, in which a man spies on a woman through her bathroom window. In previous editions, the woman in our example was Angelynn York. But why pick on her? I now just say, "Suppose a Peeping Tom spied on a woman through her bedroom window ..." (6/e, 113)

In both 5/e and 6/e we say: "faithful adherence to the utilitarian standard would require you to give away your resources until you've lowered your standard of living to the level of the neediest people you could help." (5/e, 107; 6/e, 115) In 6/e, I add: "Or rather, you'd need to leave yourself just enough to maintain your job, so that you can keep on giving."

"We distinguish actions that are morally required from actions that are praiseworthy but not strictly required. (Philosophers call the latter supererogatory actions.)" (5/e, 107) Those two sentences are not fun to read. So I improved the explanation of supererogation. (See 6/e, 115)

I changed the example from "Suppose you are a cabinetmaker ..." to "Suppose you are a web designer ..." (5/e, 108; 6/e, 115) I've tried to make the examples in the book less un-cool.

"The fact that Utilitarianism undermines our personal relationships seems to many critics to be its single greatest fault." (5/e, 108) That statement might be true, but it seems to privilege this particular criticism of Utilitarianism, even though the theory is more frequently faulted for condoning rights violations. So, I deleted it. And later in the paragraph, Jim wrote, "the institution of marriage could not even exist apart from special responsibilities and obligations." This sudden appeal to the "institution of marriage" seemed out of place--the point is that loving relationships couldn't exist apart from special responsibilities and obligations. (6/e, 116)

Sometimes philosophical writing is loaded down with unnecessary qualifications and hesitations. "While it can plausibly be maintained that most acts of false witness and the like have bad consequences in the real world ..." (5/e, 110) "While it is true that most acts of false witness and the like have bad consequences ..." (6/e, 117)

I simplified the first two paragraphs of The Second Defense. (6/e, 118; compare 5/e, 110)

How does a rule-utilitarian decide which rules are valid? In 5/e, we said: "What general rules of conduct tend to promote the greatest happiness? Suppose we imagine two societies, one in which the rule 'Don't bear false witness against the innocent' is faithfully adhered to, and one in which this rule is not followed. In which society are people likely to be better off? From the point of view of utility, the first society is preferable. Therefore, the rule against incriminating the innocent should be accepted, and by appealing to this rule, we conclude that ..." (5/e, 111) This is a poor argument. All that would follow is that the rule, "Don't bear false witness against the innocent" is better than no such rule at all. It doesn't follow that this rule is optimal, from a rule-utilitarian standpoint. In fact, there is no simple formula for deciding which rules would be valid. I now say: "What rules of conduct tend to promote the most happiness? One good rule is, 'Don't bear false witness against the innocent.' That rule is simple, easy to remember, and following it will almost always increase happiness. By appealing to it, the rule-utilitarian can conclude that ..." (6/e, 118) This is more faithful to the methods of Rule-Utilitarianism.

The criticism of Rule-Utilitarianism has been vastly improved. (6/e, 119-120; compare 5/e, 111-112) The discussion in 5/e contained no outright falsehoods, but it was densely packed and poorly organized. Once I improved the organization, it was easy to improve the philosophy.

I also tried to improve the writing in "The First Response: All Values Have a Utilitarian Basis." (6/e, 120-121; compare 5/e, 113) In part, I tried to make the discussion more concrete. This part of the book will be hard for some students. It is dense with argumentation.

"What about the pain that will be endured by those who are beaten and tortured by the mob?" (5/e, 114) Mobs don't torture. Mobs are frenzied; torture is more controlled. So, I changed "tortured" to "tormented." (6/e, 122)

I put the chapter's last paragraph under the heading, "8.6 Concluding Thoughts." (6/e, 122-123; compare 5/e, 115-116) It did not belong in the previous section; it is not part of "The Defense of Utilitarianism."