Goodness and Advice:

Goodness and Advice:

Edited and Introduced by AMY GUTMANN
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Goodness and Advice:
    Book Description:

    How should we live? What do we owe to other people? InGoodness and Advice, the eminent philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson explores how we should go about answering such fundamental questions. In doing so, she makes major advances in moral philosophy, pointing to some deep problems for influential moral theories and describing the structure of a new and much more promising theory.

    Thomson begins by lamenting the prevalence of the idea that there is an unbridgeable gap between fact and value--that to say something is good, for example, is not to state a fact, but to do something more like expressing an attitude or feeling. She sets out to challenge this view, first by assessing the apparently powerful claims of Consequentialism. Thomson makes the striking argument that this familiar theory must ultimately fail because its basic requirement--that people should act to bring about the "most good"--is meaningless. It rests on an incoherent conception of goodness, and supplies, not mistaken advice, but no advice at all.

    Thomson then outlines the theory that she thinks we should opt for instead. This theory says that no acts are, simply, good: an act can at most be good in one or another way--as, for example, good for Smith or for Jones. What we ought to do is, most importantly, to avoid injustice; and whether an act is unjust is a function both of the rights of those affected, including the agent, and of how good or bad the act is for them. The book, which originated in the Tanner lectures that Thomson delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 1999, includes two chapters by Thomson ("Goodness" and "Advice"), provocative comments by four prominent scholars--Martha Nussbaum, Jerome Schneewind, Philip Fisher, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith--and replies by Thomson to those comments.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2472-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Amy Gutmann

    How should we live? What do we owe to other people? How, if at all, do ethical demands and prudential ones differ? Is there any moral difference between our actions (such as killing) and inactions (such as letting die) when each has the same consequences (the loss of a life)? Judith Jarvis Thomson is a contemporary moral philosopher who has not avoided such big questions. At one time or another in her distinguished career, she has addressed each of these questions, and she continues to do so in her 1999–2000 Tanner Lectures on Human Values at the University Center...

    • Part One: Goodness
      (pp. 3-42)

      Twentieth-century Anglo-American moral philosophy has been dominated by concern about the fact-value gap. Or at least about what appears to be a gap, indeed, an unbridgeable gap, between fact and value. Matters of fact seem to be epistemologically intelligible: we find out about them by the familiar methods of observation and experiment. Matters of value seem to be quite different. If we can’t learn about them by reasoning to them from matters of fact, then there seems to be no way at all by which we can come to learn about them. But what reasoning could possibly take a person...

    • Part Two: Advice
      (pp. 43-82)

      The word “ought” is probably just about as commonly used as the words “good” and “bad” are. When we say such things as “Alfred ought to drink some hot lemonade” or “Alfred ought to pay Bertha five dollars,” what does or would make what we say true? These assertions have a common form, which I will write

      Aought toV

      —they are obtainable from that expression by replacing somebody’s name for “A” and some verb or verb phrase for “V”. (I should point out that what replaces “V” may be the likes of “refrain from paying Bertha” as well...

      (pp. 85-96)
      Philip Fisher

      In her nuanced and carefully argued clearing of the ground, Judith Thomson has set us down within Utilitarianism and proceeded to disable the machinery of Utilitarianism. While accomplishing this, she has raised a set of issues alongside her argument that are, in many cases, as provocative as the explicit argument itself.

      Utilitarianism, since the time of Bentham, has carried with it features of its original purpose as a theory of legislation; that is: a public sphere ethical account whose core instance might be said to be governmental action affecting large numbers of people, most commonly by proposing, deliberating, passing, and...

      (pp. 97-125)
      Martha C. Nussbaum

      Thomson’s subtle analysis begins from the description of a problem: people have confident moral beliefs, but they lack confidence that they have good reason to hold that those beliefs are true. To get past this impasse by proposing a reasonable account of moral requirement is the overall aim of Thomson’s project. In Part I, she turns first to a very plausible candidate, the Utilitarian account of what one ought to do. She analyzes the Utilitarian account, arguing that it relies on two distinct theses: a substantive thesis about the good, typically some version of Hedonism, and a thesis that Thomson...

      (pp. 126-131)
      J. B. Schneewind

      In Part I Judith Thomson argued against Utilitarianism and the general form of theory that it exemplifies, Consequentialism. These ethical theories assert that what makes an act the one you ought to do is its being the act whose consequences will contain more good, on balance, than any other act you could do. The simplest version holds that what makes an event or state of affairs good is its being pleasant. Thomson asserted that this claim is false, because not every pleasure is good: consider, for instance, the case of someone being pleased about another’s suffering. The Consequentialist can fall...

      (pp. 132-144)
      Barbara Herrnstein Smith

      Judith Thomson sees us as inhabiting a culture of “deep [moral] skepticism,” one sign of which is the reluctance of her freshmen students to declare that their moral convictions are objectively true. She grants that this skepticism does not have any noticeable practical effects (it does not deter those freshmen or most other people from having moral convictions or acting upon them), but she thinks there is, philosophically speaking, something disturbing about this situation. Accordingly, she has gone to some trouble here to demonstrate that, contrary to the idea of a fact-value gap, we can and do reason from facts...

  6. Reply to Commentators
      (pp. 147-180)
      Judith Jarvis Thomson

      I am grateful to the commentators for the attention they paid to the material in Parts I and II, and for the criticisms they made of it. I haven’t space to reply to all of their objections; I will try to reply to those that seem to me to be most important to them.

      Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Philip Fisher object to the hypothetical cases I focus on. I ask whether Alfred ought to press a certain doorbell, whether a person ought to drink some hot lemonade, and so on. Herrnstein Smith calls them trivial. Well, they might or might...

    (pp. 181-182)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 183-188)