In his article, “Beyond the Harm Principle,” Ripstein defends an alternative to J.S. Mill’s harm principle, which he names the sovereignty principle. Ripstein proposes a thought experiment to tear down our notion of the harm principle: harmless trespassing.

In this thought experiment, a man comes into your house while you are away, sleeps in your bed, and leaves the house — all without leaving a trace. He cleaned the sheets and did not hurt the mattress. He wore a hair net. There are no indicators that he was ever even there. …


This week, we read about paternalism. Dworkin defines paternalism as “ the interference with a person’s liberty of action justified by reasons referring exclusively to the welfare, good, happiness, needs, interests or values of the
person being coerced” (65).

Essentially, paternalism is when the governing authorities justify laws on the basis of how much good they bring about.

One form of paternalism that everyone experiences is the parent-child relationship. (In fact, the parent-child relationship is built into the term “paternalism.” When the government acts like our parents, the are engaging in paternalism.) …


Joel Feinberg presents a whimsical and devastating critique of Mill’s harm principle in his book Offense to Others. He asks us to imagine we are riding on a bus and presents us with 31 offensive stories.

Some of these stories are absolutely absurd: picnicking passengers eating their own vomit, a group of mourners bashing in a corpse’s face with a hammer, various bizarre sexual acts. This article channels the same energy as a dark comedy.

However, Feinberg affronts our sensibility like this for the purpose of critiquing Mill’s harm principle. According to Mill in On Liberty, the government only has…


Aristotle countered his mentor Plato’s democratic political theory with an aristocratic philosophy. According to Aristotle, the governing powers should exercise their powers in a manner that promotes the liberty of subjects. This liberty is the freedom to live an introspective life in pursuit of virtue and avoiding vice — essentially to live the life of a philosopher.

Naturally, people are vicious. We are drawn to vices, not to virtue. However, we can learn virtue through imitating a virtuous person. This is a somewhat pessimistic view of human nature. …


In his article “What is the Criminal Law For?” Chiao defends what he calls the “relative priority” claim. He claims that “Stabilizing the institutions of society’s basic structure is a more fundamental function of criminal justice institutions than that of vindicating moral rights” (Chiao, 9).

Throughout his argument in defense of the relative priority claim, Chiao uses the terms “functional priority” and “fundamental” interchangeably. At one point, Chiao argues that “The function of coercive rule-enforcement is . . . more central to the rule of law than giving wrongdoers the punishment they deserve,” clearly viewing relative priority as functional priority(Chiao…


When I look back over this past semester, I think there are at least three skills I have further developed: (1) reading comprehension, (2) writing, and (3) comparing and contrasting philosophers.

First, my reading comprehension improved throughout the semester — particularly my philosophy reading comprehension. Reading Kant was incredibly difficult, and there were times where I wasn’t sure if I was comprehending anything. However, I pushed through the reading. In the moment, it didn’t really feel worth it, but in the long run I think it was. After we read Kant, the other readings felt easier to understand. I learned…


In chapter four of What We Owe to Each Other, Scanlon introduces one of the two questions that he seeks to answer in his book: why should we do good things and not do bad things? This seems like a simple question. Just don’t do bad things because they are bad. However, when someone asks this question, they have something deeper in mind that a simple answer like “bad things are bad” does not address.

Scanlon proposes that throughout the history of philosophy, two accounts of moral motivation have been proposed: a formal account and a substantive account. …


As I read Scanlon’s article “Contractualism and Utilitarianism,” I was surprised by how modest contractualism is as a moral theory. Scanlon argues that “An act is wrong if its performance under the circumstances would be disallowed by any system of rules for the general regulation of behaviour which no one could reasonably reject as a basis for informed, unforced general agreement” (Scanlon, 110). This conception of morality differs greatly from utilitarianism in several ways, yet utilitarianism could potentially coexist with it.

First, whereas utilitarianism is an incredibly demanding moral theory that requires the most happiness possible to be produced for…


In The Right and the Good, W.D. Ross proposes a moral theory that critiques both utilitarianism and Kantian duty-based ethics. His theory can be briefly summarized as: “what makes actions right is that they are productive of more good than could have been produced by any other action open to the agent” (Ross, II).

At first glance, this moral theory sounds a lot like utilitarianism. Utilitarianism also argues that right actions are the ones that produce the most good. However, they narrowly define the only good as pleasure. Ross argues that this is a fatal flaw, because there are plenty…


Sidgwick argues that the virtues are only good insofar as they contribute to the overall happiness of all sentient beings. People come to the conclusion that benevolence, truth-telling, kindness, and justice are good not because these virtues are actually intrinsically good and desirable, but because they tend to promote overall happiness more than their opposites: selfishness, deception, rudeness, and disorder.

When introducing his discussion of benevolence, Sidgwick says, “if we can show that the other virtues are — speaking broadly — all qualities conducive to the happiness of the agent himself or of others, it is evident that Benevolence, whether…

Henry Bolin

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