One important trait of moral principles is that they should be impartial. They should not favor one person over the other simply because they are two different individuals. But in my country, we have laws giving special considerations to senior citizens and persons with disabilities and pregnant women. These groups of people are given special lanes at fastfood restaurants, cinemas and bank lanes. I sometimes feel unjustly treated when I spent an hour waiting in line while a senior citizen come in, make his transactions and leave the place in just a minute. I am fully aware that the reason they are treated in such a special way is because of their special conditions but it seems that the treatment is still unfair. After all, whatever they may suffer for waiting long in line are possibilities that I myself can experience. My questions then are: Are these special treatments unjust for the majority of us who are not in the same conditions? Do these violate the condition that moral principles should by nature...

'Impartiality' is in no way a simple moral concept. Yet one thing most moral philosophers would agree upon is that impartiality cannot be plausibly equated with treating everyone the same . Rather, impartiality seems to have both an exclusionary and and an inclusionary aspect. Here's what I have in mind. Being impartial means not allowing a certain fact or consideration about people to influence a choice or a policy. A judge who routinely convicts defendants with mustaches while routinely acquitting the clean shaven makes her decisions on the basis of a fact or consideration — the state of a person's facial hair — that ought not influence her decisions. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not exclude from her decision making a factor she ought to exclude. Conversely, suppose a judge issues her rulings without regard to whether the evidence provided indicates a defendant's guilt. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not include a factor she ought to include in order to be...

Is it a valid argument that it is okay for someone to be homosexual because they were "born that way?" This argument seems to lack merit to me, and I believe the reasoning should be that there is nothing morally wrong with it aside from having certain religious conflicts. Pedophiles could be born the way they are, but nobody condones their actions, because there is something arguably wrong with what they want to do. I just seek another point of view on these issues, and possibly a few examples of things that may in fact be morally justified simply because one was born a certain way.

I'd be surprised if there were sound arguments for the immortality of homosexuality, but I agree with your suggestion that whether or not LGBT persons are 'born that way' or not cannot provide a sound basis for the immortality of homosexuality -- nor can it provide a sound basis for its moral permissibility of homosexuality either! Your remarks about pedophilia suggest why such arguments are unsound: That a person is born in some way does not imply that actions they perform because they were born that way are not wrong. If (as seems likely) pedophilia is harmful to children, that it is wrong even if pedophiles can't refrain from having sexual desires directed at children. 'He/she was born with property P; he/she does X because he/she has property P; therefore, X is not morally wrong' is not a valid inference. But perhaps this misunderstands the force of the 'born that way' claim. Perhaps the force resides not in the idea that being 'born that way' makes a person's actions morally permissible but that...

It is common to characterize emotions as unhelpful in moral discernment. When faced with a situation that requires careful moral deliberation, emotion is often set aside, while reason and evidence are taken to be very important. Isn't always this the case? Do emotions really have no value in moral discernment, or they have to some extent but some philosophers have just neglected their part?

You're certainly correct that there is a tendency in suppose that reason and emotion are antagonists, and that with respect to morality in particular, we should be guided by reason rather than emotion. And there may be major figures in the history of philosophy (Plato comes to mind) who really did see reason and emotion as in stark and irreconcilable tension. On this view, reason and emotion are essential partners in moral thought and deliberation instead of implacable antagonists. However, there's a pretty significant segment of philosophers, both historical and contemporary, who don't think that reason and emotion are such enemies when it comes to moral reasoning and decision. A popular view (one that I myself find attractive) distinguishes between moral truth and moral knowledge: Emotions, on this view, are not a source of moral truth, but do enable you to know moral truths. Suppose that, as you end a day of busy holiday shopping, you see a fellow shopper carrying a large bundle of shopping bags. She...

Moral disagreements seem to suggest that there may be an objective moral truth out there but it seems next to impossible to discern about it. Is there a way out of intractably difficult moral disagreements so that both opposing sides will be able to discern the truth of the matter being discussed, or the situation is just hopeless?

In no way a simple question! First, you ask whether the "opposing sides" in a moral disagreement can "discern the truth" of the moral issue at hand. That raises some terrifically complex questions in moral epistemology, namely, just how do we know moral truths at all? From experience? From the testimony of others? By reasoning? By means of some sort of intuition or perception? Some combination of these? I propose we set those questions aside and focus on some narrower questions about moral disagreement itself: Why do people morally disagree, and is there a suitable way to resolve these disagreements? Much depends on precisely where the source of the disagreement resides. Let's distinguish four sources of moral disagreement. Many moral disagreements turn not on moral claims but on disputed questions of fact. For instance, suppose that two people disagree about the morality of capital punishment, one believing it morally justified, the other believing it morally unjustified. However, they may well agree...

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the chieftain, tells his wealthy brother in law that all of the latter's money is not a match for glory. The brother in law replies that Abraracourcix's glory could not pay the "oxen hooves pie" they were having at the time. This seems to be false in the times of "reality television": glory can be readily turned into money. Actually I suspect glory has always given people some access to material goods. But my question is rather whether glory is valuable for other reasons, specifically whether glory is valuable from an ethical point of view.

A nice place to start in thinking about this question is book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html There Aristotle addresses the nature of happiness and consider the pros and cons of three sorts of lives: the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to money, and the 'political' life (or the life devoted to honor). You don't say in your question what you have in mind by 'glory,' but it seems similar to what Aristotle had in mind by honor, namely, others bestowing on us recognition or other goods as a mark of our merit or virtue. Aristotle argues that the best life is not devoted to honor. Here is the main passage where Aristotle argue for this: A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on...

I've read and heard some atheist philosophers (like Peter Singer) argue that it's our capacity to reason that makes us moral. But this would seem to imply that we can take advantage of people who don't exercise or do not fully have this capacity, like young children. Is this point valid?

Let's begin with the statement "our capacity to reason makes us moral." Philosophers often distinguish between moral agents and moral patients . These are somewhat technical terms, but the rough idea is that an individual is a moral agent just in case that individual can be properly held morally responsible, that is, it can be correct to say of that individual that it has an obligation to do A, a duty to do B, etc. Adult human beings are typically thought of moral agents — they are capable of acting rightly or wrongly. Bacteria, for example, definitely aren't moral agents. An individual is a moral patient if facts about it make it worthy of moral consideration. Moral patients have some property or status that necessitate moral agents taken those individuals into account in their moral reasoning. Philosophers disagree a little about what makes an individual a moral agent -- and a lot about what makes an individual a moral patient. Some philosophers, such as Kant, thought one and the same property...

I have trouble understanding the value of moral luck as a concept. If I am a conscientious juror who weighs the available evidence, deliberates in good faith, then returns a guilty verdict, yet the defendant is in fact not guilty, then I have in every sense met my moral burden. I am not "wrong" in the moral sense because I did everything asked of a citizen placed in that situation. My guilty verdict was, rather, incorrect. Moral luck does nothing to explain or illuminate the situation. My decision more likely resulted from an incomplete investigation or a poor defense. To claim that it is bad moral luck that my beauty attracts many suitors and enhanced my chances of infidelity is as absurd or empty as to claim that beauty is good moral luck because attractive people are perceived to be more credible.

Moral luck is a tricky concept. The examples you offer in your question illustrate why. Philosophers use the notion of moral luck to refer to situations where a person is subject to moral judgment for something which is (at least in part) outside of her control. A common example: Two drivers side by side speed recklessly through an intersection. A pedestrian enters the intersection from the right, and the driver on the right strikes her. The driver on the left speeds through the intersection without injuring anyone. That the driver on the right struck the pedestrian is to some extent a matter of luck (the pedestrian could just have easily having been entering from the left side). So too, that the driver on the left did not strike the pedestrian is to some extent a matter of luck (again, the pedestrian could just as easily entered from the left with the result that she is struck by the driver on the left). In his seminal article on this topic, Thomas Nagel distinguishes four different kinds of luck. (http...

A very close relative of mine admitted to committing a murder, but revealed few details about the crime. Do I have an ethical obligation to report what I've heard, even though I doubt very much that there is enough information there to lead to an indictment/trial/et cetera? Of course legally I'm not expected to incriminate an immediate family member, but my conscience seems to be pushing me towards reporting the information despite the lack of any significant real world consequences for the relative.

Before reporting the supposed crime, I'd ask myself a lot of questions: First, how strong a piece of evidence is an admission of guilt? Increasingly, psychologists and legal scholars are discovering how remarkably common "false confessions" are: http://courses2.cit.cornell.edu/sociallaw/student_projects/FalseConfessions.html Is there any reason your relative might admit to this crime aside from having actually committed it? Second, you say that there is not enough information to lead to an indictment or trial. But of course that determination isn't yours to make, and it may be that once your relative is under suspicion, an investigation will yield more information about the crime, information that could lead to your relative's being indicted. So do you really know what you claim to know, i.e., that there's not enough evidence to indict (as opposed to your not having access to sufficient evidence to indict)? Third, you say that there aren't any "significant real world consequences" for the relative if...

If we accept that caring for disabled members is an obligation of all society, is it permissible to prevent people from disabling themselves?

I’d be interested to know exactly what’s motivating your question, but here’s a stab at the reasoning that might be behind it: Suppose that a society is (collectively) obligated to care for the disabled. Caring for the disabled imposes burdens on the rest of society. But it’s wrong for us to knowingly act so as make ourselves (more) burdensome to others. So it would be wrong for us to knowingly act so as to disable ourselves, and since it is permissible to permit others from wronging us, it is permissible to prevent people from disabling themselves. Before we address the soundness of this reasoning, I’d note that very few disabled persons have chosen to be disabled. In the vast majority of cases, disability either doesn’t stem from a person’s choice at all (the disability is traced to genetic or environmental causes) or results from a choice that carried a risk of disability (working in a dangerous profession like logging, engaging in a dangerous form of leisure). Most societies address these with...