Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Organ Donation Ethics – EmmaJ

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My personal ethics can be simply summed up as 1) Treat others how you want to be treated and 2) happiness must be pursued with an awareness of the people around you. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” In the study of Ethics, like all areas of philosophy, there is never a definitive answer and different people will have different opinions on what is right and wrong based on their own unique experiences. I believe that as long as you have good intentions and you can make peace with your decision, it can be considered the “right decision”. Every moral dilemma is unique and there are more variables than could ever be properly represented in an ethical calculus equation, I don’t there is or ever will be the perfect formula.

In terms of the essays we have studied in class, I agree most strongly with John Rawls’ Theory of Justice because I feel it is closest to my personal morals. When the Veil of Ignorance comes into play it forces people to have compassion for all areas of humanity and develop rules for a society where all are given basic liberties and equal rights. I also appreciate the idea that some inequalities must exist so long as they are beneficial to everyone, especially the disadvantaged. I believe that slight inequalities, so long as they are not excessively harmful, help move society forward and motivate people to work to improve themselves and increase their own success and happiness. Additionally, the happiness gained from helping empower those who are less fortunate is a higher level happiness than can ever be purchased.

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In theory Utilitarianism seems like a good idea, especially when carried out by self-aware thinkers full of integrity, however these conditions aren’t common in the real-world. Pursuing one’s own pleasure and avoiding pain are the perfect conditions for creating a crude, narcissistic and stagnant society. I believe it is far too easy for utilitarianism to be abused and used to justify unethical actions. From genocides to nuclear bombs, some of the most horrible things in history have been done for “the greater good”. While “majority rules” may be good for deciding what type of pizza to order, it is too simple to make decisions pertaining to human lives.

I align with Kant’s ideas regarding Good Will and that the right things must be done for the right reasons. If you have good and noble intentions it is easy to live with your decisions regardless of the outcomes they may create. I also agree that people, or more specifically rational beings, should not be used as a means to an end and that everyone has value. However, this point becomes murky when it comes to the topic of my ethical inquiry: deceased organ donation.

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Deceased organ donors are people who have either been in accidents that render them brain dead or who have suffered a cardiac death. Deceased organ donors can be any age and a single donor can save up to 8 lives and benefit up to 75 people. At first deceased organ donation in Canada may not seem like a very serious ethical dilemma, people are free to consult their personal morals and register to become an organ donor if they so choose. However, this system is not working and many people believe it needs to be changed. While organ donors save many lives every year, the majority of people waiting for an organ transplant don’t receive one because they die first. This is due to the fact that hundreds of healthy, useable, and in demand organs are buried and cremated every day. Deceased organ donation also raises many tough questions like “what does it mean to be dead?” or “what does it mean to be alive?” and “is there an afterlife?”

A large misconception about deceased organ donation is that it is condemned by most religions but this is not the case. Major world religions including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism all support organ donation or encourage their followers to act on their own conscience. In many cases these religions refer to organ donation as an honourable act of charity and love.

When it comes down to it there is really only one big problem: no one wants to think about dying. According to the Canadian Transport Society, 90% of Canadians say they support organ donation but less than 20% have made plans to donate. People tend to avoid conversations regarding organ donation with their loved ones and put off making plans until it is too late. This issue is only exaggerated by Canada’s current Opt-In System for organ donation.

There are currently two types of models in place for organ donation globally: Opt-In, where citizens are required to sign up on registry to express their wishes to become a donor and the more controversial Opt-Out system. In an Opt-In or Presumed Consent system all citizens are assumed to be organ donors unless they sign up on a registry to express their wishes to not donate their organs. While presumed consent may seem extreme, it has successfully increased the organ donation pool in countries including Spain, Greece, Finland, and most recently France. On January 1st, 2017 the presumed consent law came into effect in France and since then Canadian politicians have begun to express their interest in implementing similar laws. This idea is especially popular in Saskatchewan where less than 1% of eligible people are registered organ donors.

Taking organ donation systems a step further, some people believe that consent is not necessary for organ donation and that people should have a duty to donate organs for the good of the society. Some ethicists even go as far to say that it is immoral for a person to decline consent for donation of their organs. These ideas support the Conscription Model, simply put the state owns your body and anyone who can donate must.

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In a utilitarian society I believe the most likely system for organ donation would be an opt-out system. The happiness resulting from people gaining extra years of life would likely override any unhappiness regarding presumed consent. Additionally, the ability to register to abstain from donation would at least appease those against organ donation and provide them with a personal sense of happiness. However, in a utilitarian society I believe there is a serious risk for abuse happiness for the majority that could lead to inhumane methods for obtaining organs more extreme than organ conscription. For example, supporting the needs of “the greater good” could lead to the justification of the sacrifice of a living person in order to save the lives of 8 sick people. When laws only exist to uphold the happiness of society the rights of individuals are not protected.

Categorical Imperative

A main point of Kant’s Categorical Imperative is “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end…” This may seem to be in conflict with organ donation as it can be interpreted as literally using someone as a tool to survive. However, under an opt-in system and even an opt-out system where people can easily abstain, I believe Kant would support organ donation. Organ donation is done with a good will, it is meant to save the lives of others and therefore it is good. Furthermore, once an individual is in a braindead or has suffered a cardiac death they are no longer able to really Be or exist as a rational being.


A Theory of Justice

I believe that behind the veil of ignorance everyone would recognize the demand for organs and agree to put policies in place to increase donation, knowing full well that they may be the person in need or the person donating. I believe that the most likely system put into place would be the opt-out system because it would provide a larger donor pool and increase the chances of sick people receiving an organ in a timely fashion. I also believe that there would be a focus on government regulation of organ donation in order to ensure the distribution of organs is as fair as possible. In a Rawlsian society illegal organ harvesting and trade wouldn’t occur since it is the powerful preying on the vulnerable.

I believe that every theory of ethics or moral system would support organ donation in one way or another. Can’t it be assumed that for an otherwise terminally ill person a new lease on life would be the ultimate happiness for not only them but their loved ones as well? For this reason I support organ donation and the implementation of a Presumed Consent Law. I also encourage you to look into becoming an organ donor and have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations with your loved ones.




Mr. Jackson please don’t grade this

If you trace back to the video shown in class that posed the question of whether it is right or wrong to push a fat man off a bridge to save 5 people who are about to be ran over by a trolley cart, or to witness them die by not pushing him over, my intuitive answer was to not push the fat man over the bridge. Wouldn’t it be unjust to incorporate an irrelevant person to the narrative simply because I couldn’t tolerate a higher level of misery in quantity? Or is it even more unjust to have authority to decrease the amount of misery by knowing the end-result, but not taking any form of initiative to change the ultimate outcome?

Utilitarianism is the concept in which the core of morality is dependent on increasing the amount of pleasure in the world; utilitarianism puts emphasis on consequences more than its intent. Such theory supports the idea of epistemic responsibility that I mentioned in my Metaphysics post (I don’t recommend reading that); epistemic responsibility is the concept that everyone has responsibility regarding our beliefs. Going in parallel with the idea of there being no such thing as, “private beliefs” and our beliefs have a way of spreading whether it is through our actions or choices, maybe the focus of morality should be on the consequences and results more than its pure intent. Utilitarianism argues that actions should be measured by how much happiness it produces, which means that one should be aware of how much happiness an action could create.

So are morality and ethical views an objective, or subjective matter? Let’s say that we say morality is an objective matter. One of the effects of defining morality to be objective is that it automatically eliminates the concept of cultural moral relativism. Perceiving morality to be an absolute means that some cultures are “wrong” for their perspectives; doesn’t this give an underlying message that some cultures are superior over others? Isn’t this contradictory to the idea of creating more happiness in the world if it wipes out certain cultures from believing in certain things? Or does the concept only apply to cultures that seriously infringe others rights to safety and freedom? Even though cultural moral relativism might provide reasoning behind why genocides and wars happen, there is also the danger of normalizing cultures that crudely infringed others lives, the most extreme example is the Nazi culture. Kantianism supports the idea of there being a supreme principle of morality; Kant believed in one acting regardless of purpose, but on maxims that you could will that everyone else approves, one which is consistent.

So if there is no moral realism and morality wasn’t about the grounding problem, there is no absolute in morality. My personal viewpoint is that is morality is subjective, it almost explains why all the shameful historical events happened (this could be anything, but I’m thinking of events like the KKK, witch hunts, etc). These events should never be justified, although it is easier to understand the stem of it if morality is handled to be a subjective matter.

So let’s go back to the fat man and the trolley cart incident. Unless you strongly root for the utilitarian view, our intuitions tell us that pushing an innocent bystander, the fat man in this case is wrong. Why it is wrong, I believe, is because of his status of being a “bystander” and because I took the action to be involved in a murder when the alternative was an accident. I do understand that pushing the fat man would ultimately make more people happier, yet there is a vast distinction between a crime and an accident. How are you morally right if you were just responsible of a death?

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I define morality to be an intuition; if you do something simply because others say it is right or because you want to seem like a “good person” I think that is being good for the wrong reasons, thus, contradictory to its intent. I am not completely solid on whether morality is absolute or not, but I am currently shifted on the side that it is subjective, as it is the only way to explain disagreements in humanity. There definitely is a “more popular” belief or “more politically correct” viewpoints; however, I am not in the position to say any of them are “better” than others; it is undeniable that some of them are about everyone being treated equally, which goes back to the concept of utilitarianism.



I’m here, I’m queer, and Fox News can go to hell. (Jordan Chambers)

I can’t really say that ethics was a weird unit for me because what unit isn’t a weird unit for me but let me tell you. Ethics was a weird unit for me. I’ve been weirdly busy since winter break ended so a lot of the time I was too preoccupied to be fully present in class which sucked because I’m sure I would have had a lot of thoughts during discussions but I could pay enough attention to discern some things.

So for personal definitions, utilitarianism is like doing things because they will make you and the people around you happy and the definitions I was given make it seem like actions are good as long as they increase pleasure. On the other hand, the categorical imperative is doing things because they are the right thing to do and carries the belief that actions are only moral if they are done without selfish motivations. So the example I used when I explained all of this to my costume crew (these poor grade nines I work with deal with so much) was that if you see your friend is about to be shot and you jump in the path of the bullet, under utilitarianism this is an ethically good action because your friend will be happy they are not dead and (assuming you survive) you will be happy because your friend is not dead but under the categorical imperative your action is only ethical if your motivation to take the bullet for your friend didn’t take into account your personal feelings (I took the bullet because it is my duty to prevent people from being killed vs. I took the bullet because I would be sad if my friend died).

It’s really hard to try and define your personal ethical perspective using other peoples words because to me it seems like “oh these things are right or wrong because they just are” but theres underlying reasons obviously and trying to justify and explain those is just really hard (A lot of my conclusions relate back to things are perceived differently due to personal background and that comes into play a lot in ethics. Like your ethical perspective is determined by who you are and how you were raised and in what kind of society, etc…). So as best I can figure it, my ethical perspective is mostly utilitarianism but obviously not strictly utilitarianism because that’s just a little ridiculous to think that any person can only do things out of a sense of duty. I agree with some aspects of the categorical imperative though, like there are obviously things I want to do that I don’t out of a sense of duty or because they have been determined ‘wrong’ by society and I think thats okay but also some things are okay to do for selfish reasons if they increase happiness for others (for example I want gender neutral bathrooms to be more commonplace because yes, I’m trans and want a place to feel safe and thats a little selfish, but also because other people who are also trans deserve the same thing because humans should have a right to feel safe). So really I don’t mind things being done for selfish reasons as long as they also increase pleasure for the other people involved.

A problem of ethics that comes to my attention a lot is when advertising companies and brands and artists use the representation of LGBT people (and people of colour but it’s not really my place to talk about that) as a way to further interest in their brands and increase their own wealth. The most recent example that comes to mind is the National Geographic cover that features trans people. Basically, NatGeo ran a piece on transgender people for their january 2017 edition entitled “the gender revolution” and the cover(s) feature photographs of transgender people. How is that an ethical dilemma? Well two things really, National Geographic was just bought by Fox News (yknow, the one with astoundingly conservative bias) and they didn’t actually… compensate their models for the time taken to do the photoshoot. So we have a magazine, owned by a racist and homophobic news source, running a piece that they will profit off of, but not paying their models (trans people, who are overwhelmingly in poverty anyway). Lots of people have varying problems with this cover and so do I but personally I feel like this kind of representation isn’t what some people are calling it, exploitation. When a magazine allows trans people (including a nine-year-old trans girl) to tell their stories in their own way, thats important. It’s selfish of NatGeo to not pay their models, yes, and that may be slightly unethical considering their new affiliations with Fox News but the stories they are telling and the visibility that they are providing the trans community with is potentially lifesaving (The ‘Summary of Reccomendations’ section of this report relates to my point). While it is unlikely that anyone under the age or 16 will actually read a NatGeo magazine, there’s the chance that a young trans kid could see this cover and think ‘maybe I’m not alone’, I know I would’ve liked something like this article when I was younger. To sum up, I don’t think it was unethical for Fox News to use NatGeo to profit off of trans folk, because it does increase happiness of both the people at NatGeo and trans folk/allies, even if it was a little selfish of them.



Jess and Jeff discuss abortion

What is the issue?

Controversy surrounds the topic of abortion. For some, it’s been a tool of great social change, reducing crime-rates while inducing other beneficial effects. To others, it can’t be sugarcoated and is simply murder of the most innocent, defenseless members of our society. Evaluating this issue with a variety of different perspectives is integral in order to find the ‘right’ way to approach it. With a tie-in to subjects such as religion and ethics, evaluating the ethical implications of abortion can allow one to see the different viewpoints that people see the world through.

photo taken from the conversation.com

How can it approached?


  • Women who have had abortions
  • Women who will/may get pregnant in future
  • Men whose SO’s may get an abortion

Categorical Imperative:  

People who both a) do not agree with murder and b) do not agree with abortion would be agree with the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative would see abortion as bad because if you see murder as a negative or something completely unjustifiable, then abortion would, in terms of the categorical imperative, be seen as just as bad as, say, shooting someone on the street.


Utilitarianism is for the benefit of the whole. An article was cited in saying,

“The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%). Nearly four in 10 women said they had completed their childbearing, and almost one-third were not ready to have a child. Fewer than 1% said their parents’ or partners’ desire for them to have an abortion was the most important reason. Younger women often reported that they were unprepared for the transition to motherhood, while older women regularly cited their responsibility to dependents.”

Many of these reasons are ones that we, if we were a utilitarian society, could approve of. To bring a child into the world when the financial situation of the parent(s) would not guarantee them a good life would mean that the child would have a higher likelihood of growing up and being imprisoned, homeless, impoverished, or a number of other things. Ultimately, to bring a child into a scenario where the parents are unable to care for them as they should would be seen as a negative thing, if viewed in a utilitarian sense.

photo taken from cbc.ca


Ignoring the fact that Rawls’ theory requires you to be behind the veil of ignorance and therefore a fetus (and thus, very much not in favour of being aborted), this theory still has the possibility of going in either direction. Perhaps it is more likely that one would be in favour of abortion if they were able to be put in the situation of having to decide — ergo, if they were born an impoverished woman — but it is still quite subjective.

How can it be addressed?

Abortion can only really be addressed on an individual level. Viewing it through a variety of different perspectives only enlightens the person further into which direction would be the ‘ethical’ way. Whereas utilitarianism would welcome abortion if it were done to people who could not raise their children in a safe environment, the categorical imperative would argue that there is no way to justify murder and that abortion is ethically wrong no matter what the circumstance. With Rawl’s theory, however, it all comes down to personal preference, and in the end, isn’t that all that it is?




Harvard Justice: John Rawls & What is a Fair Start?

The first statement of the two principles reads as follows:

First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.

Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all…

John Rawls Theory of Justice (1971)

Today we’ll be looking at John Rawls’ Theory of Justice and reflecting upon how this theory informs discussions we’ve been having thus far in the unit, as well as how it adds to (or undercuts) previous theories of justice and morality put forth by John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant.

A few questions to spark our thinking:

  • First of all, what are your impressions of Rawls’ theory next to concepts of Utilitarianism and/or notions of the Categorical Imperative?
  • Second, do you agree that everyone should have the same basic liberties, whether they are a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor, part of the minority or part of the majority? And if you do, what basic liberties should everyone have?
  • And third, how do you see Rawls’ theory applying to the discussions we have had around systemic oppression in the last week or so? What insights might the theory offer for those looking to combat a misogynistic or racially discriminating culture? Are there other groups or conditions to which Rawls’ insights may oppose?

Those of you who are currently (or have in the past) studied economics may have unique insights into how Rawls’ theory works (or doesn’t) within our modern capitalist economies. What do the prevailing theories of modern economics make of a system guided by Rawls’ principles? Are these systems of thought congruent?



The Ethics of Animal Experimentation -Katherine and Jessica

calvinhobbes_ethicsWe live in a society which prides itself for being modern, sophisticated, and cultured. A society hoping to fight corruption within systems, a society boasting cutting-edge research, a society living with justice and cohesive ethics. While many of us could agree with this, many others would disagree due to the way our society deals with different ethical dilemmas, especially regarding the controversy of animal experimentation. Before we discuss the philosophical ideologies applicable to this problem, let us define animal experimentation, and look at some concrete pros and cons it brings to society.

Animal experimentation is defined as “the use of non-human animals in research and development projects, especially for purposes of determining the safety of substances such as cosmetics and drugs”, thus we find two distinct purposes for animal testing: developing cosmetics and drugs. Cosmetic animal testing is used to determine the toxicity, appropriate dosage, and safety of an ingredient before it is put into product. There are many types of tests cosmetic companies run to determine the safety of an ingredient, such as the infamous Draize test, where a substance is applied to the eye of a restrained rabbit and reactions are monitored for up to three weeks. John H. Draize, Ph.D., the scientist who invented to Draize test, also developed a skin irritancy test in which high concentrations of test substances are applied to a rabbit’s shaved skin and reactions are observed. The rabbits are then disposed of after the experiment. Most cosmetic animal tests are a variation of Draize’s tests, and bring about both pros and cons to society, which we can evaluate with the different philosophical ideologies we discussed in class.

So what are the pros of animal experimentation for cosmetic purposes? From reflecting over what we have learned so far, it appears to only satisfy a lower form of utilitarianism. Cosmetic products make people “happy”. Mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, primer, foundation, and blush bring many an unyielding confidence and happiness from being perceived as aesthetically beautiful. Soaps, shower gels, lotions, perfumes, and cleansers allow people to (literally) feel pleasant, and bring them comfort and satisfaction as well. Utilitarians would argue that this happiness does bring about the good of “happiness”, as happiness from cosmetics is generally perceived as selfish, and so it satisfies only the lower level of utilitarian ethics. Contrasting, Kantian ethics would deem cosmetic animal testing as unethical, seeing that this type of animal experimentation is done only for self-interest. In order for it to be considered moral by Kantian ethics, we must be testing on animals due to a moral duty we have which rationalizes the action of subjecting them to inhumane trials and think; would this maxim be good if made into a universal law? The maxim in which we justify cosmetic animal testing can be phrased into a syllogism:

Cosmetics are tested on animals

Cosmetics make humans happy

Cosmetic testing makes humans happy.

Would this maxim of “doing what makes us happy” bring about good if implemented as a universal law? Simply, no. Some people find happiness in killing others. Some find happiness in wealth, and sell their souls to corruption in order to pursue their desire. Some find happiness in being aesthetically beautiful, and this happiness is often brought about by products which have been tested on animals. So we see that this maxim of “doing what makes us happy” cannot bring about only good if made into a universal law, and thus is considered immoral by Kantian ethics.


Now moving onto animal experimentation for medical research and drug development. Animal testing for medical research and drug development has been used by researchers for many centuries. A few highlights of medical discoveries from animal testing:

1600’s: William Harvey dissected animals to observe how blood flowed through the body. This resulted in the discovery of the circulatory system and how the heart pumped blood throughout the body.

Early 1900’s: Louis Pasteur proved the germ theory (that germs attack the body from the outside and cause diseases) to be true by infecting sheep with anthrax. He went on to discover how diseases were caused and the developed vaccinations for these diseases.

1920’s: Frederick Banting experimented on dogs to find the role the pancreas played in producing insulin, discovering a way to treat diabetes.

1950’s: Researchers and scientists injected streptomycin into guinea pigs diseased with tuberculosis, proving the capability of antibiotics to stop and reverse disease.

1960’s: Albert Sabin infected numerous animals to be living hosts of Polio, creating a living vaccine to inject into humans.

1960’s: Albert Starr pioneered heart valve replacement surgery by learning and practising on animals. The discovery of heart valve replacement surgery. No longer was a full heart transplant needed if someone had a diseased heart, technology could now replace unhealthy heart valves.

Mill’s utilitarian ethics would agree to medical animal experimentation, as we see an exponentially greater amount of “good” brought into the world from the harms we committed in order to bring about that good. Animal testing for medical research and drug development also satisfies a higher level of utilitarianism. The “good” (of progression in medical research), brought about by the “harm” (of testing on animals) is being created for an altruistic reason; to benefit and improve the health of all human lives. In contrast to cosmetic animal testing whose purpose is to satisfy debateably superficial wants, scientific animal testing is being used to grant people a higher quality of life.

Something we’re unsure about is where Kantian ethics lies on this issue. We’ve come up with two possible maxims to be conceived as universal law which would label scientific animal experimentation as either moral or immoral:

Moral: I am testing on animals to decrease the amount of human physical suffering in this world. So, would I want to live in a world where everyone worked to decrease the physical suffering of humans? Yes. Therefore, testing on animals is ethical.

Immoral: I am subjecting a living being to inhumane circumstances for the benefit of another living being. So, would I want to live in a world where every being could torture another being for the benefit of another? No. Therefore testing on animals is unethical.

The large difference between the two maxims is that they differ on how they view the rights of non-human persons. If we value them less then humans, then yes, it’s ethical. If we grant them the same rights as humans – such as the right to security of person – then no, torturing an animal is completely inhumane and unethical.

So we ask you: does with rights come responsibility? And if so, what responsibilities are animals fulfilling which grant them this right to security of their being?



Contemporary Moral Problems Discussion 11.25.13

The beginning of our learning about Ethics with discussion of John Stewart Mill‘s UtilitarianismKant‘s Categorical Imperativeand points in between. It is the first of two discussions on readings which also includes John Rawls‘ Theory of Justice