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Presentation on theme: "MORALITY AND ETHICS (cont.)"— Presentation transcript:


2 Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill ( ), English philosopher A form of consequentialism An act is judged to be moral or immoral according to its consequences. Instrumentalist good vs. Intrinsic good Instrumentalist good: good as a means by which to realize an intrinsic good, e.g. medicine Intrinsic good: something good in and of itself, e.g. happiness

3 Utilitarianism (cont.)
Happiness and the absence of suffering are the ultimate intrinsic goods. The goal of morality is to maximize happiness (“the greatest good for the greatest number”) An act is good if it maximizes the collective happiness and minimizes the collective suffering.

4 Problems with Utilitarianism
Seemingly immoral acts can be judged moral, e.g. killing an innocent person. Consequences are often difficult or impossible to predict. The morality of an act may depend on chance (how the consequences happen to play out). How can you calculate units of goodness (utiles)? Happiness and lack of suffering may not be the only intrinsic goods.

5 Varieties of Utilitarianism
Act utilitarianism classic utilitarianism Preference utilitarianism aim to maximize the fulfillment of people’s preferences, rather than happiness Rule utilitarianism act in accordance with rules that, in the long run, tend to maximize happiness/preferences

6 Comparison of ethical systems
Main idea Virtue ethics: We should cultivate the virtues and act in accordance with them. Virtues include wisdom, generosity, kindness, justice, pride, courage, honesty Deontological ethics: follow strict moral laws, e.g. do not murder, do not lie, do not steal Utilitarian ethics: Act to maximize total happiness (and lack of suffering) among all people

7 Simplification of main idea (for discussion):
Virtue ethics: be good Kantian ethics: do what’s right Utilitarianian ethics: do what will have good consequences

8 Justification: Virtue ethics: Man’s natural function (telos) as a rational animal Kantian ethics: universalizability of moral laws Utilitarianism: Pleasure is good, pain is bad

9 Principles: Virtue ethics: be a good (well-balanced/rational) person Kantian ethics: Always treat a person as an end, not just an means Utilitarianism: Promote the greatest good for the greatest number

10 Ultimate goal: Virtue ethics: eudemonia (the good life) Kantian ethics: uphold the worth and dignity of every person Utilitarian ethics: maximize happiness

11 Main practical problems:
Virtue ethics: vague Kantian ethics: rigid Utilitarianism: may justify seemingly wrong actions

12 Thought experiments Philosophers love thought experiments! Test consistency of beliefs.

13 Ethical thought experiments
A way to compare different ethical systems. Which ethical system is consistent with our pre-theoretical beliefs? e.g. Kid breaks a vase Should he lie to his Mom? What’s the harm?

14 A terrorist has secretly planted a bomb on Mr. G, and Mr. G
A terrorist has secretly planted a bomb on Mr. G, and Mr. G. is now (innocently) walking into a crowded theatre. The bomb will be detonated in 5 minutes, killing hundreds. You are too far away to stop Mr. G, but you can shoot him down, killing him and saving hundreds. Should you?

15 Trolley case A runaway train is about to hit 5 people on Track A. Should you throw a switch to make the train go down Track B, where one person is standing (and will be hit). A runaway train is about to hit 5 people standing on the track. Should you push a fat man in front of the train?

16 Transplant case Kill one innocent bystander and transplant his organs to five patients to save their lives

17 Suggested readings Required Reading
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at: Entries on: Consequentialism and Deontological Ethics and Virtue Ethics Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism (1863), available at: Required Reading Stephen Law, The Philosophy Gym, Chapter 17, “Killing Mary to Save Jodie” (in ummoodle)

18 Quiz next week You will be asked about a moral dilemma and expected to discuss it in relation to one or more moral ethical systems.

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