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Ethical Theories: Conclusion Nanoethics Lecture III Roderick T. Long Auburn Dept. of Philosophy.

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Presentation on theme: "Ethical Theories: Conclusion Nanoethics Lecture III Roderick T. Long Auburn Dept. of Philosophy."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ethical Theories: Conclusion Nanoethics Lecture III Roderick T. Long Auburn Dept. of Philosophy

2 Utilitarianism A consequentialist theory: standard for the rightness of actions is beneficial consequences Differs from ethical egoism (another consequentialist theory) in appealing to beneficial consequences for everybody, not just oneself Claims the virtue of simplicity

3 Utilitarian Simplicity We ordinarily think beneficial results are one ethical consideration among others. Utilitarianism offers to explain the same range of ethical phenomena equally well by appealing solely to such results. This would make it a superior theory – IF in fact it explains them EQUALLY WELL. Does it?

4 Remember Our Problem Case for Utilitarianism Five patients need five different organ transplants Should we kill healthy patient and redistribute organs? Clash between ethical theory (might seem to say yes) and particular judgment (no)

5 Three Approaches to Solving Conflicts 1. Top-down: stick with the theory no matter what particular judgments it yields

6 Three Approaches to Solving Conflicts 2. Bottom-up: stick with particular judgments no matter what ethical theory they imply

7 Three Approaches to Solving Conflicts 3. Reflective equilibration: mutual adjustment Whatever they may say, in practice philosophers choose RE

8 Analogy With Science Top-down science (sticking with theory no matter what observations say) is bad science But bottom-up science is bad too: freshman chemist gets boiling water at 90º Mutual adjustment in science too Difference: philosophy conceptual, not empirical

9 Problem Case for Utilitarianism Three possible moves for utilitarian: 1. Reject utilitarianism (in favor of, say, Kantianism – respecting persons as ends) 2. Bite the bullet (accept killing the patient) 3. Reformulate utilitarianism so as to avoid the undesirable implication

10 Option 3 Distinguish act-utilitarianism from rule-utilitarianism Act-utilitarianism: choose each action in light of social utility Rule-utilitarianism: choose general rules in light of social utility; then choose each action in light of the rules

11 Rule-Utilitarianism Sometimes more effective to pursue goals indirectly Example: referees in sports – even if the purpose of the game is to give pleasure to the spectators, if the referee makes calls based on what will please the spectators, the spectators will soon be displeased

12 Rule-Utilitarianism Another example: Francis Bacon on “experiments of fruit” vs. “experiments of light” Value of science is technological goodies, not general insight for its own sake – but the best way to get the goodies is to pursue the insight Act as though the end doesn’t justify the means even though it does!

13 Rule-Utilitarian Solution to ODC A general policy of sacrificing few to many would make all of society nervous Make society better off by committing ourselves to a principle prohibiting such sacrifices We produce better results by acting as if we care about something other than results

14 Rule-Egoism Incidentally, Ethical Egoists can (and do) make this same move – which is why the conduct they recommend is usually not radically different from ordinary morality

15 Rule-Egoism Some ethical egoists combine rule-egoism with virtue ethics, advising us to choose the act that expresses the virtues that it is in our self-interest to cultivate

16 More Moves for the Anti-Utilitarian Is rule-utilitarianism stable? If you try to treat means as though they were ends – well, do you really regard them as ends, or don’t you? If you do, you’re no longer a utilitarian. If you don’t, what keeps you from sliding back into act-utilitarianism?

17 More Moves for the Anti-Utilitarian Does rule-utilitarianism identify the right reasons that killing the patient is wrong? Even if killing the patient would indirectly be bad for society, is that the main reason it’s wrong? Or is it what it does to the patient?

18 More Moves for the Anti-Utilitarian Does it even make sense for a benefit to some people to make up for a harm to others – when they’re different people? Does utilitarianism treat society as though it were on big person?

19 More Moves for the Anti-Utilitarian And so the dialectic continues ….

20 Immanuel Kant Perhaps the most influential philosopher of the 18 th century A deontologist A leading opponent of all forms of consequentialism

21 Immanuel Kant

22 Morality is a set of imperatives (commands, instructions) There are two kinds of imperatives: hypothetical (“conditional”) and categorical (“unconditional”)

23 Hypothetical and Categorical Imperatives A hypothetical imperative is one that is rationally binding on you only if you happen to have a certain goal (example: recipes, driving directions) A categorical imperative is one that is rationally binding on you regardless of what goals you happen to have

24 Hypothetical and Categorical Imperatives It’s part of the concept of morality that moral imperatives are categorical: you can’t get off the hook for a moral duty because you happen not to care about a certain goal But if consequentialism were true, then morality would be a recipe for producing good consequences – and so there’d be no reason to care about morality if you happened not to care about those consequences

25 Hypothetical and Categorical Imperatives 1. If consequentialism were true, morality would be a hypothetical imperative. 2. But morality is a categorical imperative, not a hypothetical one. 3. Therefore: consequentialism is false. So concludes Kant.

26 Immanuel Kant Whenever I act for a given reason, I’m showing that I regard it as OK to act that way for that reason. So I’m endorsing a general practice of acting that way for that reason. Suppose I lie to get money. I’m thereby endorsing a general practice of lying to get money.

27 Immanuel Kant But the point of lying is to deceive someone, and lying can be a successful means of deceit only because truth- telling is the norm. So in order to lie I have to want most people most of the time to tell the truth. Thus by lying I’m committing myself simultaneously to lying being the rule and lying being the exception.

28 Immanuel Kant So by lying my will contradicts itself. Self-contradiction is irrational, regardless of what one’s goals are. So a prohibition on lying is rationally binding regardless of what one’s goals are – it’s a categorical imperative.

29 Immanuel Kant In general: it’s contrary to reason to make special exceptions for ourselves to rules we expect everyone else to follow. When you do that, you’re simultaneously endorsing the rule and endorsing the exception – and so contradicting yourself.

30 Kant’s Answer to the ODC If I seek the general welfare by sacrificing individuals, I thereby authorize anybody to do likewise – I authorize sacrifice as a general policy. But it wouldn’t work as a general policy – it would frustrate the goal. Therefore killing the one patient is contradictory.

31 Kant’s Answer to the ODC Note: what’s wrong with killing the one patient is not that a general policy of doing so would have bad results. Kant’s moral theory doesn’t depend on the goodness or badness of results. Rather, what’s wrong with it is that there’s an internal contradiction involved in willing it – you simultaneously affirm two mutually inconsistent principles.

32 Kant’s Answer to the ODC Analogy: what’s wrong with believing that = 5? It’s not that believing = 5 has bad results (even though it probably would) but rather that it’s inherently illogical, even apart from its results.

33 Who’s Right?


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