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Ethics—The Basics by John Mizzoni CHAPTER FIVE: UTILITARIAN ETHICS.

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Presentation on theme: "Ethics—The Basics by John Mizzoni CHAPTER FIVE: UTILITARIAN ETHICS."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ethics—The Basics by John Mizzoni CHAPTER FIVE: UTILITARIAN ETHICS

2 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Is it wrong to force feed ducks and geese in order to make foie gras? Is it wrong to bring about unhappiness in animals in order to obtain tasty foods for human consumption?

3 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Greek philosopher Epicurus focused on Happiness as a life goal. He also formulated a kind of principle of reciprocity:EpicurusHappiness “Wisdom is a more precious thing even than philosophy; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that ( BCE) we cannot live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly” (Letter to Menoeceus).Letter to Menoeceus

4 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Ethical theories and traditions that focus on outcomes, such as goals or consequences, in determining whether an action is right or wrong are classified as consequentialist (teleological) ethics. Utilitarianism is a tradition of ethics that is consequentialist. It was first expressed by David Hume. WHO IS DAVID HUME?

5 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS David Hume was an 18 th century Scottish (British) historian and economist. David Hume Hume proposed a view of morality that was based more on emotions than on reason (Treatise on Human Nature ). ( )Treatise on Human Nature Hume is regarded as the “grandfather of utilitarianism.”

6 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Hume’s ethical thinking rejected the rational foundations of ethics. Hume held that “the rules of morality… are not conclusions of our reason”.the rules of morality… are not conclusions of our reason Instead, Hume believed that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions…”.reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions… Hume challenged centuries-old traditions that regarded ethics as philosophical.

7 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Hume called attention to the role of feelings, or sentiments, in making choices. His theory of moral sentiments was later developed by others into emotivism. His ideas were supported centuries later by Sigmund Freud’s psychology. Hume also called attention to our nature as sentient as well as rational beings.

8 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS IS —⁄→ OUGHT One cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” Reason and logic alone cannot lead to an ethical conclusion; we also need to feel something. Hume’s rule that we cannot derive an ought from an is referred to by some theorists as “Hume’s Law”. WHERE IS UTILITARIANISM IN ALL THIS?

9 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Hume referred in his writings to “utility” or usefulness, but never developed it. “…the circumstance of UTILITY…is constantly appealed to in all moral decisions concerning the merit and demerit of actions…it is a foundation of the chief part of morals...” ( An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals ). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals WHO DEVELOPED THE CONCEPT OF UTILITY?

10 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Jeremy Bentham was an 18 th century English (British) jurist, philosopher, reformer. Jeremy Bentham Bentham proposed a “Principle of Utility” for calculating happiness of acts ( ) (An Introduction to the Principle of Morals and Legislation).An Introduction to the Principle of Morals and Legislation Bentham is the author of act-utilitarianism.

11 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Bentham was a prison reformer, and designed a model prison, the Panopticon.Panopticon Bentham was an early supporter of women’s suffrage. Bentham was an early proponent of animal rights. Later utilitarians were influenced by Bentham’s positions on these issues.

12 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Bentham held that feelings of pleasure and pain are the basic consequences of ethical choices. His theory was that good feelings are pleasurable, and the experience of pleasure makes good feelings good; the experience of pain makes bad feelings bad. Pleasure and pain rule our lives (An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation).An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

13 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Bentham formulated a calculation, a Felicific/Hedonistic Calculus, which takes into account the intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, fecundity, purity, and extent of pleasures and pains. Felicific/Hedonistic Calculus Hedonism is the theory and tradition that says that the “good” should simply be understood as the feeling of “pleasure”. Hedonism

14 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS A phrase attributed to Bentham lays the basis for equality of persons: “everybody to count for one, none for more than one”.everybody to count for one, none for more than one Bentham’s remark “the game of push-pin is of equal value with…music and poetry” argued that any one pleasure was equal to any other pleasure in quality. This was later rejected by other utilitarians.“the game of push-pin is of equal value with…music and poetry”

15 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Utilitarianism contradicts both psychological egoism and ethical egoism. It holds that human beings sympathize with each other, that they have genuine feelings for others (as well as for themselves). The utilitarian view of human nature is that we are altruists rather than egoists.

16 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Bentham’s Principle of Utility states: “By the Principle of Utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question…” (Principles of Morals and Legislation).Principles of Morals and Legislation IN OTHER WORDS…

17 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Principle of Utility: “One ought always to do whatever will have the most utility for all concerned”. Bentham’s last resting place, University College, London

18 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The ancient Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu taught a doctrine of universal love and so may have taught an ethical ideal similar to utilitarianism, over 2000Mo Tzudoctrine of universal love years before Bentham. ( BCE)

19 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Aristotle defined “happiness” (eudaemonia) as flourishing Early utilitarians (act-utilitarians) defined “happiness” as pleasure (following hedonism) This is a common-sense and easily understood approach, since a happy life is a pleasant life, and an unhappy life is full of pain/suffering.

20 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Utilitarianism advises us to evaluate whether an act, rule, policy, or motive is really good by examining the consequences of our actions to see if they contribute to the happiness (pleasure) of all concerned. Bentham and his successor, John Stuart Mill, restated and expanded the Principle of Utility as the Greatest Happiness Principle.Greatest Happiness Principle WHAT IS THE GREATEST HAPPINESS PRINCIPLE?

21 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Greatest Happiness Principle One ought always to do whatever will result in the most happiness (utility) for all concerned.

22 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Is Utilitarianism Relativist or Universalist? To the critics of utilitarian ethics: Utilitarianism is relativist, since the morality of an action depends on the consequences of all affected, and so almost any action can be regarded as moral; in other words the morality of an action is relative to its consequences.

23 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Is Utilitarianism Relativist or Universalist? To the supporters and defenders of utilitarian ethics: Utilitarianism is universalist, because it posits a universal human nature, and it supports an objective ethic that recognizes universal values and principles.

24 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS What Is the Origin of Ethics, According to Utilitarian Ethics (UE)? Utilitarians seem to view ethical standards as originating in human feelings. They look no deeper than human emotion and human happiness in explaining their solution to the problem of the origins of ethics.

25 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS What is human nature, according to UE? Utilitarians seem to endorse the view of human nature supported by David Hume: Human beings are sentient beings; we have feelings, emotions, and social sentiments. Human beings are also rational beings; we think and reason, but our sentiments rule our reason. Human beings have egoistic and altruistic elements, but are naturally altruistic, with genuine concern for others.

26 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS What is human nature, according to UE? All human beings have equal ethical standing (egalitarianism), according to utilitarianism. Is there really a difference in importance between my joys and pains and your joys and pains, or anyone else’s joy and pains? If there is no difference, then we should regard the suffering and joy of others as important as our own; there is no important difference between your welfare and my own welfare.

27 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Principle of Equality The interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being.

28 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS John Stuart Mill was a 19 th century English (British) philosopher, economist, legislator, and social reformer. John Stuart Mill Mill modified and refined many of the utilitarian ideas of Bentham. ( ) He proposed a theory of rule- utilitarianism. SO WHAT RULES DID MILL PROPOSE?

29 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Golden Rule “The happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned… In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality” (Utilitarianism).Utilitarianism

30 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Mill further developed the Greatest Happiness Principle that Bentham originated. Mill interprets The Greatest Happiness Principle as a principle of altruism, which says we should be impartial with regard to our well-being and the well-being of others. With the Principle of Equality, Mill considers the happiness of women as well as men.

31 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Mill differentiates between sensual pleasures – such as the pleasure of eating good food, and moral and intellectual (higher) pleasures – such as reading great literature. Quality is preferable to quantity. Mill argues that utilitarianism is compatible with virtue ethics. Mill argues that human rules that are formed to benefit the whole of society by ensuring for all the best possible outcomes can guide utilitarian action.

32 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Peter Singer is a 20th century Australian philosopher, and a professor at Princeton University. Peter Singer Singer originated the theory of preference-utilitarianism. (1946-present) Singer is the author of Animal Liberation. WHAT IS PREFERENCE-UTILITARIANISM?

33 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Preference-utilitarianism can be differentiated from act- utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism by its acknowledgement that each individual’s preference for satisfaction/utility/happiness is unique, and must therefore be considered in calculating the “greatest good.” Like other utilitarians, preference-utilitarians view a morally right action as that which produces the most favorable consequences for the people involved; however, what is “favorable” must be defined by an individual’s preferences.

34 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Preference Utilitarianism One should take into consideration the preferences of the person concerned in each case, unless those preferences are outweighed by the preferences of other people. “O Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

35 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS ACT-UTILITARIANISM Act in such a way as to maximize pleasure and minimize pain Actor/agent defines pleasure and pain RULE-UTILITARIANISM Act following rules that maximize happiness/minimize unhappiness Actor/agent defines satisfaction/happiness PREFERENCE-UTILITARIANISM Act to maximize satisfaction or minimize dissatisfaction of all Agent does not define satisfaction; everyone’s preferences do

36 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Utilitarians have argued that if we regard the Principle of Equality as applicable to all sentient beings, then we must consider some nonhuman sentient life forms, such as animals, in our ethical considerations.

37 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Some Applications of Utilitarian Ethics: Mo Tzu on wars and funerals Jeremy Bentham on robbery John Stuart Mill on gender equality Peter Singer on species equality and animal rights

38 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Advantages of Utilitarianism: 1. It is non-anthropocentric 2. Utilitarianism is egalitarian rather than elitist 3. It challenges absolutist moral rules 4. While Divine Command and Natural Law Ethics are “top-down”, it is “bottom-up” 5. It calls for reform of the criminal justice system, from retribution to rehabilitation

39 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Advantages of Utilitarianism: Does not give us a lot of moral rules to follow, but a few principles that stand behind the rules When an leader such as a president or general chooses for others based on the greatest happiness principle, the ethic is utilitarian; when an individual chooses for himself based on this principle, the ethic is altruistic Tells us how much morality can demand of us (we must be impartial, and surrender our loyalties)

40 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Disadvantages of Act-Utilitarianism : 1.It focuses only on pleasure as a good/goal – What about friendships, aesthetics (G.E. Moore)? 2.It focuses only on consequences as essential What about justice, rights, truth, integrity, reputation (such as keeping promises)? – What about backward-looking reasons (experience)? – Do the ends justify the means? 3.Its impartiality is demanding, and ignores loyalties and supererogatory actions

41 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Disadvantages of Rule-Utilitarianism: See criticisms #2 and #3 of Act- Utilitarianism Rule-Utilitarianism focuses on happiness as a good/goal. Is happiness what we really want/need?happiness

42 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS The Advantages and Disadvantages of Preference-Utilitarianism: CAN YOU THINK OF ANY EXAMPLES?

43 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Utilitarian Ethics in Biblical Times “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perishperish’"(John 11:49-50).

44 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Utilitarian Ethics in American History The decision to use the atom bomb on Hiroshima is not an example of utilitarian ethics, since the Americans did not regard the lives of Japanese civilians as equal to those of American soldiers. However, it is clear that American military history is about sacrifices made by the few (e.g., soldiers) for the benefit of the many (other soldiers). This may be a factor in scientific trials, in which some subjects receive placebos to help advance science…

45 Ethics—The Basics UTILITARIAN ETHICS Utilitarian Ethics in Popular Culture: The Death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.”Death of Spock See Daniel Greenberg’s essay, The Good of the Many or the One: Morality in CommandThe Good of the Many or the One: Morality in Command Sometimes in sports, an athlete has to “take one for the team” (e.g. a sacrifice bunt in baseball).


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