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Two Major Historical Theories of Ethics: 1.) Consequentialist: based on or concerned with consequences. (also called “teleological” theories) 2.) Nonconsequentialist:

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Presentation on theme: "Two Major Historical Theories of Ethics: 1.) Consequentialist: based on or concerned with consequences. (also called “teleological” theories) 2.) Nonconsequentialist:"— Presentation transcript:

1 Two Major Historical Theories of Ethics: 1.) Consequentialist: based on or concerned with consequences. (also called “teleological” theories) 2.) Nonconsequentialist: not based on or concerned with consequences. We will start with “Consequentialist” theories: A. Ethical Egoism B. Utilitarianism Ethical Egoism: Human beings ought to act in their own self-interest. Both of these theories agree that human beings ought to behave in ways that will bring about good consequences. Utilitarianism: Human beings ought to act in the interests of all concerned. In order to clarify these theories step-by-step, we will recall the famous “slashed tires” scenario.

2 ETHICAL EGOISM: Individual Ethical Egoism: “Everyone ought to act in MY self-interest. Personal Ethical Egoism: “I ought to act in MY OWN self-interest (but I make no claims as to what other people ought to do). Universal Ethical Egoism: “Everyone should always act in his or her own self-interest, regardless of the interests of others.” * Can you imagine why individual and personal ethical egoism might be problematic as ethical systems? * Individualistic morality is not a moral system; there is no general applicability. * Indeed, if you were to state publically (“promulgation”) your claims towards self-interest, you would probably create hostile relations! * How “moral” can a system be if it cannot be laid out for others to see? * In an ethically develop society, human beings cannot be isolated from one another.

3 Universal Ethical Egoism concerns not simply what I should do but what ALL humans should do if they want to be moral. Essentially, they should always act in their own self-interest. “What?!” you may gasp. “That would result in chaos!” But the assumption made by proponents is that—if all people were to act “rationally” in their own self-interest—they would inevitably create a better society. Does this sound familiar? A similar philosophy was used to justify a fairly well-known economic system…. The philosopher: Adam Smith His idea: “the invisible hand.” The economic system: Capitalism.

4 Can you imagine possible weaknesses to Universal Ethical Egoism? * It seems pretty likely that self-interests will not always coincide, so how does one resolve disputes between differing interests? * There is also the risk that even rational people will recognize another’s right to action on self-interest while hoping that individual will not act accordingly. (There is a logical tension here.) However, the certainty of self-interest is attractive (i.e., instead of examining complicated abstract formulas and rules, one simply must ask what is best for him/herself. And yet, in the end, this form of Egoism suffers from its failure to account for the interests and good of others. Justice and compromise play no role here, and in such a universe, one is likely to come out better than another.

5 Some of you may be familiar with the most famous proponent of Universal Ethical Egoism? Ayn Rand ( ) called this “Rational Ethical Egoism.” Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Rand believed that the self-interests of rational people would never conflict—they would come to the same (or at least harmonious) conclusions. However, this claim is easily (and historically) refuted.

6 Utilitarianism: “Everyone should perform that act or follow that moral rule that will bring about the greatest good (or happiness) for everyone concerned.” Original proponents: Jeremy Bentham ( ) John Stuart Mill ( ) “Utility” means “usefulness.” 2 types of Utilitarianism: ACT Utilitarianism & RULE Utilitarianism.

7 Act Utilitarianism: “Everyone should perform that act which will bring about the greatest amount of good over bad for everyone affected by the act.” (One does not set up “rules,” because each situation and each person are different.) For Act Utilitarianism, there can be no absolute rules, even against killing, stealing, cheating, and so forth. Can you imagine any problems with Act Utilitarianism as a moral system? * Again, there is no “system.” There is no structure to provide guidance. * It is difficult to know with certainty the consequences of actions—and whether they will be “good” consequences for others. * Thiroux notes that beginning anew with each situation is impractical. We do not have time to start from scratch when confronted with a new moral problem. * Indeed, can anyone truly be said to “start from scratch”—isn’t every decision informed by prior decisions or unstated rules?

8 * Also, how do we educate the young and uninformed if there are no rules for guidance? Rule Utilitarianism: “Everyone should always establish and follow that rule or rules that will bring about the greatest good for all concerned.” There is a presumption, as Thiroux puts it, that “it is foolish and dangerous to leave moral actions up to individuals without providing them with some guidance and without trying to establish some sort of stability and moral order in society.” Can you imagine the potential problems with Rule Utilitarianism? * If it is difficult to know consequences with a single act in a single situation, how in the world do we assess the consequences of all actions and situations covered by a particular rule? * Would we be better off without rules?

9 Some final objections to Utilitarian theories: * Securing the greatest good for the greatest number may have some pretty bad consequences for the minority. * Admittedly, in a disaster situation, you want doctors to concentrate on patients who have a chance of survival….,,,but is it justifiable to do fatal experiments on 10 children in order to save 10,000 children from cancer? (an extreme example, but still…) * In other words, do the “ends justify the means”? And who among us is qualified to make that determination? * Is it possible that all individual lives are an end unto themselves—no less valuable than a collection of lives? * Is it possible that consequences or end should not be the primary concern in ethical decision making? Could the means and/or motives be equally important?


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