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Utilitarian and Virtue-based Ethics Based on Kernohan, A. (2012). Environmental ethics: An interactive introduction. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, Chapters.

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Presentation on theme: "Utilitarian and Virtue-based Ethics Based on Kernohan, A. (2012). Environmental ethics: An interactive introduction. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, Chapters."— Presentation transcript:

1 Utilitarian and Virtue-based Ethics Based on Kernohan, A. (2012). Environmental ethics: An interactive introduction. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, Chapters 5 & 6. Prepared by D. G. Ross, Auburn University. Images copyright D. G. Ross, unless otherwise noted.

2 Ethical situations generally involve (1) a moral agent, (2) an action or series of actions, (3) consequences, and (4) a recipient of the consequences. 1.Moral Agent: Responsible for action (the doer, or the actor, to which praise or blame is typically assigned) 2.Action: Something that occurs as a results of the moral agent’s decisionmaking process 3.Consequences: Result from action 4.Recipient: Receives the consequences of the moral agent’s action(s) Agent Action Recipient OW! Consequence D. G. Ross, Auburn University

3 Three overarching ethical theories directly relate to the four primary elements of an ethical situation: Virtue Ethics: Relate to the moral agent’s character Deontological Ethics: Relate to the agent’s duties and obligations in any given situation Consequentialist Ethics: Are concerned with the outcome of an agent’s choice of action and what that means for (the) recipient(s) Virtue of? Obligation to? Consequences of? D. G. Ross, Auburn University

4 Utilitarian ethics are consequentialist (consequence based). When considering utilitarian ethics, remember that: 1.They cause 2.The maximum 3.Total (aggregate) 4.Utility for the considered recipients of action. D. G. Ross, Auburn University Agent Action creates consequence Total Utility

5 Note that utilitarian ethics do not consider best possible outcomes for all recipients, but instead a computation of total utility. Utility is abstract. Under utilitarian ethics, we want to maximize total utility, but we must first define utility. D. G. Ross, Auburn University

6 The way we define “utility” depends on the model of utilitarianism to which we subscribe. Hedonism: Utility is defined in terms of pleasure. Preference-satisfaction: Utility is defined in terms of the satisfaction of wants and desires. D. G. Ross, Auburn University What is the difference between attaining pleasure, and satisfying wants and desires?

7 John Stuart Mill (author of Utilitarianism) writes that “the Greatest Happiness Principle” is: An existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self- observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison. This being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation. (p. 11) Mill, J. S. (1940). Utilitarianism, liberty, and representative government. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton & Co, Inc. D. G. Ross, Auburn University

8 The way we apply utilitarianism depends on the way we want to define our world. Act Utilitarianism: Uses maximization of utility as a decisionmaking process (Direct Utilitarianism) Rule Utilitarianism: Uses utilitarianism as a standard for rightness by which societal rules for right-conduct are defined (Indirect Utilitarianism) Actual-value Utilitarianism: Judges action based on after-the-fact consequences Expected-value Utilitarianism: Judges action based on expected consequences D. G. Ross, Auburn University

9 There are many potential positives to utilitarianism: All agents under utilitarianism are considered equally important. No agent should count for more than one agent. Moral standing may be equated to animals. We can actually “compute” an answer to ethical problems. D. G. Ross, Auburn University

10 With these models, we encounter many potential problems. With hedonism, we must consider problems of: Comparison: how do we compare our different versions of pleasure? Measurement: How do we measure pleasure? Quality: Are all pleasures equal? Sadism: Can we consider pleasure in another’s pain a legitimate pleasure? Accumulation: Does aggregate pleasure/pain count per person, or in toto? (See Torturer’s Problem) D. G. Ross, Auburn University

11 Preference-satisfaction utilitarianism leads us to these problems: How do we compare intensity of preference? Without total knowledge of the world (and the ultimate impacts of our actions, as utilitarianism is consequence-based), how do we adequately assess the consequences of fulfilling our preferences? When measuring greatest preference-satisfaction, how do we account for obligational (deontological) elements, like the obligation to not hurt others? (See Transplant Case) Do we account for virtue ethics (which are not consequence based, but motivation based) in our actions? (See Kidnap Case or Axe Murderer Case) Do we consider the “preferences” of non-humans? Can non-humans have preference? How do we consider those with unequal preferences? Given an equality gap, for example we may have rich people and poor people in our equation. Even considering preferences for dinner (contingent on knowledge of types of food, wine, etc.), satisfying preferences equally means that those with more power/money/knowledge get more that those lacking. This refers to adaptive preference—the idea that we adapt our wants and needs to our surroundings (see Amartrya Sen). If we satisfy all preferences, do the accumulative consequences ultimately do more harm than good? D. G. Ross, Auburn University

12 Hmmmm… let’s weigh the accumulated pros and cons of a generally utilitarian approach: Pros/Benefits All agents under utilitarianism are considered equally important. No agent should count for more than one agent. Moral standing may be equated to animals. We can actually “compute” an answer to ethical problems. Concerned with happiness/pleasure, and/or the satisfaction of desires Cons/Potential Problems Comparison: how do we compare our different versions of pleasure? Measurement: How do we measure pleasure? Quality: Are all pleasures equal? Sadism: Can we consider pleasure in another’s pain a legitimate pleasure? Accumulation: Does aggregate pleasure/pain count per person, or in toto? (See Torturer’s Problem) How do we compare intensity of preference? Without total knowledge of the world (and the ultimate impacts of our actions, as utilitarianism is consequence-based), how do we adequately assess the consequences of fulfilling our preferences? When measuring greatest preference-satisfaction, how do we account for obligational (deontological) elements, like the obligation to not hurt others? (See Transplant Case) Do we account for virtue ethics (which are not consequence based, but motivation based) in our actions? (See Kidnap Case or Axe Murderer Case) Do we consider the “preferences” of non-humans? Can non-humans have preference? How do we consider those with unequal preferences? Given an equality gap, for example we may have rich people and poor people in our equation. Even considering preferences for dinner (contingent on knowledge of types of food, wine, etc.), satisfying preferences equally means that those with more power/money/knowledge get more that those lacking. This refers to adaptive preference—the idea that we adapt our wants and needs to our surroundings (see Amartrya Sen). If we satisfy all preferences, do the accumulative consequences ultimately do more harm than good? D. G. Ross, Auburn University This is, of course, a false dichotomy (to some extent). But can we actually apply the pros and cons of utilitarian approaches to utilitarianism itself?

13 To some extent, utilitarian ethics force us to consider virtue ethics. Virtue Ethics: Relate to the moral agent’s character Consequentialist Ethics: Are concerned with the outcome of an agent’s choice of action and what that means for (the) recipient(s) When we start considering pleasure, or preference- satisfaction, we often find ourselves considering motivation… How (and why) should a moral agent act? D. G. Ross, Auburn University Agent Action creates consequence Total Utility

14 Virtue ethics consider what it takes for a moral agent to live a virtuous life. Aristotle lists the following as virtues of character (from Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter VII): Courage, also called bravery Temperance Liberality, also called generosity Magnificence; Greatness of Soul, also called magnanimity a nameless virtue concerned with appropriate concern for honor, defined in excess as ambition, and in deficit as unambitious, where the virtue lies in the middle Gentleness, also called mildness Truthfulness Wittiness Friendliness Modesty, or proneness to shame Proper, or righteous, Indignation (Aristotle, 1975, pp. 97 – 105). D. G. Ross, Auburn University (Aristotle. (1975). The Nicomachean Ethics. (H. Rackham, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.)

15 Kernohan lists the following as virtue/vice comparisons (p. 76): VirtuesVices HonestyDishonesty CourageCowardice CompassionInsensitivity GenerositySelfishness LoyaltyDisloyalty IntegritySleaziness FairnessUnfairness Self-ControlSelf-Indulgence PrudenceShort-sightedness D. G. Ross, Auburn University

16 “SIMPLE” SAMPLE CASES So let’s end by considering the following: D. G. Ross, Auburn University

17 Derek Parfit’s Harmless Torturer problem (Kernohan p. 60) “The victim is hooked up to a torture machine. The machine has a dial with 1000 clicks. Turning the dial by one click causes an imperceptible addition to the victim’s pain. Turning the dial by 1000 clicks causes the victim excruciating pain people each turn the dial by one click. Each person causes the victim no addition to perceptible pain. Therefore, each person does nothing wrong. However, the victim experiences extreme pain (Parfit 1984: 80).” Parfit, Derek Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press. This is a problem of accumulation with regard to hedonistic utilitarianism. What does this case teach us about aggregation and accumulation? D. G. Ross, Auburn University

18 Transplant Case (Kernohan p. 63) “In a certain hospital, five people will die without a transplant operation. Each of them would prefer to live. One needs a heart, two each need a lung, and two each need a kidney. Into the operating room comes an unsuspecting person with one healthy heart, two healthy lungs, and two healthy kidneys. The surgeon removes the organs from the unsuspecting person and transplants them into the five needy people, thereby maximizing the aggregate lives saved, by saving five lives but losing one. The surgeon maximizes aggregate utility by satisfying the preferences of five people, but violates the rights of the unsuspecting victim.” D. G. Ross, Auburn University Under utilitarianism, this is ethical…right?

19 Bernard Williams’s Kidnap Case (Kernohan p. 63) “Terrorists capture George and twenty companions. The leader of the terrorists makes George the following proposition: “If you shoot just one of your friends, I will let the others go free. If you do not, then I will kill them all.” D. G. Ross, Auburn University x x Again, under utilitarianism, this is ethical…right?

20 The Axe Murderer and the Truth Teller (Kernohan p. 89) “Karl’s roommate, Jane, is in her room. An axe murderer comes to the door and asks Karl if she is home. Karl believes he has a duty to always tell the truth to others, no matter what the consequences. Karl believes that the axe murderer has a right to hear the truth from him. Karl tells the Axe murderer that Jane is in, and believes that, since his intentions were good, he should not be morally condemned for the ensuing bloodshed.” D. G. Ross, Auburn University Telling the truth is virtuous…right?


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