Madeline KutlerPHIL 260Professor Jacob Murray Ross22 January 2018Assignment 2Part 1: SummariesSummary of “Consequentialism” Consequentialist theory states that consequences are all that matter in determining rightness and wrongness of actions.
The intrinsic value of the consequences of an action are compared with the intrinsic value of consequences that would accompany an alternative action. There are several focuses within consequentialism, including utilitarianism, hedonistic utilitarianism, perfectionist consequentialism, and rule consequentialism. Utilitarianism states that an action is right if and only if it would likely produce as high a utility as would any other alternative action, utility being the net value of the consequences of actions. This principle maximizes the welfare and happiness of all affected. Hedonistic utilitarianism holds that an action is right if and only if it would likely produce at least as high a net balance of pleasure ( or less pain) as would any alternative action. Only states of pleasure have positive intrinsic value and only states of pain have negative value; anything else has extrinsic value. According to perfectionist consequentialism, an action is right if and only if it would likely bring about a greater net balance of perfectionist goods than an alternative action, perfectionist goods being things like knowledge and achievement (not necessarily things that bring happiness. Rule consequentialism states that an action is right if and only if it is permitted by a rule whose associated acceptance value is at least as high as the acceptance value of any other applicable rule.
Acceptance value is the value associated with rules. Thus, there are two parts to be considered: (1) rules are evaluated based on their consequences, and (2) the action is evaluated based on whether it adheres to a rule. One does not have to adhere to any of these principles in order to be a utilitarian.Summary of “Utilitarianism” Mill first defines the Greatest Happiness principle, or the Principle of Utility. This states that an action is morally right if it adds to the general happiness of people, or works to alleviate pain. In other words, happiness is the ultimate end of all people. All other things in life simply act as means to that end.
Mill then illustrates his point by raising and responding to several objections to utilitarianism. First, he states that some may object to how pleasure is presented as the ultimate goal of people; if this were true, they say, we would be equal to animals who live only to seek pleasure and alleviate pain/discomfort. However, this is not true because humans hold a much higher capacity for pleasure and emotion than animals. We value mental pleasure much more than simple physical pleasure. The very fact that some pleasures are more valuable than others is a basic principle of utilitarianism. Another objection is that, according to the utilitarianist system of ethics, the sole motive of all we do should be a feeling of duty. This is an incorrect assumption.
It is obvious that motive is rarely duty; one may perform an ethically right action without beholding an ethically right motive. Public utility (the well being of “the people” as a whole) is rarely considered by an agent. A third objection states that utilitarianism is not practical because there is no time to weigh the effects of each and every action on general happiness. Yet we have had the entire period of human existence to figure out what is morally right and wrong. It is impractical to believe that, while a thief ponders whether or not to steal something, he must form a belief on whether stealing is moral or not right then and there. By this time (we should hope), mankind has acquired some notions as to how actions can affect general happiness.
A final objection raised to utilitarianism states that people do not only desire happiness in life. Utilitarians agree with this statement; happiness is not the only criteria of morality. If it were, people would never desire anything else, though we know people desire virtue, acceptance, etc. There are many aspects of life which are desirable in and of themselves, not as a means of obtaining happiness, but as a part of that happiness.Part 2: Objection to “Utilitarianism” The principle of utilitarianism entirely ignores the way one goes about performing an action; it focuses solely on the general “end” of happiness that all humans hold.
Because utilitarianism is consequentialist, it is focused only on the consequences of an action. If an action provides a positive impact on a person’s happiness or pleasure, then this action is deemed morally right. However, the means by which the action was performed could have been morally wrong. For example, say I am a doctor in charge of an emergency room. One of the receptionists in the emergency room is named Beatrice.
One day, three people are rushed into the emergency room after suffering a plane crash. One of these people is the Pope, one is a prominent leader for transgender rights, and one is the President of the United States. All of these patients require blood transfusions in order to survive. Knowing that Beatrice is a loner with no family or friends, and that her blood type matches all three patients, I kill Beatrice, take her blood, and save the other three people. By a utilitarian standpoint, my action was perfectly justified, seeing as it was the optimal action for maintaining high general happiness. However, considering the means of my saving those three people, the action was morally wrong because murder is morally wrong.
Thus, utilitarianism fails to look at the steps one takes to perform an action, and instead focuses solely on the action’s impact on general happiness. Though an outcome may be morally right, the behavior could be morally wrong.Part 3: Rights-based view: An act X is morally wrong if and only if it violates someone’s rights.
Say I trespass on someone’s property to save an innocent victim who is being harmed. I would have to violate someone’s right (to privacy and property), yet the action would be deemed morally right because I saved a person’s life. This view does not allow for small rights violations in order to attain a morally just end, and thus it is impractical.This objection aligns with the utilitarian view; even if the end result of an action is morally right, the means by which someone performs the action may be morally wrong. Today, we recognize that trespassing is morally wrong, and thus it is illegal. Though I saved the innocent victim, I did perform a morally wrong act to reach my end.
Thus, the view that an act X is morally wrong if and only if the known harms outweigh the known benefits seems to be more fitting here. This theory takes into account the means, as well as the result of an action. Thus, me saving the innocent would not be morally wrong as a whole, but the wrong action of trespassing would be recognized.