Ethical Theory. Ethical Theory. Consequentialism in practice. How do we get the numbers? Must Choose Best Possible Act

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1 Consequentialism and Nonconsequentialism Ethical Theory Utilitarianism (Consequentialism) in Practice Criticisms of Consequentialism Kant Consequentialism The only thing that determines the morality of an action are its results (consequences) Nonconsequentialism are not the only thing to consider one of several things to consider Prima facie rules or prima facie rights (Non-absolute rules or rights) are irrelevant to the morality of an act Absolute rules or rights. Kantian ethics Consequentialism in practice If right act is one that creates good consequences, good for whom? Answer: for everyone affected. Must be impartial: self or family counts no more (or less) than anyone else What is good consequence to promote? Happiness as only good Bentham: quantity of pleasure Mill quality as well as quantity of pleasure Satisfaction of preferences as the good (less paternalistic?) Goes with capitalism (see later slide) Preference utilitarianism Must Choose Best Possible Act How do we get the numbers? Act A Act B +9-3 Act C +8-1 Number of people (non-humans?) affected Intensity of the effect Likelihood (Should we also consider whether effect will happen sooner or later?) 5 6 7

2 A weak criticism of consequentialism: we can t predict the future Consequentialism takes that into account (likelihood) Reasonable to play the odds, just as we do in everyday life Falsely assumes that a good ethical theory must be simple and easy to apply. How does utilitarian theory get applied as cost-benefit analysis? The minus points are costs (e.g., $$$) The plus points are benefits such as Lives saved Reduction in risk of dying Suffering avoided (e.g., days in hospital) Pleasure gained Likelihood (% chance) must be considered: a 50% chance of 100 plus points of benefit = +50. Typical: is it worth spending a million dollars to...? What are the problems of CBA? The dwarfing of soft variables stuff that can t easily be quantified as dollars like enjoyment of a sunny day. Defining the value of a human life in dollar terms. Expected future earnings? Willingness to pay for reduction in risks Wording of surveys Problems of accepting human preferences. Problem of Preferences People often want things based on manipulation or advertising. People are irrational at estimating risks. People often desire things for short-term gain that conflict with genuine happiness (smoking, spending spree, long-term environmental damage for quick profits). Key Concepts Criticisms of Consequentialism Moral rules and moral rights Justice (as one part of morality) Morally relevant difference between acts and omissions Intuition and reflective equilibrium Testing whether an argument withstands criticism

3 Problems Applying vs. Criticisms Problems applying utilitarianism do not challenge the whole approach of the theory. (Criticisms do.) They are things utilitarians disagree about. If we decide consequentialism (utilitarianism) is the right theory, then we may still debate What things are good (happiness, etc.)? How to figure out the numbers (e.g., $ for life) Criticisms of Consequentialism (overview) 1. Utilitarianism does not take into account rights and rules. 2. Utilitarianism does not take into account justice. 3. Consequentialism does not take into account special obligations to special people 4. Consequentialism does not take into account the morally relevant difference between acts and omissions 5. Consequentialism requires too much of us (relate this to #3) Consequentialism ignores moral rules and moral rights A fundamental question of all ethics: Do we need the notion of rights? Big problems: Where do rights come from? What rights do we have? But can we have an acceptable ethical theory without rights? A Test Case for Consequentialism A friendly country turns over to the United States someone with close ties to, and information about, terrorist activities planned against the United States. You think that gaining this information could prevent a terrorist attack and many deaths. The man is hostile and not ready to talk. What is it morally acceptable to do to extract information from this man? What are the limits?

4 We Broke Him For three months of interrogation, Mr. Faruq provided investigators with only scraps. "He was a hostile interrogation," said a Western intelligence specialist. Then, two weeks ago, the interrogators "broke him," the specialist said. He declined to provide any details of the techniques employed in the questioning. Theory and Particular Cases Can t decide on particular case first and then pick the theory that matches. Why not? But we do test theory by application to specific cases. (Analogy with science.) Debate on role of intuition. Reflective equilibrium. Utilitarianism Ignores Justice Justice in 2 Areas Everyone has freedom Total happiness not as great 10% of population becomes slaves. 90% are extremely happy. Society has greatest balance of +/- points. Utilitarian chooses this. Distributive justice: how should economic goods be distributed? Is it fair that some are rich and others poor Criminal justice: what is the justification for punishment? Two main approaches: Utilitarian Protection of society Rehabilitation, if possible Deterrence Retributive People freely choosing evil deserve punishment The punishment should fit the crime Only the guilty should be punished (We didn t discuss criminal justice in class; see course pack) Utilitarianism Ignores Special Obligations to Special People What principle might justify special obligation of But why should I save my daughter over 100 starving children? Cannot appeal to feelings Cannot appeal to what most people would do. Need an ethical principle. Parents to their children? Children to their parents? Person to a 2-year-old brother? Person to a cousin? Person to a friend?

5 Williams: kill one Indian to save 19 others? Why does Williams think utilitarianism is wrong? What does he mean by integrity? a special responsibility for what we do in contrast to what others do or what we let happen. Morally Relevant Difference Between Acts and Omissions What if killing can reduce the number who die, as Williams Indian example? Is it morally worse to kill a patient who wants to die than not to treat? Is it morally worse to bomb innocent civilians than to allow them to die by not acting? Is it wrong to buy running shoes when the money could save many people s lives? Some criticize utilitarianism for requiring too much. Think About What is the strongest criticism of utilitarianism? Why? Can utilitarianism withstand criticism? Basic: A claim is well-grounded if the arguments for it can withstand criticism. A well-grounded claim is one more worthy of belief. Possible Quiz 2 In one clear sentence, state one formulation of Kant s categorical imperative. (The course pack discusses 2 of them.) Kantian Ethics Difference between acts and omissions: action is done with a particular intent When I buy running shoes, I don t intend to kill innocent people Kant: utilitarianism doesn t understand the meaning of a moral agent. Kant: consequences are irrelevan to morality Happiness and unhappiness can result from earthquakes, sunsets, puppy dogs. Consequentialism and Nonconsequentialism Consequentialism The only thing that determines the morality of an action are its results (consequences) Nonconsequentialism are not the only thing to consider one of several things to consider Prima facie rules or prima facie rights (Non-absolute rules or rights) are irrelevant to the morality of an act Absolute rules or rights. Kantian ethics

6 Kant s 2 main concepts (review) Kant s view of human action The good will The categorical imperative Events in the world Cause event No freedom No moral praise or blame Actions of moral agent Action purposes, reasons, values Free will Can formulate idea of a moral rule Can choose whether or not to act Can be morally praiseworthy or blameworthy The Good Will and Kant s Concept of a Person as Moral Agent Kant: desires and inclinations are irrelevant Events in the world Cause EVENT Actions of persons as moral agents ACTION Intentions, purposes Two neighbors: one desires to kill you and doesn t; one has only loving desires Kant: one is not praiseworthy or blameworthy for feelings, desires. These are result of heredity and environment. One can choose whether to follow desires or moral rule when they conflict. One is responsible for this choice Categorical Imperative: 2 Formulations Could will to universalize Not that you would want everyone to follow it. (Then it would change with each person s wants.) For a rule to be a moral rule, it must be one that you could will to universalize. treats persons as ends in themselves and not mere means. Ideally: impossible to will everyone to follow; e.g., never help others but always be helped by other people. Also rules possible for everyone to follow but you couldn t will it.

7 Treat persons as ends, not mere means Don t use people Every person has intrinsic worth that cannot be traded off. Ideal society: a kingdom of ends Goes beyond utilitarianism Utilitarianism is impartial: everyone counts equally. If possible to kill one to save 9 others, all ten count equally. It would be wrong to kill the one if not necessary to save the 10. Kant: not enough. The one person has an inherent value that cannot be traded off. In spirit, Kantianism consistent with human rights. Criticisms of Kant s Ethics It is too abstract to generate rules that can guide concrete action. Kant s ethics has no way to resolve conflicts of rules (or rights) Kantian rules are too rigid. (They fail to consider consequences!)

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