Lecture 3: Introduction to Ethical Theory II
is morally right or wrong doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks is
right or wrong.
'Moral facts' are
like 'physical' facts in that what the facts are does not depend on what
anyone thinks they are.
OK, but what are
2 Theories: Consequentialism
Consequentialists maintain that
the moral status of an action (i.e., whether the action is morally right
or wrong) depends on the action's consequences.
In any situation,
the morally right thing to do is whatever will have the best consequences.
This isn't very
informative unless we also have a theory about what the best consequences
provides us with
such a theory.
The 'Founders' of Utilitarianism
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
The Basis of Their Approach: ask what has intrinsic value
and assess the consequences of an action in terms of intrinsically valuable
Intrinsic vs. Instrumental Value
Instrumental Value - a thing has instrumental
value if part of the reason you value it is because of what it may get you
Many things have
only instrumental value
i.e., we only value
them because of what they can get us
Intrinsic Value - a thing has
intrinsic value if you value it for itself
i.e., you'd still
value it even if it didn't get you anything else
What, if anything, has instrinsic value?
things may have both intrinsic and instrumental value.
Utilitarians on Intrinsic Value
What Utilitarians Think Is Intrinsically Valuable:
Some other common
suggestions: satisfaction, well-being, pleasure, welfare.
Use ‘utility’ as
a word captures the idea we’re after here
Utilitarians combine the idea
that utility is the only thing with intrinsic value with the basic consequentialist idea that we should do whatever has
the best consequences
The Basic Utilitarian Principle
The Greatest Happiness
Principle: "actions are right
in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce
the reverse of happiness." (John Stuart Mill)
Note: Mill doesn't
just mean to refer the happiness of the person acting,
instead, he means the happiness of everyone affected by the action.
is an impartial ethical theory.
It requires us
to maximize the total amount of happiness (and minimze the total amount of unhappiness) to whatever
extent is possible.
Varieties of Utilitarianism
all benefits and harms of an action in monetary terms
Quantify the cost
of the action
Choose the action
that is likely to produce the best overall return in relation to cost
Problem: Reducing all outcomes to cost
This approach is
really just a special case of Act Utilitarianism
2. Act Utilitarianism
Calculate the total cost and benefit
(in terms of utility) of the possible actions available to you
Remember this is the cost and benefit
to all concerned
Choose the action that produces
the greatest overall return in terms of utility
3. Rule Utilitarianism
Some object that
some very troubling sorts of acts could be justified on the act & cost-benefit
approaches to utilitarianism
an isolated area
For this reason,
rule utilitarians focus on following rules
that will, when generally applied, give the best return in terms of utility
i.e., focus is
on the utility of the general rule, not of particular acts
Problems with Utilitarianism
1. How can we know
all the consequences of an action?
2. How can we compare
utility from person to person?
3. Do we include
all generations? All species?
4. Will utilitarianism
lead us to repugnant conclusion?
E.g. should we
pollute a small region if this will increase overall happiness?
Deontologists deny that what
ultimately matters is are the consequences of
actions or rules.
They claim that
what matters with regard to whether an action is right or wrong is what
kind of an action it is.
What matters is
doing our duty by doing the right sorts of act.
A central element
in many deontological theories is the idea of autonomy
Autonomy = self
Roughly, the idea
is that people must be respected as autonomous agents.
This means there
are certain ways we must not treat people (no matter how much utility might
be produced by treating them in those ways)
= “respect for persons” approach
Varieties of Deontology
The Golden Rule
Do unto others
as you would have them do unto you – Christian
What is hateful
to yourself do not do to your fellow man - Jewish
No man is a true
believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself
A Problem with
the Golden Rule Approach
What if you’re
OK with being cheated?
Do unto others
as you’d have them do unto you is a scary rule if you’re a masochist.
We seem to need
a special shared viewpoint from which to assess what we do and don’t want
done to us.
Named for the great
German philosophy Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Note: this approach combines both what the text calls the self-defeating
criterion and the rights approach
Kant claims that
all our actions should be judged according to a rule he calls the Categorical
The Categorical Imperative
Version 1: "Act only according
to that maxim [i.e., rule] whereby you can at the same time will that it
become a universal law.“
In other words,
acts are right only if the rule you follow in acting could be made into a
telling a lie whenever you need to borrow money is morally wrong because
this sort of act is not universalizable.
If everyone acted
this way, the whole practice of promising to repay a loan would collapse.
The Categorical Imperative
Version 2: "Act in such a
way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person
of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means."
In other words,
we should always act so as to treat people as having intrinsic value,
not just instrumental value.
e.g., telling lies
is wrong because when you do so, you treat the person as a mere means to
people from being used as mere means.
Problems with Deontology
1. If we don’t rely on consequences
for moral justification, then why are the kinds of actions condemned by Kant
2. When are people being used as
3.Isn’t it sometimes right
to sacrifice one for many?
The Age Old Dilemma
In the end what
matters more: results or principles?
Neither view seems
quite right, but then do we just make it up as we go along?
Remember what the
road to hell is paved with…
The Good News
We don’t have to try settling this
But you should be aware
of both ways of analyzing a problem situation