Lecture 1 (Wednesday, September 12, 2012) – Act Utilitarianism
Name: Dr. Stefan Rodde; Lucy Langston
Office: UH 303
Office Hours: Rodde – Fridays 1:30 – 2:30, Langston – Wednesdays 4:30 – 5:30
Email: [email protected]
, [email protected]
1. Why should we do the right thing?
There are consequences to our actions
We are empathetic beings
It’s not part of your character to do that
2. Why should we avoid doing the wrong thing?
The recognition that an act is right provides a reason for doing it
The recognition that an act is wrong provides a reason for not doing it
Most situations we are able to recognize what is appropriate and inappropriate, but there are some
situation where we have competing moral reasons (moral dilemmas)
Moral dilemmas arise when there are moral reasons for accepting contrary positions
Example ▯should women be allowed to have abortion on demand?
Yes: Women have a right to control their own bodies
No: It is wrong to take a human life (including the lives of unborn humans)
Philosophical Approaches to Moral Dilemmas
Analysis of the arguments
Appeal to general ethical theories
Some people just ignore disagreements and others just assume that’s how others view life
General Ethical Theories
Studying general ethical theories help clarify key bioethical concepts
1 When we talk about medical ethics certain concepts come up again (i.e. autonomy, utility, character
Bioethics didn’t make up these ethics itself, they arose from philosophy
Moral judgments cannot be justified empirically
Typically moral justifications work by appealing principles (principle ▯judgment)
Example ▯“Abortion is wrong because we should never take a human life.”
Never take a human life (principle)
Abortion is wrong (judgment)
1. Reject application of principle
One way to reject this argument is to reject principle and question that
2. Reject principle
Another way to reject this argument is to say that it isn’t relevant because the principle is irrelevant
3. Show that there is another moral principle, which supports the contrary position
In this case, you could say that one should respect autonomy and that shows that abortion is
Theory and Argument
How does an understanding of ethical theory help assess moral arguments?
1. By helping to identify and clarify genuine moral principles
2. By identifying relevant contextual factors
Ethical Theory: Utilitarianism
Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)
Not the only utilitarian, but he was the first utilitarian
2 Lecture 1 (Wednesday, September 12, 2012) – Act Utilitarianism
What makes an action right/wrong?
An action is right if it has good consequences (utility) and wrong if it has bad consequences
There are two questions which any AU needs to answer
1. What is utility (the good)?
Some examples of utility/disutility:
1. Pleasure and pain (Bentham)
2. Happiness and unhappiness (Mill)
3. Preferences and dispreferences (Singer)
2. Whose utility determines rightness/wrongness of an act?
The utility to everyone who is affected by the action without anyone being privileged
Principle of Utility (POU)
An action is right if there is no other action which I could have performed which
a) Would have produced a greater amount of utility over disutility or;
b) Would have produced a smaller amount of disutility over utility
1. How do we determine whether an action maximizes utility or minimizes disutility?
Consider all of the people who will be affected by this action
Example ▯suppose someone hits you on the head, grabs your laptop, and runs
Would this act maximize utility?
Laptop owner ▯no
Thief ▯yes (short –