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University of Toronto St. George
Tom Hurka

Normative Ethics-claims about what is right and wrong Normative Ethical Theories-philosophical theories that try to identify the fundamental ethical principles that explain why particular acts are right or wrong. Utilitarianism-simple principle, has just one fundamental premise, that an act is right when it will result in the most happiness possible, or the greatest surplus of happiness over unhappiness possible. Hare-utilitarianism combined three ideas: consequentialism, hedonism/welfarism and impartiality/summation. Many people think that utilitarianism is nice in theory but is impossible to apply. To know whether a particular act is right or wrong, you need to know the consequences it will bring into indefinite future. We can’t do that, and therefore we can never know what’s right, which makes utilitarianism useless as a moral theory. This isn’t a decisive objection: (a) we often don’t know what’s right ex. The issue of climate change. How much should Canada reduce CO2 emissions. Moral questions are often difficult and utilitarianism gives an explanation why, answers depend on difficult predictions about the future, and when we can’t we are unable to know what is right. (b) The objection raised applies to any moral theory, not just utilitarianism, including one that denies that end always justifies means. (c) There would be a serious problem if this difficulty went too far, so we were never able to know right/wrong. But we can often be quite sure that a given act has overall good or bad consequences. Ex. Dropping a bomb on the CN tower. (d) Even when we are not certain of the outcome of an act, we can assign rough probabilities and make judgements using them. “expected-utility model” (e) “indirect” or “2-level” utilitarianism-utilitarianism applies to everything. Ex. If you say someone drowning would it be right to take the time to work out exactly what the probability is of that persons being someone evil, before jumping in? NO because that would take so much time the person would be dead, it would be better to just have a general practice of saving drowning people. Mill-rules can and ought to be changed. You shouldn’t follow rules blindly, but you do follow most of the time, sometimes you will act w
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