Class Notes (1,100,000)
CA (620,000)
WLU (20,000)
PP (400)
PP247 (30)
Lecture 3

PP247 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Universal Rule, Applied Ethics, John Stuart Mill


Course Code
Craig Beam

This preview shows pages 1-3. to view the full 14 pages of the document.
Business Ethics Week Three: Ethical Theories: Contractarian, Utilitarian, and Kantian
Beauchamp & Bowie (p. 19-35)
Carroll (p. 13-17)
Glossary Terms
Act Utilitarianism
Categorical Imperative
Pluralist Deontology
Pluralist Utilitarianism
Preference Utilitarianism
Prima Facie Duties
Respect for Persons
Rule Utilitarianism
Persons of Note
Kant, Immanuel
Mill, John Stuart
Ross, W.D
Singer, Peter
Contractarianism (Hobbes)
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is the classic exponent of contract theory. Hobbes was an English
political theorist, author of Leviathan (1651). Hobbes was profoundly influenced by the religious
and civil wars of the period. His ethical and political theory is all about avoiding the "war of all
against all" of a hypothetical state of nature, and persuading us to accept a minimal morality that
is necessary for civil peace. Hobbes was tough-minded and cynical about human nature. He built
his theory on the "low but solid ground" of prudential self-interest and fear of death. From
Maslow's perspective, Hobbesian theory operates almost entirely at the level of our basic
physiological and safety needs. His basic line of argument in Leviathan is outlined in the next
State of Nature:
Human beings are Self-interested (or egoistic) but Rational.
In a State of Nature lacking a common power or government, everything would be
permitted, there would be no right or wrong, no natural conscience.

Only pages 1-3 are available for preview. Some parts have been intentionally blurred.

quality of Vulnerability. We are all equal, not because of any high-flown ideals, but
because of the fact that "the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest" (Hobbes,
1651, ch.1:13). Everyone must sleep sometimes. No prudent person can afford not to take
the feelings of others into account.
We have a Mutual Interest in avoiding a State of Nature because it would be a
war of all against all" in which "the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
The "passions that incline men to peace" are fear of death and desire for prosperous and
comfortable living (Hobbes, 1651, ch.1:13).
Morality is derived from the Social Contract and then enforced by a sovereign power
("for promises without the sword are but empty words"). It is a good deal for everyone to
escape the violent anarchy of the state of nature, so Hobbes thinks it is Rational and
Prudent for all self-interested people to obey it.
The power to use force and arbitrate disputes is given by the social contract to a
Sovereign. Hobbes envisioned the Sovereign as an absolute monarch, as that was the
prevailing political regime of the day. He thought it would be more stable, less likely to
degenerate into civil war, than a democratic alternative.
Natural Laws - Hobbes spoke of the following as "natural laws." However, they are merely
"general rules of reason" which enable us to escape the State of Nature. The first three suggested
by Hobbes are:
Seek Peace, as far as possible, and defend oneself when necessary.
Be content with as much liberty against others as we would allow them against us (a
version of the Silver Rule, which says don't do to others what you don't want them to do
to you).
Keep Covenants, for they are the basis of justice and the social contract (Hobbes, 1651,
One obvious issue is that there never was a historical or pre-historical period like the Hobbesian
state of nature, in which egoistic individuals went at it in a war of all against all. Human beings
are a species of primate, so we've been social creatures since before we evolved into humans. We
may be self-interested (in the uninteresting sense that our desires are always our own), but most
of us care about others to some extent, and care about our nearest and dearest a great deal. Or at
least those us who aren't sociopaths do. We were never pre-social individuals who somehow
agreed to a contract forming society. We come into the world as needy, dependent infants, born
into family groups, requiring years of parental care. Sympathy comes as naturally to us as
prudent rationally, though our circle of concern may not be as broad or as deep as some moralists
might like.
Contractarian Response How would contract theorists respond? They'd say it doesn't matter
whether anything like the state of nature ever existed. As long as people tend to think of
themselves as free and equal individuals and look for some rational and prudential reasons for
justifying morality and the social order, contractarian argument has its place. It is particularly
useful in two contexts.
1. Contract theory is strong in addressing the "why be moral" issue and arguing with the
moral skeptic. It can show why even an egoist has good reason for subscribing to the
basics of morality, in which every person agrees not to use force or fraud against others.
In trying to justify a more demanding ethic with an elaborate system of obligations and

Only pages 1-3 are available for preview. Some parts have been intentionally blurred.

virtues, contract theory may falter, but many of its proponents don't care, because they are
mainly interested in justifying a liberal or libertarian view of justice in which individuals
have plenty of freedom.
2. This brings us to the second strength of contract theory - its popularity as a theoretical
tool in debates about social justice. I will have more to say about this when we discuss
justice, and the capitalism versus social debate, in the next unit.
Utilitarianism (Bentham & Mill)
Utilitarianism has been the most influential ethical theory in English-speaking philosophy over
the past two centuries. Although not without flaws, it is a handy tool to have in one's kit when
analyzing many ethical issues and cases. Happiness and Consequences: Utilitarian theory is
happiness-based and consequentialist. It holds the ethics is about promoting happiness, and we
should give equal consideration to the happiness of all. It further holds that the moral worth of
actions is measured by their consequences. Sometimes the more fancy term "consequentialism"
is used to describe utilitarianism, as it is the most influential of all theories that appeal to
Utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-
Single Universal Standard: Utilitarianism is the ultimate in single principle and foundational
approaches to ethics. It seeks to reduce all of morality to a single universal principle that can be
rationally justified. Utilitarian theory holds out the promise that we can establish a standard of
measure for ethics, some quantifiable currency into which everything can be cashed. Thus it has
a strong appeal for those who want to combat moral prejudices (religious, traditional, etc), those
who want to say:
"So what if people have been doing A for centuries or feel that B is wrong. Let's do some hard
critical thinking or empirical studies about how A and B impact human well-being."
Greatest Happiness Principle: "Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP), holds
that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to
produce the reverse of happiness" (J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, ch.2, p.137.) According to the GHP,
the right action is that which produces the greatest amount of happiness for humanity in general.
This principle seems intuitively persuasive to many, but it is open to multiple specifications. Just
what is this "utility" we are to maximize? How should we pursue it - directly or indirectly? How
do we deal with ethically troubling conflict between individual and social utility? We will
consider each of these questions in turn.
Utility is happiness - that seems simple enough. But what is happiness and how do we measure
it? There are three views within utilitarian tradition about how happiness is best understood.
A) Hedonist Utilitarianism - maximize Pleasure
Bentham was a Hedonist Utilitarian. He equated happiness with pleasure, and wanted the theory
to become a calculus of pleasures and pains.
Critics have taken issue, even expressed disgust, at the equation of human happiness with mere
pleasure. Happiness is about human well-being in the fullest sense, while pleasure suggests the
physical enjoyment of food, sex, and comfort. Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New
World (1932) can be read as a critique of a utilitarian society based on pleasure - in particular the
low-grade pleasures of mood-altering drugs, mass media, and consumerism, helped along by
You're Reading a Preview

Unlock to view full version