Introduction to Ethics Notes Part 3

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Course Code
PHIL 217

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The distinction between the absolutist and utilitarian: Utilitarianism gives primacy to a concern with what will happen. Absolutism gives primacy to a concern with what one is doing. An absolutist position opposes to this the view that certain acts cannot be justified no matter what the consequences. Among those acts is murder-the deliberate killing of the harmless: civilians, prisoners of war, and medical personnel. Absolutism does not, of course, require one to ignore the con- sequences of one's acts. It operates as a limitation on utilitarian reasoning, not as a substitute for it. An absolutist can be expected to try to maximize good and minimize evil, so long as this does not require him to transgress an absolute prohibition like that against murder. But when such a conflict occurs, the prohibition takes com- plete precedence over any consideration of consequences. Absolutism: That is, it does not say that the worst thing in the world is the deliberate murder of an innocent person. For if that were all, then one could presumably justify one such murder on the ground that it would prevent several others, or ten thousand on the ground that they would prevent a hundred thousand more. That is a familiar argument. But if this is allowable, then there is no absolute prohibition against murder after all.
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