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Rights, Duties, and Utilitarianism

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  1. Rights, Duties, and Utilitarianism Paul C. Godfrey Marriott School of Management Brigham Young University

  2. The fundamental questions:What is good?How do I choose what is good?

  3. Rights and duties • Immanuel Kant (1724—1804) • Actions that are good/right follow two categorical imperatives: • Universality—acts that could be a universal rule • Respect—treat others as ends in themselves and not merely as means • The categorical imperative allows the formation of moral maxims, or moral rules that can then be used to guide action.

  4. Pros Universality or ultimate principles Focuses on motivations Focuses on constraints to action Cons Rules or maxims can be rigid There are limits and exceptions to rules Doesn’t focus on outcomes Rights and Duties

  5. Two Doctrines

  6. Utilitarianism • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) • “The greatest good for the greatest number” • The 2 criterion of the principle of utility • Utility—Maximize welfare in some way • Impartiality—without the concern for the welfare of the decision maker

  7. Two types • Act Utilitarianism—Utility calculations for every action or decision, one-off morality) • Rule Utilitarianism—Adopting rules which in most cases will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number

  8. Pros The focus on consequences Utilitarianism seeks to be empirical A clear decision rule, similar to NPV. Strong intuitive appeal about some people being disadvantaged for the good of the whole. Cons Determining all affected parties the long term consequences difficult. often devolves to short term, directly affected parties. Utility is subjectively determined, Personal Utility is often substituted for Social Utility It can be a slippery slope to hedonism and selfishness discounts motivation: How important are motivations to you in assessing the moral worth of actions? Utilitarianism

  9. Transcendence and synthesis • The work of Thomas Acuqinas (c. 1225-1274) • Considered the greatest of the catholic “Doctors of the Church” • Combined medieval belief with modern sensibility • Teleology—everything leads to the end for which God ordained it

  10. Four keys to ethical action An act is good if it conforms to all four of the following: • A good genus (intention, desire) • A good species (object or goal) • Good “accidents” (immediate outcomes) • Good “ends” (long term or teleological outcomes)

  11. Why I like St. Thomas • Recognizes the value of Kant’s contribution (intentions, goals) • Recognizes the value of outcomes and utilitarian considerations • Sets ethical decisions within a larger context (the will of God and His purposes) • Denies tradeoffs between ethical positions and seeks for optimal solutions