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AOK: Ethics. Duty Ethics and Utilitarianism. Recap. Moral Relativism Lack of Foundation, Diversity Argument Common core values, Justify our values Self-Interest Theory Definitional Argument Evolutionary Argument Hidden Benefits Argument Fear of Punishment Theories of Ethics

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aok ethics

AOK: Ethics

Duty Ethics and Utilitarianism

  • Moral Relativism
    • Lack of Foundation, Diversity Argument
    • Common core values, Justify our values
  • Self-Interest Theory
    • Definitional Argument
    • Evolutionary Argument
    • Hidden Benefits Argument
    • Fear of Punishment
  • Theories of Ethics
    • Religious Ethics
    • Duty Ethics
    • Utilitarianism
duty ethics
Duty Ethics
  • Ethics is fundamentally a matter of doing your duty and fulfilling your obligations
duty vs rights
Duty Vs. Rights
  • We take the idea seriously that people have duties
    • Teacher to teach
    • Doctor to cure
  • People prefer to talk about rights over duties
  • Rights and duties are like two different sides of the same coin…they go together
    • If there is a duty not to steal then there must be a corresponding right to property.
    • If there is a right to life, there must be a corresponding duty not to kill
  • Imagine that you and a group of colonists have just arrived on a fertile and uninhabited planet and decide to make a ten-point declaration of rights. What rights would you include? How would you justify your choices?
  • What difference do you think it would make if he replaced the UN Declaration of Human Rights with a UN Declaration of Human Duties?
  • If everyone has the right to life, who exactly has a duty to keep alive the thousands of people that starve to death every day? Do you?
kant and his approach to ethics
Kant and his approach to ethics
  • If we agree that duty ethics is viable, then we need to know what are duties are…HOW?
      • Intuition? What if we have different ideas?
      • Table of Commandments? Who justifies them?
      • KANT has an answer!!
immanuel kant
Immanuel Kant
  • 1724-1804
  • German Philosopher
  • According to him, our duties are NOT arbitrary.
    • We can determine them in an objective way using REASON
kant and duty ethics
Kant and Duty Ethics
  • Kant: The way to decide if something is your duty is to see whether or not you can consistently generalize it.
  • Imagine you are waiting in the lunch line.
  • Wondering: Is it ok to jump the line?
  • Ask yourself, what would happen if everyone did that?
  • Answer: CHAOS! There would be no line!
  • So if you try and generalize it, you get a contradiction. “Jump the line whenever you want.”
  • Therefore, it is your duty NOT to jump the line
kant and duty ethics1
Kant and Duty Ethics
  • Imagine you want to break a promise because it is inconvenient to keep.
  • What would happen if everyone broke their promises when they felt like it?
  • There would be no such thing as a promise…it is another contradiction. (vow)
  • Since you cannot generalize the rule, “break your promises whenever you feel like it,” then it is your duty to keep your promises!
kant s motivation
Kant’s Motivation?
  • Special Pleading: make excuses to justify our own behavior that we would not find acceptable if they came from someone else
  • Our EGOSISM: encourages us to think that while rules generally should be respected, we are special and they do not apply to us
    • Example: Casual lying
something to think about
Something to think about…
  • Al Ghazali(1058-1111)
  • If you want to know the foulness of lying for yourself, consider the lying of someone else and how you shun it and despise the man who lies and regard his communication as foul. Do the same with regard to all your own vices, for you do not realize the foulness from your own case, but from someone else’s.
  • What does this quote mean? In what ways does it apply to you?
kant s ethics
Kant’s Ethics
  • The heart of his approach? Adopt a dual conception of ourselves as not only me but also one among others
  • Golden Rule: Do to other what you would want done to you
  • Veil of Ignorance
  • This is confusing
  • X does p to Y…you do not know if you are going to be X or Y
  • “You cut, I choose.”
values and dignity
Values and Dignity
  • Kant: no individual should be given special treatment, but also, no individual should be discriminated against.
  • Kant: Never good to sacrifice one’s self for the greater good
  • Reverse the dual conception of self
  • Not only one among other, but also me.
  • Only one me, only one life
  • Therefore, never be treated as a mere means to a further end.
values and dignity1
Values and Dignity
  • There is a crucial difference between objects and people.
  • Objects can have value, but only people can have dignity.
  • According to Kant, if something has value it can be replaced by something else of equal value.
  • If something has dignity, it is irreplaceable.
  • Since individuals have dignity, it is never right sacrifice their lives for the greater good.
importance of morals
Importance of morals
  • Kant: the moral value of an action is determined by the motive for which it is done rather than the consequences that follow from it.
  • If you are trying to be helpful, but it turns out badly, we do not usually blame you. You meant well.
  • If you wanted to hurt someone, but did not succeed, you would still be considered a bad person.
importance of motives
Importance of Motives
  • Kant: In order to be truly moral, our actions should be motivated by reason rather than feeling.
  • Feelings are too unreliable to justify our values
    • What if you feel like helping someone today, but not tomorrow?
    • What if you feel like helping person A, but not person B?
  • Kant wanted to avoid this problem
    • Base values on reasons not feelings
    • Insists that reason tells us that we have certain duties regardless of what we may feel
  • Three motives for doing good
    • You expect something in return
    • Sympathy
    • Duty
  • Kant only finds value in duty.
    • Moral praise not deserved for the 1st one
    • Moral praise not deserved because you cannot help being sympathetic and friendly

PARADOXICALLY: a naturally anti social person deservers for moral praise for being kind and friendly than a naturally sociable person?

motive questions
Motive Questions
  • If a cat jumps into a crib to try and attack a baby, who deserves more praise for removing it: someone who likes cats, or someone who is frightened of cats?
motive questions1
Motive Questions
  • Who deserves more praise: a person who helps another person because they like them, or a person who helps another person even though they don’t like them?
criticisms of kant
Criticisms of Kant
  • Rule Worship
  • Conflicts of Duty
  • Moral Coldness
rule worship
Rule Worship
  • Moral Absolutism: The belief that certain moral principles should ALWAYS be followed regardless of the context
  • Kant: It is always wrong to lie.
    • Is it?
  • Rule Worship: Blindly following a moral rile without regard to the consequences
  • You should respect the rules of the road, but it’s OK to drive through a red light if you are late for work.
  • You should respect the rules of the road, but it’s OK to drive through a red light if you are taking a critically ill person to the hospital.
  • You should keep your work, but it is OK to break a social engagement if something more interesting comes up.
  • You should keep your word, but it is OK to break a social engagement if you have just contracted an infectious disease.
  • You should pay your taxes, but it is OK not to pay them if you are short on money this year.
  • You should pay your taxes, but it is OK not to pay them if they are being spent on nuclear arms programs.
  • Murder is wrong, but it would have been OK to assassinate Hitler in 1942.
  • Murder is wrong, but it would have been OK to kill someone planning a terrorist attack.
conflicts of duty
Conflicts of Duty
  • Kant leaves us no way of resolving conflicts of duty
  • For some dilemmas there appears to be no criterion in accordance with which our duties can be ranken
conflicts of duty1
Conflicts of Duty
  • If a person has been unfaithful to their partner, should they confess and make their partner unhappy, or say nothing and deceive them?
conflicts of duty2
Conflicts of Duty
  • If your grandmother and a world-famous doctor are trapped in a burning building and you only have time to save one of them, should you save your grandmother because she is a family member, or the doctor because she is more useful to society?
conflicts of duty3
Conflicts of Duty
  • If your wife is dying of a rare disease and you cannot afford to but the drugs that will cure her, are you justified in stealing the drugs?
conflicts of duty4
Conflicts of Duty
  • If a terrorist group takes a civilian hostage and threatens to kill them unless the government releases five convicted terrorists, should the government give in to their demands?
moral coldness
Moral Coldness
  • Kant’s approach seems to be too focused on reason at the expense of feelings
  • No place for feelings may result in inhumanity
  • Gives morals a cold and heartless feel
  • We could argue: feelings connect us to others and reason isolates us
  • Reason has its limits and that it might be better to sometimes follow our hearts?
  • “Don’t do unto others as you would have them do to you – their tastes might be different.”
    • George Bernard Shaw


We are jumping right in!

utilitarianism basics
Utilitarianism: basics
  • Deceptively simple
  • One supreme moral principle: we should seek the greatest happiness of the greatest number
  • Basically: Maximize happiness
  • Developed: Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the late 18th/early 19thcentury
  • Tried to get all scientific with explaining ethics
  • Principle: the only thing good in itself is happiness, and actions are right in so far as they tend to increase happiness and wrong in so far as they tend to decrease it.
  • What is happiness? The sum of pleasures and that a happy life is one that maximizes feelings of pleasure and minimizes feelings of pain.
utilitarianism a visual
Utilitarianism: A Visual
  • Imagine you wore something called a UTILITOMETER
  • A needle and a dial going from -100 to 100
  • Measures pleasure (party = +92, boring class = -82)
  • It calculate your sum at the end of the day…and the nation’s! (gross national happiness)
  • Utilitarianism comes down to the claim that a higher GNH means a morally better world and a lower GNH means a morally worse world.
arguments in favor 1
Arguments in FAVOR (1)
  • Utilitarianism is a simple and coherent theory that uses greatest happiness principle to explain all right and wrongs
  • Simple way of solving moral dilemmas
  • All you need to do is follow the course of action that has the greatest effect on GNH
arguments in favor 2
Arguments in FAVOR (2)
  • Utilitarianism is a democratic theory because each individual is considered to be the best judge of what makes him/her happy
  • Every individual’s happiness is taken into consideration when determining GNH
arguments in favor 3
Arguments in FAVOR (3)
  • Utilitarianism is rational theory since it encourages us to take into account not only the short-term effects, but also the long-term consequences
  • Smoking = short term pleasure. Long term = more pain that pleasure, so a utilitarian would Just Say No
arguments in favor 4
Arguments in FAVOR (4)
  • Egalitarian theory because it could argue taking money from the rich and giving to the poor
  • Since a dollar means more to a poor person than a rich person, a taxation system that favors the poor could increase GNH
  • When calculating GNH, do you think that the happiness and suffering of animals as well as humans should be included in the calculation?
  • Two types: Practical and Theoretical
practical objections
Practical Objections
  • How do we measure happiness?
    • Can pleasures be measured on a common scale?
    • 1 date with Aaron Rodgers = ½ a movie with friends = 20 scoops of ice cream?
  • Constant stream of pleasures make for a happy life?
    • Look at celebrities!
    • The more actively we pursue happiness, the harder it is to find
practical objections1
Practical Objections
  • How can we know the consequences of our actions?
    • Woman who might leave her husband for a coworker
    • Roald Dahl’s Genesis and Catastrophe

What do you think is the relationship between pleasure and happiness? Is happiness the sum of pleasures, or can you have many pleasures and still be unhappy?


“To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.” Bertrand Russell

What do you think he means by this? Agree or disagree.

theoretical objections
Theoretical Objections
  • 1: pleasure/happiness is not always a good thing
  • 2: actions should be judged by motives, not consequences
  • 3: utilitarianism is incompatible with the belief that we have moral obligations and individual rights
1 bad pleasures
1: Bad Pleasures
  • Malicious pleasures
    • Derived from the suffering of others
    • Mugger who likes to beat people up
    • Friends who like to gossip
  • Empty Pleasures
    • Pleasures that do not help us develop our potential or flourish as human beings
    • Happy junkies?
2 judging actions
2: Judging Actions
  • Actions should be judged on their motives, not consequences?
    • Praise someone who meant well, but accidentally lowered GNH?
    • Condemn a malicious person whose evil intentions accidentally increase it?

Most legal systems punish attempted murder less severely than actual murder. Do you think this is right?

3 obligations and rights
3: Obligations and Rights
  • Does not seem to leave room to respect moral obligations or human rights
  • Kant: Never Lie
  • Utilitarianism: Go ahead and lie if it makes you happy
  • Utilitarianism justifies sacrificing an individual for GNH
    • Killing someone to increase the GNH of the neighborhood?

Imagine that you are at a dinner party and the food is awful. Your host asks you if you are enjoying your meal. What do you say?


If someone asks you want you think of them, how honest would you be in your response? How honest SHOULD you be?

rule utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism
  • We should judge the rightness or wrongness of an action not by whether it promotes general happiness but by whether it conforms to a rule that promotes general happiness.
  • It makes a lot more sense that our actions be guided by rules that have been proven to promote happiness
rule utilitarianism1
Rule Utilitarianism
  • NO: what will be the effect on general happiness if I break this rule?
  • YES: what will the effect on general happiness be if we break the rule that people should keep their promises?
  • Closer to duty ethics…

Imagine that you are the sole heir to your great-uncle’s fortune of 5 million bucks. On his deathbed, he makes you promise to build a butterfly farm with it. Instead, you donate the money to AIDS research. Was your action right or wrong?

preview to next unit
Preview to next unit…
  • Does history show that we have made moral progress?