Ethics Consider the Three Purposes of Morality Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :


Consider the three purposes of morality treated in Chapter 1. Which of these would it be easier for utilitarianism to fulfill and which could well be more difficult for that system to fully meet?

Of the three purposes of morality treated in Chapter One, perhaps the easiest purpose for the ethical system of utilitarianism, as developed by the Englishman Jeremy Bentham, to meet would be to create a functional system of social ethics, or the ethical schema that holds a society together by its ethical 'glue.' Utilitarianism suggests that society, when pressed on many sides by the competition of different ethical claims, or even simply by different but equally valid claims for personal happiness, should choose the truth claim that allows for the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals within that particular society. For instance, the happiness of the many in my neighborhood to sleep late at night outweighs my personal truth claim to happiness to play loud music into the wee hours, even though I may have a different work schedule than the average resident, and may be uncomfortably awoken at 7:30am by car doors slamming by my 9-to-5 neighbors, the vast majority of whom are embarking upon their daily commute to the city.

Utilitarianism may also work quite well, as such, in formulating an ethical system of governance within a democratic framework. For example, consider a government that must raise its taxes to balance its budget. One way to do so is to raise income taxes because income taxes, unlike sales taxes are progressive rather than regressive taxes that tax different individuals relative to their ability to pay, rather than tax every individual who purchases the same gallon of milk, regardless of economic status. The vast majority of poorer people could be taxed less or nor at all by raising income taxes, while wealthier, less numerous individuals in the population could be taxed more to bear the burden of the increased cost of life.

Conversely, perhaps the most difficult function for ethical utilitarianism to fulfill, however, is formulating a schema of individual ethics, or a system or code of conduct that works upon a daily basis for one's self. Of course, one can still ask if one's personal conduct fulfills the goal of meeting the greatest happiness for the greatest number. But on a personal and individual basis it is difficult to hold one's self to such high standards of objectivity regarding personal decision-making. Also, it is hard, on a daily basis, to constantly assess how many and who will be affected by one's personal decisions as a government is capable of assessing on a macro level.

For instance, let us say for the sake of argument that I will decide from a utilitarian framework of judgment to save money for my family and not go to the movies. However much happiness I might cause for my family because of my frugality, I will also cause unhappiness on the part of the individuals who made the movie and the local owners of my local theater -- even affect the jobs generated by the movie industry. But even if more people are negatively affected by my nonattendance, does that mean I should go to the movie -- or to all movies, regardless of quality, to support my local theater?

Second Question

What reasoning lies behind Kant's claim that the only good thing is a good will? In what way does Kant's position contradict that of the utilitarian? What problem(s) or objection(s) can be raised against Kant's position on this matter?

Of course, one way of eschewing the difficulties of the utilitarian framework is to assume one's own schema of personal conduct that one will adhere to no matter what -- such is the position of Immanuel Kant. Kant formulated what is known as the categorical imperative, the idea that there are certain categorical ethical standpoints one must follow, no matter what, regardless of there projected real life outcome. Thus, there is only one truly good thing for Kant, the notion of a good will. For instance, even if I save millions of lives by starting an unethical drug development business to enrich myself based upon accounting fraud, but which has the outcome of developing an inexpensive drug that will cure cancer, Kant would still say that such an act was morally wrong, according to his imperative, because even if the effects are good, the modus opperendi and the intentions are bad behind them.

Such a scenario is unlikely, one might counter, and makes the imperative sound absurd. Another way of considering Kant's stress upon a good will, however, is to imagine another scenario, where a ship is at sea. The captain of the craft sees someone struggling to swim -- thus the captain risks his life and his crew, against the purpose of utilitarianism, to save the life of the drowning individual. The good will evident in this action, Kant would contend, subsumes all utilitarian arguments that it is better to spare one's own life as a captain and one's own life as a crew, upholding the mutual network of obligation on ship, than to save the life of an individual drowning. Kant would say that even if the individual drowning were actually a flapping dolphin happily at play, all that would matter would be the good will shown in attempting to save the life of the drowning person. The act would still be good according to the categorical imperative, even if the captain's crew died in the attempt, so long as the captain's intent was pure.

The objections on an intuitive level to the Kantian categorical imperative's stress upon a good will at the expense of majority rights or purposeful ethical action with the practical intent of satisfying the majority will are numerous. The first may be found in the expression 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions,' namely that many irresponsible acts have been inflicted upon society, though the intentions and will be good. On Mother's Day, many mothers will have to clean a destroyed kitchen, laid waste by the good intentions of young children whom have attempted to craft a breakfast of burnt toast and eggs for their mother -- or have to suffer a bowl of sweet and sugary cereal served by said children, when the mother would really have preferred some heart-healthy granola, or simply to sleep late. Although these examples will seem benign, consider this -- what if the children burned down the kitchen in the process? Or sickened the mother to the point of needing to take her to the hospital, because they served her sour milk? Simply because their will was good, does this mean that the actions were similarly good?

Also, there is a conflict between the individual will and the collective will to do good -- although the captain's desire to rescue the drowning man (who was really a dolphin) might be laudatory, does this mean his obligation to his crew, overridden by his desire to help the individual, was null and void? When one is torn apart by obligations, both of which have good aims -- to save a man or to take care of a crew that has placed their lives in one's trust, ultimately Kant offers little foundation to make a choice between two categorical ethical imperatives that are mutually at odds and are mutually exclusive in practical terms, that is, the actor cannot do both good or ethical things, without eliminating one.

Third Question

Explain the concept that "one's character is one's fate" as understood within the parameters of virtue-based ethics.

A good person will make good ethical choices, suggests the common schema of virtue-based ethics. Virtue-based ethical theories hope to give an individual a good ethical framework or morally-based…

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