39 terms

Utilitarian Ethics

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Utilitarianism
An act being morally right or wrong depends solely on the consequence
True or False: An act that brings about at least as much pleasure or wellbeing as every alternative act is morally right
True
True or False: Acts that do not maximize pleasure or wellbeing are morally wrong
True
Three utilitarian thinkers
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
Henry Sedgwick (1838-1900)
Particular Act
One specific act that occurred.

e.g. Attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler at 9:33 pm on November 8, 1939 in Munich.
Act Type
Some set of properties shared by all particular acts that are similar in certain respects

ex: "killing people"
Expected Consequence
Determined by calculating the probabilities of all the possible consequences and multiply the probabilities by the value of a consequence.

e.g. Elser's attempt to murder Hitler had optimal expected consequences, but the actual consequences were not optimal.
Actual Consequences
How things actually go.
Rule Utilitarianism
Says that we ought to act according to a set of RULES that would lead to optimal consequences if they were to be accepted by an overwhelming majority of people in society.

ex: "don't lie"
Act Utilitarianism
Says we should question the moral relevance of what could happen if we were to act according to a set of rules accepted by the overwhelming majority.

The right making features of an act are the consequences of that particular act.

ex: lie to me now if that has optimal consequences.
Point of disagreement between Act and Rule Utilitarianism
virtue, that is, what makes right acts right and wrong acts wrong.
Classic Hedonistic Act Utilitarianism
Most well known version of utilitarianism. Claims that only happiness is good for its own sake. a.k.a happiness is the net balance of pleasure over pain.

An act is right if and only if no alternative act brings about more of what is good for its own sake.

Characterized and described by Jeremy Bentham
Explain how pleasure/good is additive according to Hedonistic theory
equality is of no direct moral relevance.
for example...
Person A has 20 units of pleasure/happiness
Person B has -10 units of pleasure/happiness
You have the ability to add 100 units to person A, OR 99 units to person B.
Hedonistic theory would add 100 units to Person A

However, if this inequality gap causes bad units to occur, that MUST be taken into account. We want to maximize the sum total of pleasure in society
Preference Utilitarianism
What makes something good for its own sake is a factor if peoples preferences get satisfied.
However, preferences and happiness do not always come together.
ex: smoking may feel good but makes you less happy in the long run b/c of negative effects on your health.
Consequentialism
moral actions depend on nothing but consequences. Whether something has some moral property depends only on consequences.

The utilitarian principle that an act is right only in the case that the sum total of utility (pleasure) produced by the act is optimal for all those affected by it is NOT ACCEPTED by all consequentialists.

However, utilitarianism is a special version of a broader class of consequentialism moral theories.
Objections to utilitarianism
1. some acts that may bring about he greatest amount of good consequences is never the less wrong.
ex: five patients in a hospital will die unless they receive new organs. If we kill a healthy patient we can save all of them... but should we really do this?

2. There is no special moral boundary that separates one person from another. The human becomes a container will no direct moral importance.

3. Many versions of utilitarianism & consequentialism are too demanding.
ex: instead of studying I could be volunteering.
True or False: Most contemporary utilitarians think act types, rather than particular acts, should be evaluated morally.
False. While some utilitarians have argued for shifting the focus of the theory to act types, most contemporary utilitarians hold that only particular acts exhibit the moral properties subject to the utilitarian analysis.
Rosa believes if she crams tonight for her test tomorrow, then she will do well on the exam. This is an example of what?
expected conssequences
True or False: An act is morally right if it brings about more pleasure than a MAJORITY of alternative acts.
False. Utilitarians demand that morally right acts produce at least as much benefit as every alternative act, not just the majority of them.
How might a utilitarian respond to a situation in which on e is faced with a choice whether to tell a lie?
If the consequences of the lie are on the whole better than those of telling the truth, then lying is the right course of action.

Rarely does the specific nature of the act evoke objection from utilitarians, rather the focus remains on the consequences of the act.
True or False: Although it is focused on wellbeing, utilitarianism does not consider pleasure morally valuable.
False
True or False: According to utilitarianism, there is no moral obligation to future generations.
False
True or False: According to utilitarianism, whether an act is permissible depends on the consequences it brings about
True
True or False: As a theory, utilitarianism is generally confined to engineering
False
On what point do act utilitarians disagree with rule utilitarians?
Act utilitarians believe the features of an act relevant to moral analysis are nothing other than the consequences of that particular act alone.

Act utilitarians believe it is inappropriate to divert attention, by focusing on a rule-making, away from the particular acts that provide the features relevant to moral analysis.
Is this action utilitarian? - displacing 10 families in order to save 20 acres of wetlands
No
Is this action utilitarian? - Firing 50 people to save a company from bankruptcy that employs 300 workers
Yes
Is this action utilitarian? - Saving a cherished family member from a difficult situation rather than 3 strangers
No
Is this action utilitarian? - banning a new medicine that will help save 3000 people because it could be dangerous to 5 out of every 1000 consumers.
No
True or False: Although Bentham and Mill discussed happiness extensively, they never indicated procedures for how to measure or calculate pleasure and pain.
False
True or False: Classic hedonistic act utilitarianism holds that only happiness is good for its own sake and that acts are right insofar as no alternative act could bring about more of this good.
True. The terms hedonism and act utilitarianism indicate thet the focus is on happiness and particular acts.
True or False: While direct consequences fall within the scope of utilitarian analysis, indirect consequences are not considered sufficiently relevant.
False. While perhaps not holding as much weight as direct consequences, most utilitarians still consider indirect effects to be morally significant.
What is the essential determiner of moral value for utilitarians?
Sentience
What are the important distinctions for contemporary utilitarians?
Act vs. rule utilitarianism
expected vs. actual consequences
particular acts vs. act types
Egalitarians differ from other utilitarians in that...
They argue that acts are right only insofar as the wellbeing they produce is distributed equally.
True or False: According to preference utilitarians, there will always be cases in which the satisfaction of preferences will not maximize overall happiness
True
True or False: According to preference utilitarians, what makes something good is the fact that people's preferences are satisfied.
True
True or False: Some preference utilitarians restrict moral corrections to "fully-informed" preferences.
True
True or False: because the focus in preference utilitarianism is on individual preferences, this type of utilitarianism is considered a relativist theory.
False