Moral structure through utilitarian approaches to ethics

approaches to ethics pdf

He argues that whilst people might start desiring virtue as a means to happiness, eventually, it becomes part of someone's happiness and is then desired as an end in itself. The first is about whether actions should be chosen according to whether they maximize expected utility the amount of utility that is predicted to result, given the unpredictability of the worldor according to whether they maximize the actual utility that results after the fact.

Ethical approaches

Unfortunately, this argument actually hides some fairly broad psychological assumptions. To maximize utility, it is necessary to know what is good for different people. However, rule utilitarianism proposes a more central role for rules that was thought to rescue the theory from some of its more devastating criticisms, particularly problems to do with justice and promise keeping. Utilitarianism establishes why equality is a good thing it often promotes welfare , and then promotes it exactly as far as its benefits justify. Mill's 'proof' of the principle of utility[ edit ] In Chapter Four of Utilitarianism, Mill considers what proof can be given for the principle of utility. The theoretical framework we outlined above suggests an alternative approach. Empiricism is necessary to tell us how to achieve the goal.

One thing about a normative ideal is that it is consistent - its nature does not depend on who you are, where you live, or what you were raised to believe. The principle of utilitarianism invites us to consider the immediate and the less immediate consequences of our actions.

Improving the social status of women was important because they were capable of these cultivated faculties, and denying them access to education and other opportunities for development is forgoing a significant source of happiness.


First, the utilitarian calculation requires that we assign values to the benefits and harms resulting from our actions and compare them with the benefits and harms that might result from other actions. Second, moral preferences should follow Bayesian rationality. We also switch to critical thinking when trying to deal with unusual situations or in cases where the intuitive moral rules give conflicting advice. The only real difference arises when non-Utilitarians claim, for example, that punishment should be made more severe than the Utilitarian optimal punishment even if it won't deter or prevent significantly more future crime. A response to this criticism is to point out that whilst seeming to resolve some problems it introduces others. Descriptive ideas are useful because they establish our theoretical and practical understanding of how the world works, what it is like, and why. Seventh, we explored construct validity by testing how scores on the final scale obtained from the previous steps were connected to other established measures. Two acts which have the same consequences for welfare cannot be distinguished as better or worse than each other, because all of their direct and indirect results taken together are equivalent. There may be no good answer to the question of whether the life of an ascetic monk contains more or less good than the life of a happy libertine—but assigning utilities to these options forces us to compare them. Just as one can endorse an impartial aim to maximize welfare without rejecting common moral constraints, so can one reject many or even most of these rules and values without endorsing the impartial positive aim of utilitarianism. Such tendencies would involve being responsive to and emphasizing the factors that a given ethical theory regards as morally relevant. Welfarism: Utilitarianism's definition of what is good is a welfarist definition. One final clarification. Now we can resolve the puzzle.

This represented an excellent absolute sample size, and with 77 itemsgave us a good final subject-to-item ratio of A prescriptive idea takes into account descriptive reality, and tells us what we can do to move closer to the normative ideal.

What this means is deceptively simple.

Utilitarian approach example

Part of the problem is that he wrote about it comprehensively, and there have been few good comprehensive books about Utilitarianism since then. Bentham does not believe the latter. Utility itself is not a simple concept, although its intent is to represent circumstances that are good for individuals. Utilitarianism is broadly in favor of the redistribution of wealth, to at least as much of an extent as most modern Industrial countries are and often considerably more. Failure to do so can lead to a great deal of confusion, and to poor arguments. On Sidgwick's view, utilitarianism is the more basic theory. Maximization: Utilitarianism is the most famous maximizing philosophy. Although tempting, this approach is not, we claim, a promising way to measure the moral views of ordinary people. Recall that Bentham was enormously interested in social reform.

A great deal of philosophy, therefore, consists of little more than trying to produce manageable sets of principles which, when reasoned from, will produce results as similar as possible to our intuitions.

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