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Dilemma Essay Example: Utilitarianism

6 pages
1470 words
Wesleyan University
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It is true that much has been said and written about what is fundamentally right and what is wrong. It is, however, important to separate different theories concerning these matters into two major categories. With this we realize that on any particular theory of ethics we decide to choose, an act's wrongness or rightness will be inevitable either in the result that the selected law brings or on the nature of the act itself (Blackorby et al., 1997). In this regard, however, if we decide to settle on the first approach, it merely means that what we shall be saying is that these actions are out-rightly wrong for the simple reason that they bring certain undesirable or bad repercussions.

Consequently, if we decide to take the second approach, what shall be saying is that acts like murder and theft are merely bad in principle regardless of any consequences which they may bring. What this implies is that we should always be asking ourselves these questions: how would it feel like if other people or anyone for that matter acted the way I am acting? Could I consistently and sincerely wish for a world or a place where people with reasons or no justifiable reasons behaved this way? In relation what is widely talked about in Kantian ethics or theory, is that if our action is wrong then what it simply means is that we would not be able to do this.

To make it even simpler supposing I am contemplating breaking a promise or going against our earlier agreement, Is it possible to wish for a place or world for that matter where people or anyone willingly broke their promises or deliberately chose to go against conventions when keeping them was inconvenient? These three friends find themselves in this somewhat, confusing moments with no clear state of mind of what to do in the prevailing circumstances (Kaplan, 1961). These friends went through tough times both from a nursing home and the chronic facility care and their respective homes where they witnessed patients suffer a great deal of pain and frustration.

Having seen all these, with their parents gradually losing their quality of life, they discussed it at length and agreed to support one another when the right time came. They agreed that they would rather die than be subjected to a great deal of pain and suffering. However, while doing that, what they might not have foreseen was what one would do individually when confronted with individual decisions to make such as on actions to take like what this friend was asked to do.

These are friends and having agreed to rather die than go through these with the support of one another the older friend finally decides to do the unthinkable and asks one of her friends to help her in achieving that (Lang, 2004).This car door can only be closed from the outside, and therefore before closing or not doing the same, this friend is faced with the inevitable consequences. Consequences are either desirable and or undesirable. What this means is that most of these traits are directly linked to human happiness.

Specifically though, is the fact that the single most influential theory concerning the consequence-oriented variety has always been that we perform the act from those available, that will realize, or bring about the least happiness or the most happiness. This friend knows that whichever actions she decides to take will either bring the most satisfaction or the least pleasure. It is worth noting that considering both the long- and the short-term consequences of our acts and subsequently treating the happiness of other persons as equal in value to our own, is what is referred to us utilitarianism.

It, however, follows that the focus is on the correctness and is the primary thesis found in the essay of the same name by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). A decision on whether to close the door or not is slightly confusing bearing in mind what follows after. According to the theory of Kantian, an attempt to give morality a non-religious groundwork was championed by thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham (1742-1748) and David Hume (1711-1776). This theory, however, states that pleasure and happiness have such a significant value. This theory holds that these values are all we want and that they have the eventual goals which all our actions should be aimed at.

From this theory, we realize that something is only useful if what it does is to promote happiness and it is bad if the end product is suffering. According to Kantian, our duty and indeed that of this friend' should be to try and do things which add to the amount of happiness or should at very least mitigate against the amount of misery in the world. Kantian thinks that putting more emphasis on happiness completely misunderstands the very nature of morality (Mintoff, 2003). His views are that the basis for us deciding on what is bad or good, wrong or right should be our awareness that human beings are rational agents who are supposed to be given respect and that human beings are free.

Utilitarianism, however, judges actions by their corresponding consequences. From this, we can see that if your effort aims at making people happy, then it is good but when it does not, then it is considered harmful. There is an existing agreement amongst these three friends, but this deal has no basis or ground on other people from the outside world, who may have unspecified interests on these three friends. If as it is actions are judged by their consequences whether they bring the most happiness or the least of it, what then should be the right thing to do?

Supposing this friend does as requested by her friend, who should be happy and who should not be satisfied or who should be the most joyful and who should be the least comfortable? If she decides to close the door, her friend would be satisfied with ending her life, and she would be left alone. Would she be happy as well or would she do the same sooner and what will other people think of her? If consequences matter most, then the act of closing the door would have been the best since they have all suffered and at some point agreed to take their lives should it become unbearable. The action would have been good, but that is not what most people think. It is important to remember that most people judge actions more by their motives as opposed to their consequences.

This is because the repercussions of our actions are often out of our control. These friends could all die based on the move they decided to take to avoid further suffering but would that have helped? It is evident that, at the point at which this old friend had reached, based on what they had discussed, closing the car-door, would have been appreciated more by her. But what if her wishes were not granted and their lives or health improved tremendously and lived more to even help their community in reducing pain and suffering?

According to utilitarian, it should always be our interest to work or act in a manner that will guarantee overall happiness (Ridge, 2006). Since it was mutually agreed amongst these three friends that they support one another in ending their lives if pain and suffering persisted, would have helped? Maybe she should have done what she was asked to do if it was the right thing to do to realize this. Although maximizing happiness to many appears to be a goal that is worth considering, it is true that it has a somewhat practical difficulty (Slote, 1985).For us and for that friend to do what will enhance overall happiness according to utilitarianism, some few factors ought to be given consideration.

In this regard it is essential to know: which people either future or present will be affected by the action she might take, and in this scenario, closing that car door from the outside. Similarly, it is worth knowing what the impacts of each possible action concerning each one of them. Consequently, though, it is imperative to understand how unhappy or happy each of these effects will make each friend following the action to either close the car door from the outside or not.



Blackorby, C., Bossert, W., & Donaldson, D. (1997). Critical-level utilitarianism and the population-ethics dilemma. Economics & Philosophy, 13(2), 197-230.

Kaplan, M. A. (1961). Restricted Utilitarianism. Ethics, 71(4), 301-302.

Lang, G. (2004). A dilemma for objective act-utilitarianism.politics, philosophy & economics, 3(2), 221-239.

Mintoff, J. (2003). Can utilitarianism justify legal rights with moral force?. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 151(3), 887-915.

Ridge, M. (2006). Introducing VariableRate RuleUtilitarianism. The Philosophical Quarterly, 56(223), 242-253..

Slote, M. (1985).Utilitarianism, moral dilemmas, and moral cost. American Philosophical Quarterly, 22(2), 161-168.


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