Criticisms of Consequentialism and Kantian Ethics. Key Concepts (first hour) You Should Know. Criticisms of Consequentialism and Kantian Ethics May 13

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1 Criticisms of Consequentialism and Kantian Ethics May 13, 2002 Key Concepts (first hour) Moral rules and moral rights Justice (as one part of morality) Morally relevant difference between acts and omissions Intuition and reflective equilibrium Testing whether an argument withstands criticism You Should Know What are the main criticisms of consequentialism? How does the consequentialist respond to each of them? Different views on the role of theory in relation to our intuition on particular cases. Phil 240: Ethics 1

2 What are the problems of CBA? The dwarfing of soft variables stuff that can t easily be quantified in dollars like enjoyment of a sunny day. Defining the value of a human life in dollar terms. Expected future earnings? Willingness to pay for reduction in risks Wording of surveys Irrationality of judgments about risk Problems Applying vs. Criticisms Problems applying utilitarianism do not challenge the whole approach of the theory. (Criticisms do.) They are things utilitarians disagree about. If we decide consequentialism (utilitarianism) is the right theory, then we may still debate What things are good (happiness, etc.)? How to figure out the numbers (e.g., $ for life) Criticisms of Consequentialism 1. Utilitarianism does not take into account rights and rules. 2. Utilitarianism does not take into account justice. 3. Consequentialism does not take into account the morally relevant difference between acts and omissions 4. Consequentialism does not take into account special obligations to special people 5. Consequentialism requires too much of us (relate this to #3) Phil 240: Ethics 2

3 Consequentialism ignores moral rules and moral rights A fundamental question of all ethics: Do we need the notion of rights? Big problems: Where do rights come from? What rights do we have? But can we have an acceptable ethical theory without rights? Theory and Particular Cases Can t decide on particular case first and then pick the theory that matches. Why not? But we do test theory by application to specific cases. (Analogy with science.) Debate on role of intuition. Reflective equilibrium. Utilitarianism Ignores Justice Everyone has freedom Total happiness not as great 10% of population becomes slaves. 90% are extremely happy. Society has greatest balance of +/- points. Utilitarian chooses this. Phil 240: Ethics 3

4 Utilitarianism Ignores Special Obligations to Special People But why should I save my daughter over 100 starving children? Cannot appeal to feelings Cannot appeal to what most people would do. Need an ethical principle. Morally Relevant Difference Between Acts and Omissions Is it morally worse to kill a patient who wants to die than not to treat? Is it morally worse to bomb innocent civilians than to allow them to die by not acting? What if killing can reduce the number who die, as Williams Indian example? Is it wrong to buy running shoes when the money could save many people s lives? Keep in mind that the term acts and omissions doesn t mean anything by itself. (I m just using it as a shorthand here.) The question is whether there is a morally relevant DIFFERENCE between acts and omissions. Always include this whole idea when you are writing about this. Think About What is the strongest criticism of utilitarianism? Why? Can utilitarianism withstand criticism? Basic: A claim is well-grounded if the arguments for it can withstand criticism. A well-grounded claim is one more worthy of belief. Phil 240: Ethics 4

5 Kantian Ethics (second hour) Key Concepts (from last hour) Acts and omissions Kant: The good will Kant: The categorical imperative Questions You Should Be Able to Answer How does the criticism about the difference between acts and omissions relate to an act s intent? What is Williams criticism of consequentialism and how does it relate to acts/omissions? What does Williams mean by integrity? What does Kant mean by a good will? Phil 240: Ethics 5

6 Questions (continued) What is Kant s idea of a person as moral agent? What is the categorical imperative and why can it be thought of as a super-rule? What are 2 formulations of the categorical imperative? How do Kant s ideas of respect for persons and a kingdom of ends fit with his theory and conflict with utilitarianism? What are the main criticisms of Kant s ethics? The Good Will and Kant s Concept of a Person as Moral Agent Events in the world Cause Actions of persons as moral agents ACTION EVENT Intentions, purposes Kant s Good Will A will oriented toward following correct moral rules. NOT related to psychological desires or inclinations. Often requires opposing one s own strongest desires to do the moral thing for the sake of morality. Phil 240: Ethics 6

7 Categorical Imperative: 2 Formulations For a rule to be a moral rule, it must be one that you could will to universalize. treats persons as ends in themselves and not mere means. Criticisms of Kant s Ethics It is too abstract to generate rules that can guide concrete action. Kant s ethics has no way to resolve conflicts of rules (or rights) Kantian rules are too rigid. (They fail to consider consequences!) Think About Which ethical theory seems more sound: utilitarianism or Kant s ethics? How might a medical researcher get people to participate in experiments to help other people and still follow Kant s ethics? Kant himself talks about rules, not rights. But how might someone use the spirit of Kant to talk about human rights? What would be a nonconsequentialist approach that, unlike Kant, would consider consequences of an action? Phil 240: Ethics 7

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