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Utility and Utilitarianism
Moral Duty, Rights, and Justice
• An ethical theory that holds that an action is right if it tends to
produce, the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of
people affected by the action. Otherwise the action is wrong.
• Utilitarianism adopts a teleological approach to ethics and
claims that actions are to be judged by their consequences.
– According to this view, actions are not good or bad in themselves.
– Actions take on moral value only when considered in conjunction with
the effects that follow upon them.
• Utilitarianism demands careful, objective, & impartial evaluation
of consequences.
– It is a widely used & often misused approach to moral evaluation.
– A powerful tool of moral reasoning / a technique well worth mastering.
Utilitarianism and Business
• This cost-benefit analysis is a form of utility calculation.
− Business theorists use utility curves to plot the results of various actions,
choosing those that maximize whatever it is that they wish to achieve.
− This utility approach is widely used in many forms of general decision
making & can be applied to moral issues as well as to business issues.
• A defense of utilitarianism as an ethical theory is that it describes
what rational people actually do in making moral decisions.
− It explicitly formulates for them the procedures they intuitively and
spontaneously use in moral reasoning.
Act and Rule Utilitarianism
• Act utilitarianism holds that each individual action, in all its
concreteness and in all its detail, is what should be subjected
to the utilitarian test.
• Rule utilitarianism holds that utility applies appropriately to
classes of actions rather than to given individual actions.
Objections to Utilitarianism
• Utilitarianism is ungodly because it proposes utility, rather than
the Bible or God, as a basis for moral judgments.
• Utilitarianism is unworkable because no one has the time to
calculate all the consequences of an action beforehand.
• Utilitarianism is unworkable because we cannot know the full
results of any action, nor can we accurately weigh the different
kinds of good and evil that result.
– The calculation is artificial and not practical.
Applying Utilitarianism 1/2
1. Accurately state the action to be evaluated.
2. I.D. all those who are directly & indirectly affected by the action.
3. Consider whether there’s some dominant, obvious consideration
that carries such importance as to outweigh other considerations.
4. Specify all pertinent good & bad consequences for those directly
affected, as far into the future appropriate, and imaginatively
consider various possible outcomes & their likelihoods.
5. Weigh total good results against the total bad results, considering
quantity, duration, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, & purity
for each value (kind of good and kind of bad), and the relative
importance of these values.
Applying Utilitarianism 2/2
6. Carry out a similar analysis, if necessary, for those indirectly
affected, as well as for society as a whole.
7. Sum up all the good & bad consequences. If the action produces
more good than bad, the action is morally right; if it produces more
bad than good, it is morally wrong.
8. Consider, imaginatively, whether there are various alternatives
other than simply doing or not doing the action, and carry out a
similar analysis for each of the other alternative actions.
9. Compare the results of various actions. The action that produces
the most good (or least bad, if none produces more good than bad)
among those available is the morally proper action to perform.
Utilitarianism and Bribery
• Bribery in business is an interesting action from a utilitarian point
of view, because those who engage in bribery frequently justify
their actions based on something similar to utilitarian grounds.
Example: Airplane Manufacturing Case
• An airplane manufacturer has spent a great deal of money
developing a new plane.
The company badly needs cash since it is financially overextended.
If it does not get orders soon, it’ll have to close down part of its operation.
Doing that will put several thousand workers out of jobs.
The president of the company bribes a foreign minister to insure purchase
of the planes, arguing the good done overall justifies the use of bribery.
Deontological Approach to Ethics
• Actions are morally right or wrong independent of their
• Denies the utilitarian claim that the morality of an action
depends on its consequences.
• Moral rightness & wrongness are basic and ultimate moral
terms. One’s duty is to do what is morally right & to avoid what
is morally wrong, regardless of the consequences of so doing.
Kantian Moral Law
• Since the moral law is a law, it issues a command or states an
imperative: something that must be done.
– The imperative is an unconditioned one. It states what everyone is to do
since it is a command of reason.
• The moral law binds unconditionally. Kant called the statement of
the supreme principle of morality, the Categorical Imperative.
– In contrast, a hypothetical imperative states that an action should be
done if on the hypothesis that, one wishes to achieve a certain end.
• Thus, “If you wish to do well in school, study!”
• For an action to be a moral action:
- It must be amenable to being made consistently universal;
- It must respect rational beings as ends in themselves; and
- It must stem from, & respect, the autonomy of rational beings.
Formalist Ethical Approach
• An action is morally right if it has a certain form; it is
morally wrong if it does not have that form.
• The moral law at its highest and most general level
states the form that an action must have to be moral.
• But the moral law at this level, or the highest
principle of morality, does not state what content an
action must have to be a right action. It states only
the form the action must have.
• Such an approach is therefore called a formalist
ethical approach.
Consistency in Universalization
• Seeks to ensure that the rule, principle, or maxim of
the action is internally consistent when made
• Since the test is a logical or conceptual one, it does
not depend on the factual question of whether
everyone does or would do the action.
• Kant’s condition of consistent universalization:“Act
only according to that maxim by which you can at the
same time will that it should become a universal law.”
to start
Respect for Rational Beings
• “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your
own person or in that of another, always as an
end and never as a means only.”
• Three aspects of morality are captured in the notion of
autonomy: freedom, the self-imposition of the moral law, and
the universal acceptability of the moral law.
1. This freedom, which we can call the rational freedom of selfdetermination, becomes moral freedom when we choose to act in
accordance with the moral law.
2. Autonomy emphasizes the fact that moral beings give themselves
the moral law. As ends in themselves, moral beings are not
subservient to anyone else.
3. The third aspect of autonomy, the universal acceptability of the
moral law, is a function of the fact that moral beings give themselves
the moral law. The test is whether all rational beings, thinking
rationally, should accept it regardless of whether they were the
agents or the receivers of the actions.
Application of the Moral Law 1/3
1. Accurately state the action to be evaluated, being careful not
to specify it too narrowly.
2. Can the action be subsumed under some generally
acknowledged (prima facie) substantive duty, such as not to
kill, lie, or steal?
a. If so, and if there is only one such duty, that duty applies.
b. If there are actions about which there is doubt, go to step 3.
c. If the action falls under more than one of these, go to step 5;
or describe the action as a universalizable exception, & go
to step 3.
Application of the Moral Law 2/3
3. Submit the action to the three tests:
a. Can the action be performed by everyone without any contradiction
developing to prevent its continued performance? If no, the action is
immoral. If yes, go to b.
b. Does the action respect people as ends and not as means only? If no,
the action is immoral. If yes, go to c.
c. Is the action such that all rational people, whether on the giving or
receiving end of the action, would will all people to so act? If no, the
action is immoral. If yes, the action is prima facie moral.
Application of the Moral Law 3/3
4. If the action is prima facie moral, does it seem to conflict with
other general prima facie duties, such that both cannot be
fulfilled together? If no, then the morality of the action is
decided. If yes, go to step 5.
5. Consider arguments in defense of & against each of the prima
facie duties being the actual duty in the case in question. The
one with the strongest argument in its favor is the actual duty.
Special Obligations
• We can divide special obligations into a great many kinds;
three are of particular importance:
– those obligations that come from special relations;
– those obligations that come from particular actions we perform;
– those obligations that come from the particular roles we occupy.
Moral, Human and Civil Rights
• Rights are sometimes divided into negative and positive.
– Negative rights require others to forbear acting in certain ways and to
allow the bearer of the right to act without impediment.
– Positive rights, on the other hand, require either the government or
other individuals to provide the bearer of the right with certain positive
goods or opportunities.
• Moral rights are important, normative, and justifiable claims or
entitlements. Moral rights also carry with them moral obligations.
• Human rights are rights and freedoms to which all humans are
entitled simply by reason of being human.
• Civil rights are legal rights, and typically they apply to citizens
and not to all human beings.
Theories of Justice
• There are different kinds of justice.
– Compensatory justice consists in compensating
someone for a past injustice or making good some harm
he or she has suffered in the past.
– Retributive justice concerns punishment due a
lawbreaker or evildoer.
– Procedural justice is a term used to designate fairdecision procedures, practices, or agreements.
Types of Procedural Justice
• Commutative justice demands that equals be
exchanged for equals. Since commutative justice
refers to justice in transactions or exchanges, it is
of great importance in business.
• In general, an exchange or transaction is just or fair if
both parties to the transaction:
– have access to all pertinent info. about the transaction;
– enter it freely and without any coercion; and
– benefit from the transaction.
Types of Procedural Justice
• Contemporary philosopher John Rawls formulated
an influential theory of distributive justice.
– Each person is to have equal right to the most extensive
basic liberty compatible with similar liberty for others.
– Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so
that they are both:
a. reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage;
b. attached to positions and offices open to all.
General Application of
Rights and Justice 1/3
1. State clearly the moral issue to be resolved and whether it
involves claims of justice or rights.
2. In some cases, both sorts of consideration are present. If so, can
you either translate the moral norm expressed in rights terms into
justice terms or vice versa? If you can, do so.
3. If rights are the dominant consideration, then determine for each:
a. Is it accepted & acknowledged as a right? If not, how can it be defended?
b. Who holds the right and against whom is it exercised in this case?
c. What obligation does it impose on the one against whom it is exercised?
d. Is there more than one right present in the case, if so, do they conflict.
General Application of
Rights and Justice 2/3
4. If rights conflict, determine which is most important & should take
precedence in this case, presenting reasons for the precedent.
5. Having determined the dominant right in the case, is there any
reason to think it might be overridden by other considerations? If
so, consider them. If not, apply the right in question.
6. If justice is the dominant consideration, determine which kind of
justice is pertinent.
7. If distributive justice or questions about the ordering of society or
law are in question, apply Rawls’s two principles.
General Application of
Rights and Justice 3/3
8. If other types of justice are at issue, go behind an imaginary veil
of ignorance and ask whether all affected parties,
• if they did not know whether they were on the giving or receiving end of
the action (or transaction or practice),
• if they were adequately informed with the appropriate information, and
• if they were thinking as rational people, would view the proposed action
as acceptable. If so, the action is thus far just. If not, it is not just.
9. Determine if there are other considerations, consequences, or
circumstances that changes the application of that judgment.
• If so, settle these to determine whether the action is just.
• If there are none, the previous conclusion stands.
Exercise 1/2
• You and your client are behind the Veil of Ignorance,
• You’re bargaining on behalf of your client in an Original Position.
– You have to come up with a principle of distributive justice which your
client will be able to live under satisfactorily.
– You know nothing of your client’s talents, abilities, gender, religious
views, sexual orientation etc., except you do know that she or he is not
– The other people in your group are in exactly the same situation.
– You will have to think about how you will justify your choice to your client
when you find out who he or she is.
• Note: It has been previously agreed that basic liberties - freedom of conscience,
religion, expression, association, & the rights to participate in public and political
life, as well as the liberties associated with the psychological & physical integrity
of the person - must be guaranteed to all, so you need not worry about violations26
Exercise 2/2
You have six principles from which to choose. Remember that these principles
will govern your client’s entire life, and he/she will not be able to escape.
1. Laissez Faire: Markets operate without government intervention, except to protect
private property and to place limits on oligopolistic and monopolistic markets.
2. Equality of Resources: Folks have about equal resources available over their lives.
3. Sufficiency: Everyone has a basic needs safety net guaranteed. Above that level,
markets determine rewards, except as democratically elected legislatures choose to
constrain them. (If you select this, prepare to explain what are basic needs & why).
4. Maximin: Inequalities of resources will be arranged so that the least advantaged will
better off than they would be under any other arrangement.
5. Equality of Welfare: Resources distributed so everyone is basically equally happy.
6.You may, if you choose, formulate a compromise between principles, or formulate an
entirely different principle. If so, be precise and be prepared to defend it.
Appoint a scribe for your group. Also appoint a chair. Discuss the principles for
30 minutes. Then vote on the principles. You’re aiming to achieve consensus.27

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