philosophy

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Pro-utilitarianism and how it supports ethical decision-making

In its simplest form, utilitarianism presents the means of decision making as a process of elimination. When contemplating which choices are ultimately right or wrong, utilitarianism suggests that the most accurate decisions are those that offer the greatest net outcome, in contributing to the pleasure or happiness amongst a majority of people. Calculating the quantity of pain and pleasure in these decisions allows for the elimination of those that reveal the most negative ends, in order to arrive at a conclusion. In a situation where someone must weigh the consequences of killing one person to save a group of others, or save their own morals by allowing the group to get murdered by someone else, the blatant utilitarian answer tell us to kill the one person. This accounts for the "greatest happiness principle," as it grants the maximum good to the maximum number of people. Arguments that could be posed against this would be that integrity and morality are alienated with this method of judgment, as ethics tells us that no one should ever kill anyone because it is morally wrong. Utilitarianism, however, counters these arguments though the simple calculation of weighing positives against negatives.

Ultimately, when dealing with this dilemma, the person must choose the "lesser" of two evils. It is evident that both options are evil in themselves; it is simply a matter of evaluating which one provides a greater good for a greater number. Questionably, the individual's emotions are not taken into consideration and their integrity is relinquished when the lives that could be lost are weighed against, in terms of utilitarianism. Regardless of what the person decides to do, however, not everyone is given the opportunity to live. Utilitarianism advises us that since value is placed on outcomes rather than personal inclination, people want to save for the greater good because human nature suggests that we have the best interests of others at heart. Even if the verdict declares an action that is generally considered immoral through human nature, saving x number of people in contrast to the death of x number of people becomes morally valid from a different viewpoint.

Ethically, one may argue that it is immoral to compare the significance of one person's life to somebody else's, as everyone has an equal right to live. Since the traveler must do this comparison, many questions arise from morality because they know for certain they will be left alive. It can be debated that morality is not preserved in utilitarianism, because of the frail distinction between the person committing the murder, and the act of allowing someone else to commit it because of them. From a utilitarian standing, refusing to kill the townsperson would be morally unjust, because it leads to the death of so many other people. This brings about the worst possible outcome. The traveler will either have to live knowing they committed a murder in order to save many, or refused to harm anyone, inadvertently killing many. Presumably, the notion of murder is immoral, but becomes justified because of the greater end result in this particular situation. The outcome of a choice determines its morality—where the ends validate the means—when taking into consideration the pleasures and pains of unknown strangers to draw conclusions.

The way we think of life in general is mirrored through the idea of utilitarianism. Calculating the costs and benefits of the decisions we make is something we do without any second thoughts, where we gravitate towards those that benefit the most. On a larger scale, utilitarianism takes this to include the pleasure or happiness of the greatest amount of people, ultimately being the highest and noblest end a person can achieve in life. We cannot quantify human happiness in the way we assume Williams wants us to. In suggesting that we are only happy if we are satisfied morally for our own benefit, this seems to suggest a selfish lifestyle. In reality, if people make others happy, this sparks personal happiness. In order to make the right decisions, we must think about what will provide the greatest good for the greatest number, considering all persons involved. We must weigh pleasure and pain, coming to a calculation to determine the best outcome. Ultimately, utilitarianism pertains to a person's character and desires, and does not only consider the outcomes of particular decisions. Once it is distinguished that bad intentions may cause harm—whether it is to you or to others—even if the outcome are not bad acts, the utilitarian analysis widens into a further moral theory where it is able to relate far more directly with the idea of our moral intuitions.

When analyzing the decision of whether to commit the murder or not, utilitarianism certainly provides an ethical answer to why killing the one person is the right thing to do. Not only does utilitarianism consider this valid by purely the outcome, but it also provides insight into how our morality plays a role in why we decide to do it as well. Although it can be argued that utilitarianism does not account the morality of the person making the decision—as they must always keep in mind the outcomes of not only themselves, but everyone else as well—morality surely plays a role in the situation provided. Contribution to overall utility is most significant when shaping the morality of choices. Of course, every individual is not obligated to serve the general population every day through this theory, but even if only one other person is profited, it is plausible that an even greater utility and benefit for humanity may arise jointly.


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