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Utilitarianism is an example of Consequentialist Ethics, where the morality of an action is determined by its accomplishing its desired results. In both scenarios the desired result was to save the lives of thousands of people in the community. Therefore, a Utilitarian would say that the actions taken in both of the scenarios are moral. Since an (Act) Utilitarian believes that actions should be judged according to the results it achieves. Happiness should not be simply one’s own, but that of the greatest number. In both scenarios, the end result saved the lives of 5,000 members of the community. The end result is the only concern and to what extreme is taken to reach this result is of no matter. In these instances the things that are lost are an Inmates religious beliefs or a mothers fetus, on the other hand Thousands of citizens were saved from dying from this disease.
In the Scenario I, a Utilitarian would view the inmate as having a higher sense of moral obligation. From a Utilitarian perspective, the inmate should have acted out of a general desire to do what is right for the benefit of all, not simply for his own happiness, even if it meant going against his religion. The Utilitarian would also view the prison official’s behavior as moral. This is because one man endured the pain and suffering, but from that, 5,000 other people had much happier lives. Even if the inmate had eventually killed himself, a Utilitarian would still view the acts as moral.
In Scenario II, it is more difficult to discern exactly what an (Act) Utilitarian would say about the morality of the choices made since these choices bring pain in suffering to a greater number of people. The loss of three fetuses, that were not otherwise going to be aborted, would have a tremendous effect on many people. The mothers and their families would experience a great deal of pain and suffering over this loss. However, when weighed with the happiness brought to thousand of cured people, a Utilitarian would say the acts were moral. Since utilitarianism states that in any situation where there is a moral choice to make, the right thing to do is that which is likely to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Since different cultures have different moral practices, it is necessary to specify the culture under examination here. In American culture, and specifically within the 5000 member community, a CER would not take exception to the violation of the convict’s religious culture in order to secure his blood. In Scenario 1 the CER could argue that the convict was standing for what was morally right for him and the entire Christian Science religion. Since to refrain from any medical treatment for fear of meddling with god’s ultimate plan is their moral practice, and although this may have differed from the other 5000 in the community, the action of performing the transfusion was immoral to the Christian Science religious culture. In contrast to the numbers that could dying due to acting morally, for the culture of the community as a whole it was a moral action risking one individual’s personal morals to save the entire population of the community. The CER might see the community as a culture and everyone within that community as having the same moral values, since the inmate was a part of that community these morals by undergoing medical intervention by having a blood transfusion and saving the community was the more moral action.
The Utilitarian position is not entirely correct in my opinion. One implication of Utilitarianism is that every time one makes a decision, one tries to take into account all the possible results of that action. But those results will be constantly changing, since everything that happens continues to have repercussions that are not known at the time. In which case, there can never be a moment at which it is possible to say that the amount of happiness caused will definitely outweigh the amount of harm. One is never in a position to know with absolute certainty the relative amounts of happiness or pain that any action will cause. Therefore, in each of the scenarios,
First and foremost, I believe that if the decisions in both scenarios were made simply to avoid public embarrassment, then both were immoral. Since, Utilitarianism focuses on results, which are external to the person making the moral choice, it does not adequately take into account the motive for making a choice. However, I believe motivation is an important aspect in considering whether a person was behaving in a moral way. I believe that all actions to find another person with the correct antibodies should have been taken. I also believe that other mothers who were planning on aborting their fetuses should have been approached and persuaded to help in the cause.
I also strongly feel that there are moral rules that should not be broken, irrespective of the consequences. Scenario 2 falls into this category in my opinion. I only believe that these actions are moral if the mother was going to abort her baby irregardless of the situation. I believe it was immoral to persuade a pregnant person into aborting her fetus only for the possibility of saving others lives.
Questions to rais:
How do you evaluate the results of an action?
Is happiness to be judged by a person’s feelings alone, or is there some more objective way of assessing it?
What are your criteria for saying that a result is good?
Should you consider only the immediate happiness that an action brings, or should you rather look to its longterm consequences?
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