Moral philosophy is the study of what morality is and what it requires of human beings as a concept. Moral philosophy, in Socrates’ words, is about how people should live, and it is accompanied by the reasons for doing so (Rachels and James 1). It’s important to remember that there are a variety of moral theories, each of which explains a different perspective on how a person should live morally. Kantian Ethics, Divine Command Ethics, Social Contract Ethics, Ethics of Virtue, and Feminism’s Ethics of Care are some of the ethical ideas discussed. I will summarize the utilitarianism theory in this paper. Besides, I will explain Rachel’s preferred ethical viewpoint, and also offer a comparison and contrast of moral perspectives. Lastly, I will provide a moral position that I have developed in the course of this semester’s study.
The moral theory of utilitarianism is greatly acknowledged in the world in efforts to ensure there is the protection of everyone’s welfare. As stated in the classical utilitarianism, any action is considered right only if it produces the greatest overall equilibrium between happiness and unhappiness (Rachels and James 110). As explained by Rachels and James, Utilitarianism has three fundamental propositions. The first one is that the morality of any action is solely dependent on its consequences and nothing else it at play.
The second proposition is that the implications of an action matter only if they entail either the greater or lesser pleasure of people. The last one is that during the assessment of the repercussions, the happiness of every individual is accorded “equal consideration” (Rachels and James 110). In that light, moral judgment as it pertains to the ethical theory of Utilitarianism revolves around ensuring that any action one commits ultimately leads to the greatest happiness for the most people. Similarly, the consequences of one’s actions are judged or assessed equally since nobody’s well-being is more important than for others (Rachels and James 110).
The theory of Utilitarianism was developed and supported by three major England philosophers in the 19th century. The philosophers are Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), John S. Mill (1806-1873), and also Henry Sidgick who lived between 1838 and 1900 (Rachels and James 110).
The proponents of Utilitarianism had various arguments to support the theory. For instance, Mill put forward the utilitarian theory that happiness is desirable, and is as well the only thing desirable i.e. as an end. Therefore, according to Mill, all other things are only essential as a means to an end (happiness) (Rachels and James 110). Another argument to support the theory is that happiness is pleasure or the mental states that tend to feel good. Hedonism supports the moral theory of Utilitarianism by claiming that pleasure is the primary good, and on the other hand, pain is the ultimate evil (Rachels and James 110).
Even though the theory has various strengths regarding its message of maximizing happiness for the greatest number of people, it still has different weaknesses; hence it receives criticism. A significant criticism of the theory is that it ignores the backward-looking moral reasons since Utilitarianism considers the results of an action in determining if it is wrong or right (Rachels and James 115). In that light, the theory ignores any considerations from the past, even with the realization that any action that happened in the past is apparently morally relevant to judge if it is good or bad.
The other aspect raised by critics of Utilitarianism is that the theory disrupts our personal ties since nobody in the society is willing to treat everyone equally (Rachels and James 117). The critics argue that Utilitarianism loses all touch with reality since it is impossible to consider the welfare of other people equally unless one is related to them i.e. family, friends, and spouses. Rachels and James put forth an example presented by philosopher John Cottingham where a parent leaves his kid to burn in a case there is another person in the building, and whose future contribution to the general welfare is greater. Such a parent cannot be termed a hero but rather a moral leper, or an object or moral contempt (Rachels and James 117).
Rachel’s Preferred Ethical Viewpoint
With the varying moral and ethical viewpoints, it can be considered difficult to establish the appropriate ethical perspective. Each of the ethical theories presents detailed explanation of how human beings should live, and it is accompanied with the underlying reasons. Rachel notes that the different approaches lack consistency with one another, and besides, they are susceptible to objections or criticism. In their book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, Rachels and James presents several prerequisites for an ethical viewpoint to be considered appropriate or preferred.
The first aspect for a preferred ethical viewpoint is one whose morality lacks hubris. As explained by Rachels and James, a satisfactory theory or position must be sensitive to the inherent nature of human beings, and as well be modest about the place of people in the grand scheme of things (p. 173). Besides, human beings are rational and are therefore capable of using facts as reasons for their behavior. According to Rachels and James, people are driven to act in a particular way due to thinking about their behavior and its associated results or consequences (p. 174). If people’s actions are driven by good reasons, then reason requires that all actions be impartial to all individuals.
The next aspect is that people should be treated the way they deserve since they are rational beings, and they have the power to choose (Rachels and James 175). Among the other motives that determine how to treat other people include being disinterested, the portrayal of good behaviors, hope for a give-and-take, as well as the ties we have i.e. families (Rachels and James 176). The satisfactory moral theory according to Rachels and James is the Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism that attempts to maximize the needs of all animate beings via living according to our best-established plan (p. 183). The same perspective can be explained by the minimum conception of morality which, according to Rachels and James, is about guiding the conduct of a person by reason i.e. adhering to the best reasons for committing an action and at the same time ensuring equal consideration of the interests of the people to be affected by the decision (p. 13).
Comparison and Contrast of Moral Viewpoints
The satisfactory moral viewpoint suggested by Rachels and James in Chapter 13 of their book has a lot in common with the moral theory of Utilitarianism. According to the theory of Utilitarianism, every action by an individual is perceived good or warranted if it produces the greatest good for the most people (Rachels and James 110). Therefore, a person whose action is guaranteed of producing commendable requests is deemed to be on the right track. The theory of Utilitarianism is therefore compatible with the ethical viewpoint preferred by Rachel and James as it is, in part, concerned with the results. Any action by a human being is considered good if it maximizes the interests of all people in the society (Rachels and James 183).
A significant limitation of the Utilitarianism perspective is that it ignores the ideal of justice (Rachels and James 113). Justice is said to apply when human beings treat others fairly as per their particular situations. Utilitarianism requires that someone, at times, be treated unfairly, insofar as it leads to greater happiness of people (Rachels and James 110). However, according to the viewpoint of Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism, humans are rational beings; thus they are capable of using reason. The view is built on the belief that reason requires that individuals act impartially towards all people. In that light, the satisfactory perspective proposed by Rachels and James is built on equality and justice.
The ideas of the theory of Utilitarianism tends to conflict with those presented in viewpoint suggested by Rachels and James. According to the principle of Utilitarianism, people should be treated equally, and the happiness of every individual gets equal consideration (Rachels and James 110). The moral theory proposes that every member of the society is entitled to equal amounts of happiness.
On the other hand, the preferred viewpoint by Rachels and James states that people should be treated differently, i.e. as they deserve (175). As explained by Rachels and James, people are rational beings who choose, and those who decide to treat others well deserve similar reciprocation (good treatment) while those who choose to treat others harshly should as well be ill-treated (175). There is the need to note that even thought the two perspectives might differ at some point, they share considerable insights such as the maximization of happiness and also assessing the goodness or badness of one’s action according to the consequences it produces.
My Developed Moral Viewpoint
In the course of this semester, I have gained considerable knowledge regarding moral reasoning as well as viewpoints. Most of the moral theories are interesting, but my preferred moral position is the character-based ethics. According to the perspective, any right act is the action that would be done by a virtuous person regardless of the circumstance. I am interested in this viewpoint since I believe that human beings are rational and they tend to make decisions independently. Therefore, the choice an individual makes is dependent on their inherent character, or in other words, their virtues.
The perspective I have developed is different from the one I discussed in this paper (Utilitarianism). Character-based ethics depends on the moral traits of the person executing the action as opposed to the rules of the society, the consequences of the action or the ethical duties associated with the move. In that light, a person seeking to apply this perspective attempts to develop characteristics as well as traits of a good person. An individual is considered virtuous if they have such traits as prudence, justice, self-care, and fidelity. The significant strength of the perspective I have developed is that it is concerned with developing the whole of a person’s life.
The paper has assessed the moral theory of Utilitarianism, with a particular focus on what the theory affirms regarding moral judgments, examples of philosophers who support the theory and also the associated criticism. The theory of Utilitarianism, as has been established, is concerned with the consequences of an individual’s actions. If the actions of a person produce the greatest happiness for human beings, then the action is deemed good. The preferred ethical viewpoint suggested by Rachels and James has also been explained. Lastly, the paper has presented my preferred ethical viewpoint that is built on building the character or virtues of an individual for guaranteed good actions.
Rachels, Stuart and James Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York City: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014.