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which one is the best?

September 27, 2021
Christopher R. Teeple

Of the consequential approaches you have read about this week, which one is the best? Which one is the worst? Be sure to explain why and try to give examples of both approaches.
Ethics divides into two major views:
Consequentialism – Concerned with consequences
Non-Consequentialism – Not concerned with consequences
Consequentialism divides also into three major views:
Ethical egoism – Act out of self-interest
Ethical altruism – Act out of interest for others
Utilitarianism – Act out of the overall best interest of everyone
1. Ethical Egoism
Ethical egoism has three main forms:
Individual ethical egoism – Everyone ought to act in my self-interest
Personal ethical egoism – I ought to act in my own self-interest
Universal ethical egoism – Everyone should act in their own self-interest
Psychological Egoism
Psychological egoism is NOT to be confused with ethical egoism.
Psychological egoism is a scientific, descriiptive theory and tries to explain why people act the way they do.
Ethical egoism is a normative or prescriiptive theory and tries to explain how people should act.
Psychological egoism has both a strong version and a weak version:
Strong version: Always act out of self-interest.
Weak version: Often, but not always, act out of self-interest.
Problems with Individual and Personal egoism include:
a lack of general applicability
egoists may need to conceal their egoism out of self-interest
they do not consider how their actions may affect others
Universal ethical egoism (everyone should act in their own self-interest) is the most common version of egoist theory.
Disadvantages: Inconsistency (especially with helping professions) is just one of the common problems with ethics. That is to say, many people make their goal in life to look to the benefit of others.
Others problems are:
Defining ‘everyone’
Difficulty in giving moral advice
Conflict arising when everyone looks after their own self-interest
Advantages: Ethical egotism makes it easier to determine self-interest and encourages individual freedom and responsibility. This is a strong advantage.
Ethical egotism works plausibly when individuals are isolated. Conflicts arise when interests overlap. Communities are now increasingly interconnected socially, politically, economically, etc., so egoism is less plausible. In other words, when everyone is looking after their own self-interests, conflicts arise and the strong usually win out over the weak to have their interests furthered.
Overall: Ethical Egoism works plausibly when individuals are isolated. Conflicts arise when interests overlap. Communities are now increasingly interconnected socially, politically, economically, etc., so egoism is less plausible.
Ayn Rand’s Rational Ethical Egoism
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is the most prominent modern universal ethical egoist. Rand argued that conflicts wouldn’t arise between individuals if they were “rational.” But conflicts do arise amongst rational individuals.
Conclusion: Ethical egoism can provide for a strong incentive for self-reliance and responsibility but can lead to selfishness where the interests of the powerful upheld and the interests of the weak ignored.
2. Ethical Altruism
Ethical altruism argues we should do what is best for all people except for ourselves. In other words, one must do what is in the best interest of all except for the one doing. This approach is often admired by people as a truly selfless approach to ethics. It stands as a sharp contrast to ethical egoism though both are consequential theories.
Criticisms of Ethical Atltruism:
Can lead to misguided policies and principles
Goes against human nature of self-preservation
Can be extremely difficult to follow
3. Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism derives from “utility” or usefulness. Morality is or ought to be useful. Most prominent philosophers of utilitarianism were Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).
There are two kinds of utilitarianism:
Act utilitarianism: Everyone should perform that act that brings about the greatest good for everyone
Rule utilitarianism: Everyone should follow that rule that brings about the greatest good for everyone
Act Utilitarianism: Performing an act that brings about the most good for everyone affected by that act. AUs believe that each situation is different. Each individual must try to bring about the greatest amount of good consequences for all involved in this situation at this time.
Criticisms of Act Utilitarianism:
Difficulty of determining consequences actions
Impracticality of beginning anew – are all acts and situations completely different
Difficulty of educating young or uninitiated if there are no rules or guidelines
Difficulty in comparing the good of an action with the bad of an action (apples and oranges)
Difficulty in respecting the rights of the “few” who are not benefitted by an action
Rule Utilitarianism: Emerges out of criticisms of act utilitarianism. Rather than acts, this approach believes that everyone should establish and follow that rules that bring about the greatest good for all concerned. Human motives, beliefs, actions, and situations are sufficiently similar to justify setting up rules to generate the greatest good.
Criticisms of Rule Utilitariansim:
Difficulty of determining consequences of others
Are there any rules that are exceptionless
Cost-benefit analysis or “end justifies the means” is a problem for utilitarianism. Is the utility criterion understood as the “greatest good for the greatest number” always the right thing to strive for? Are individuals “ends in themselves” such that the “cost-benefit” type of analysis treats individuals merely as means? Utilitarianism is one of the most powerful ethical theories we have and seems to fit well with democratic ideals. However, it is easy to justify questionable acts against the few for the overall benefit of the many.
Conclusion: Although utilitarianism, unlike egoism, tries to consider others, it runs into difficulty determining what would be good for others. It remains a powerful force in society that seeks to maximize benefits.
Difficulty with Consequentialist Theories in General
Can we discover all the consequences of our decisions in the present? This is especially difficult for utilitarians because they are concerned with the effects of their decisions on others.
Care Ethics
Primarily consequentialist, this theory is also called feminist ethics and was developed by Carol Gilligan (1936-). Men and women are different when it comes to ethical decision making. Men and women think differently but unequally when it comes to morality (Kohlberg). For Kohlberg, women’s moral reasoning is inferior. For Gilligan, women’s moral reasoning is different but equal. Different answers to moral dilemmas are explained not by inferior moral development by women, but by tendency for men to focus on “justice” and women to focus on “care.” For Gilligan, we need both justice and care.
Criticisms of Gilligan: Is it a woman’s “nature” to be caring? This could be divisive socially, politically, etc.
If there are two types of ethics, should there be two types of laws in society since laws are based on ethics?

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