Be sure to reply to your classmates and instructor. Try to attempt to take the conversation further
by examining their claims or arguments in more depth or responding to the posts that they make
to you. Keep the discussion on target and try to analyze things in as much detail as you can.
Ensure to site at least one source from the reading requirements.
Utilitarianism differs the most from feminist ethical theory. Utilitarianism focuses on results that
would benefit the most amount of people. But when we look at gender equality, utilitarianism is
not the outcome society would want to have. If something mostly benefits men instead of
women, then the balance isn't reached. Same with men, if something helps women more than
men then equality isn't obtained.
Feminist theory focuses on trying to understand gender inequality (Mosser, 2014). Men have had
control over everything in this world for a very long time and continue to have the upper-hand
with many aspects of day-to-day life. Feminist theory investigates on why this is and why it
continues to be. The goal of feminism is for females to be equal to men. With a lot of social
issues, women can argue that utilitarianism conquers with certain social policies. We could use
the battle on birth control as an example. Some people want to make it OK for businesses to have
the ability to opt out providing employees with birth control through their health insurance. This
specifically targets women, not men. Then at the same time, some of these areas want to
demonize abortion. So we have people who want to make birth control harder to get, but then if
they experience an unwanted pregnancy, they can't easily reach out for an abortion. Notice how
these issues are focused on women, not men. Mosser (2014) states "A genuinely universal; or
gender-neutral moral theory would be one which would take account of the experience and
concerns of women as fully as it would take account of the experience and concerns of men"
(Chapter 6 Readings). Utilitarianism is the opposite goal of feminist theory. Gender-neutral
mindsets would be more beneficial to both men and women when it comes to social policies.
The ethical theory that goes against ethical feminism is utilitarianism. Feminist morals are based
on care and equality and although some would say, so is utilitarianism, there is a big difference.
Feminism care a lot on a much more individual, singular level and the best impact for that single
person. On the contrary, utilitarianism is more worried about the overall impact of the largest
group of people. For example, say a husband's wife is dying. The husband might feel it is his
"duty" to let her die because he thinks she has suffered or didn't want to be alive too long. it
seems like the greater good would be to let her live and then her family would be happy, plus
there are a lot of other people in the country that seem to want to have her live. The difference
with utilitarianism is that the wife had a "contract" to live longer, meaning she wanted to
resuscitated if she did die. Utilitarianism states that these contracts can be broken in necessary to
benefit the greater good, however, a feminist would completely reject this ideology. Also,
sacrificing others can be brutalizing and degrading according to ethical feminism.
When considering the theories, utilitarianism is one that comes to mind that differs from feminist
ethical theories. “Utilitarianism states that the act that should be chosen is the one that creates the
greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people” (Mosser, 2013). Feminist theory
goes into the why in gender inequality. Why have men always been considered the dominant
gender? Why have females been viewed as only homemakers? Feminist theories want to get
females to be equal to men in all aspects. When we think about the roles of men and women, the
men have always been in a position of power. Whereas, females were more in a domestic role.
Utilitarianism only considers those who benefit the most, despite the consequences. They do not
consider how it effects people, they are just concerned with those who will benefit from the
action. The best example of utilitarianism was given in our text stating “Suppose you and five of
your friends are hanging out one night and decide to order a pizza. You are all equally hungry
and decide to order two pizzas, each of which has six slices. Thus, when the pizzas are delivered,
it is pretty easy to determine how to divide the pizzas in a way that is the fairest: Everyone gets
two slices. It may be that one person wanted a third slice, and someone else may have only
wanted one. Yet without knowing anything else, this arrangement, more than any other, will be
the most beneficial to the greatest number of people” (Mosser, 2013).
Why/ Getty Images
You have your way. I have my way. As for
“It is the mark of an educated mind
the right way, the correct way, and the only
to be able to entertain a thought
way, it does not exist.
without accepting it”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
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Section 6.1 How Should One Act?
After reading this chapter, students will be able to:
1. Characterize the classical theories of ethics—utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics.
2. Identify some of the problems these theories confront.
3. Describe other metaethical views, such as relativism and egoism.
4. Apply ethical theories to problems that affect both individuals and larger groups, including
What We Will Discover
• Philosophers have developed theories to provide support for our claims about right and
• Other theories such as egoism and relativism offer alternatives to traditional theories of
• Ethics has many specific applications to our lives, from the very personal and specific to
those that affect everyone in society.
6.1 How Should One Act?
thics, or moral philosophy, investigates how we
can evaluate our behavior in terms of right and
wrong, good and bad—in other words, how we
determine what we should do, what we should not
do, and how to tell the difference. After looking at
the three classical ethical views that philosophers have
presented and some of the problems with these theories, we will explore some alternative approaches.
Suppose you and five of your friends are hanging out
one night and decide to order a pizza. You are all
equally hungry and decide to order two pizzas, each
of which has six slices. Thus, when the pizzas are
delivered, it is pretty easy to determine how to divide
the pizzas in a way that is the fairest: Everyone gets
two slices. It may be that one person wanted a third
slice, and someone else may have only wanted one.
Yet without knowing anything else, this arrangement, more than any other, will be the most beneficial to the greatest number of people.
Photos.com/© Getty Images/Thinkstock
Jeremy Bentham is associated with the
founding of utilitarianism, which states
that given a choice between two acts,
the one that creates greater happiness
for the greatest number of people should
This simple example demonstrates the basic notion at
the heart of the ethical doctrine known as utilitarianism. Often associated with the philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748–1822) and John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism offers a very straightforward and
direct way to evaluate behavior. When given a choice between two acts, utilitarianism states that
1/6/14 2:33 PM
Section 6.1 How Should One Act?
the act that should be chosen is the one that creates the greatest amount of happiness for
the greatest number of people. Philosophers (and economists) often use the term utility
to express this quality. Utility is the satisfaction one gets from something. For instance, if
you like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla ice cream, we can say that chocolate ice
cream has a higher utility for you, relative to vanilla ice cream. In theory, at least, each of
us can rank all of our choices according to a scale that indicates our relative preferences.
Some philosophers, such as Bentham, even attempted to assign numbers to these preferences. If someone likes chocolate ice cream five times as much as vanilla ice cream, that
person would presumably be willing to accept five vanilla ice cream cones as a substitute
for one chocolate ice cream cone. It should also be noted that utility is regarded in terms
of net utility: The correct moral choice is that which generates the greatest good and also
Read more of
on this topic
in his work
section of the
Because utilitarianism considers an act’s consequences in assessing its morality, utilitarianism is also regarded as a consequentialist theory. The basic idea in consequentialism is
to consider the consequences that will result from the choices one confronts: If the consequences of one act produce the greatest net good—or the highest utility—for the greatest number of people, this is the act one should carry out. Many people find this to be a
rather obvious ethical viewpoint; clearly if we had decided to give all the pizza slices to just
three people and no slices to the other three, this would seem rather unfair. It should also
be clear that utilitarianism offers an approach to scenarios other than distributing pizza
and ice cream. Imagine Mary really loves to dance, but she does not get to go dancing
very often. Mary has three children, with whom she enjoys spending time and who enjoy
spending time with her. One night she is given the option of staying home and spending
time with her children or going dancing. What should she do? The utilitarian might argue
that, on the one hand, the pleasure Mary gets from dancing is greater than staying with
her children. Yet on the other hand, her children will receive great pleasure if she does not
go dancing. Therefore, the “utility calculation” is that the net happiness of Mary and her
three children will be higher if she stays home, even though Mary’s individual happiness
might be slightly lower than it would have been if she had chosen to go dancing.
Utility is often described in terms of pleasure, which can be problematic for utilitarianism. Imagine someone finds pleasure in playing video games and drinking beer all day
long. Given a choice between, say, helping out in a homeless shelter or drinking and
playing the newest video game, a person may well choose the latter, which suggests to
some that utilitarianism has no way to distinguish between different kinds of pleasures.
Presumably, we want our theory to be able to make a distinction between hedonistic and
nobler pleasures. Mill saw this as a potential problem and insisted that pleasure should be
considered not just in terms of quantity but also quality: that certain kinds of pleasures,
or certain ways of satisfying desires, are simply better than others. A pig may be happy
rolling around in the mud and eating garbage, but Mill insisted that people who take that
approach to pleasure fail to develop their potential as human beings (relative to pigs, at
least). According to Mill, it is better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. This is
not to say that one should always choose something less pleasurable; rather, it is simply an
indication that pleasures themselves can, or perhaps should, be distinguished from each
other. It is not always easy to say that one pleasure is “superior” to another, and certainly
people have long argued about this issue. However, these kinds of examples indicate a
problem utilitarianism confronts if we evaluate acts solely in terms of their pleasurable
consequences (Mill, 1909).
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Section 6.1 How Should One Act?
Many people find utilitarianism to be an easy and useful approach to making ethical decisions.
When distributing goods, services, or even time, it would seem to be a “no-brainer” to choose
the option that would satisfy or please as many people as possible, compared to any other available choice. However, philosophers have raised a number of problems in response to utilitarianism, which may make it a less plausible ethical theory than it first appears.
Problems With Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism has what philosophers call an intuitive appeal: It seems to be relatively obvious,
and just plain common sense, to evaluate our actions based on the results those actions produce. If all we know about a situation is that four kids in a sandbox have one toy, the best option
would be for the children to share that toy, even if each child is quite sure he or she would get
the most pleasure from playing with it alone.
However, many philosophers have objected to utilitarianism, and for a number of reasons. As
we have seen, distinguishing different kinds of pleasures from each other can be difficult. Does
utilitarianism have any way to address the situation of a person who gets pleasure from staring
at the wall or doing something else that most people would find quite unpleasant (something
often called masochism)? Mill (1863) suggests there are “higher” or “more refined” pleasures
and that they should be preferred, but who is to say which is a “higher” pleasure? Is reading
poetry somehow better than watching soap operas? What if someone gains pleasure by sleeping all the time or hitting his thumb over and over with a hammer?
More significant objections to utilitarianism have been posed on the basis of calculating the outcome, or consequences, of a choice. Suppose you are on a cruise ship that catches fire; you and
19 others are lucky enough to survive on a lifeboat. There is enough water to last for a week or
more, but you have no food and do not know whether you will be rescued. Everyone is aware
of how grim the future looks; as the boat drifts, everyone gets hungrier. It becomes apparent
that everyone is going to die unless your group finds food. The utilitarian in the group poses
the following options: All 20 people die, or 19 people live if one person is killed and eaten! To
justify his position, he cites historical examples of similar cases in which cannibalism helped the
majority survive. However, while this scenario may appear to result in the greatest good for the
greatest number, do we really want an ethical theory that not only allows cannibalism, but actually endorses it as the fairest and most ethical decision?
Few of us are likely to experience a situation this extreme, but we may find ourselves in situations
where the basic utilitarian calculation actually leads to results that are very unfair and unjust. This
is particularly threatening anytime individuals find themselves in a minority, whether because
of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any of the other ways in which society categorizes people. For example, suppose a local grade school must decide if it should use
taxpayer money to build ramps to make the building accessible to students in wheelchairs. This
tax will likely decrease the pleasure of each taxpayer and may only be used by a few individuals
throughout the year. In this way it would result in a net utility that would favor a decision not to
build the ramps. Would you consider this a fair outcome?
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Section 6.1 How Should One Act?
Great Ideas: The Trolley Problem
A very famous challenge to our ethical intuitions, originated by Philippa Foot, is easy to describe but
more problematic to solve. In Foot’s 1967 essay “The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the
Double Effect,” she posed the following scenario known as the trolley problem:
Imagine a runaway trolley hurtling toward five workers on the track. The driver must choose between
staying the course, which would result in the death of the five workers, or divert the trolley to a spur
where just one worker on the track would be killed. Most would say that diverting the trolley to save
five lives while killing only one would be the better of the two options.
Now imagine a similar scenario: What if a doctor could save the lives of five people who needed organ
donations by killing one patient and distributing his organs? Would that be considered a moral act?
If not, why would it be moral to kill the one track worker, but not the one patient? There are many
variations on this basic scenario, which has generated a great deal of debate and discussion.
With this in mind, consider the following questions:
1. Try to posit a situation where it would seem moral to kill (or allow to die) one person in
order to save five people’s lives.
2. What is the relevant moral difference—if there is one—between killing someone and allowing someone to die?
3. Does it make a difference if one could save twenty people by sacrificing one person’s life?
One hundred? One thousand? At what point might our views change due to the relationship between the one person sacrificed and the number of people saved?
Tyranny of the Majority
Dating as far back as Plato, political philosophers have often cited the tyranny of the majority,
which is when the interests of the majority are placed above the interests of the minority, and
to their detriment. American history is littered with such stories, whether the minority groups
be African Americans, Native Americans, Jews, homosexuals, or many others. In the original,
Protestant-dominated colonies, for example, Roman Catholics were not allowed to vote or hold
public office. Despite the obvious injustice, this would seem to fit the utilitarian calculation,
because Catholics were a minority at that time. This kind of calculation has been used to justify a wide range of policies that seem wrong, from slavery to refusing to sell houses in certain
neighborhoods to ethnic and racial minorities. Interestingly, women have also suffered for similar
reasons on the basis of this kind of calculation, despite the fact that they actually make up the
majority of the population.
John Stuart Mill and other utilitarians recognized the flaws in an ethical system that had such
unethical and oppressive results. One popular way of addressing these flaws has been to distinguish between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism simply involves a
judgment of the act’s consequences: Given a set of choices, which act generates the greatest net
good for the greatest number? Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, involves an evaluation
of the types of acts involved and proposes that, when followed as a general rule, the act should
produce the greatest net good, or the greatest amount of happiness, for the greatest number.
1/6/14 2:33 PM
Section 6.1 How Should One Act?
Consider the following example: Bob is taking an important physics test that he needs to pass
to get into medical school. He considers the possibility that if he cheats “successfully,” he gains
a great deal and thus achieves his greatest happiness, or “maximizes his utility” (we will ignore
any feelings of guilt Bob may have). The act utilitarian would suggest that, in this case, cheating
produces the greatest amount of good. The rule utilitarian would offer a different analysis. Bob
may gain the most by cheating, but in general, we could not promote the rule that one should
cheat. If we endorse a rule that says it is okay to cheat to get into medical school, then the rest of
society would be considerably less confident that physicians were trustworthy and deserved their
credentials. This would fail to ...
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