Category Archives: Normative Ethics

Anger and Aristotle’s Virtues – Nicomachean ethics

If you cannot be extremely angry, how can you ever challenge injustice the world?

According to Aristotle, one must live in accordance with certain virtues in order to attain happiness. He explains that happiness is the the only “complete end”. That “since there is evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g wealth), for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are complete ends; but the chief good is evidently something complete” (Aristotle 117). He continues: “Happiness, no one chooses for the sake other than itself” (Aristotle 118). Unfortunately, according to Aristotle, we cannot really achieve that happiness without respecting and living by certain virtues. And if we do as Aristotle suggests, we can never find out what we truly stand for. We can never combat injustice in the world, because it cannot be challenged without defying one crucial virtue: good temperament.

“With regard to anger” Aristotle writes, “there is an excess, a deficiency and a mean”. The “excess” is “irascibility”, the deficiency is “inirascibility” and the “mean” is “good temper”. If we live by these means, and strive to never be “irascible”, the world will never change. We will all live our daily lives in a facade of “good temperament”, and brush away issues of concern without a second thought.

Every person who has been influential, powerful and admirable has been angry. In fact, the most influential individuals have been just what Aristotle condemns: irascible. Take Gary Yourofsky, one of the most prominent animal rights activists of our time.  He appeared in the Oakland Press in 1999: “Yourofsky traces his interest in animal rights to the early 1990s. His stepfather volunteered as a clown in The Shrine Circus and offered to take him on a tour. Yourofsky said he was shocked to see an elephant chained to a post with scars behind his ears” (Wisely 1). At that point, Yourofsky, realized his discomfort and his anger. Instead of brushing it aside in order to maintain good temperament, he explored it: he began researching animal abuse. “The more he learned, the less he liked. He believes speciesism is a form of discrimination that causes sexism and racism”  (Wisely 1).  Yourofsky was livid. He had identified a huge injustice in our world, and his anger would motivate him to attack it.

“In 1996, Yourofsky founded a group called ADAPTT”, writes Wisely. He continues: “the group, which claims about 1,000 members nationwide, hopes to stop animal use in medical research, product testing, circuses, rodeos and other forms of entertainment” (Wisely 1). Yourofsky transformed his fury into a beneficial organization that improves and protects the lives of other sentient beings.

He has also appeared in the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak Michigan. “For the last two years,” author Cathy Nelson writes, “he has been, arguably, the most recognizable and talked-about member of the animal rights movement in Michigan. Yourofsky’s notoriety was heightened last year when he was sentenced to six months in prison for his part in a 1997 break-in at a Blenheim, Ontario, fur farm where 1,542 caged minks were set free” (Nelson 1). Yourofsky was so angry, so furious that he defied the law. Yet it was well worth it – he was accomplishing his goal.

If  we live in accordance with Aristotle’s virtues to be happy, our “happiness” will render us indifferent. We will never tackle injustice, because we will never allow ourselves to feel the anger needed to identify it.

                                                                                    Works Cited
Aristotle. “Selections from Nicomachean Ethics.” Moral and Political  Philosophy. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 117-18. Rpt. in Blackboard. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.
Nelson, Cathy. “Taking It to the Limit Driven by a Passion for Justice, Royal Oak Activist Does Whatever It Takes to Protect Rights of Animals.” The Daily Tribune [Royal Oak, Michigan] 27 Feb. 2000: n. pag. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Wisely, John. “Activist Risks Life, Liberty and Lawsuits to Protect Animals.” The Oakland Press 1 Aug. 1999: n. pag. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.


O’Neill’s “A Simplified Account of Kantian Ethics”

To better understand Kantian ethics (a philosophy also known as deontology,) we are offered this week articles that summarize and critique Kant’s ideals that seemed completely upright at first glance. In the article “A Simplified Account of Kant’s Ethics,” Onora O’Neill tries to clarify Kant’s complex moral theory which has been dubbed before as “forbiddingly difficult” (411) to understand. To recapitulate briefly the main points of the article: O’Neill only tackles one part of Kant’s theory in her article, the Formula of the End-of-Itself. This principle mandates that one ought to act in such a way that one always treats other human beings never simply as means but always as an end of an action. This means that one should not involve another human being in an action to which they could not consent. For example, it is forbidden to lie to another person to persuade him or her into helping you, as then you are obscuring your intentions from the other person, and that is completely prohibited in deontology. To put it succinctly, if an action does not respect the goals of another human being, then it is forbidden to act in that way. Kant also believed that any action that a person performs is a reflection of one or more of his or her maxims. A maxim is a principle on a person acts. The words “maxim” and “intention” are used interchangeably when talking about deontology. Though there are many actions that a person can take, they only have a few duties in life. Some duties are more important than others, and duties of justice are the duties most valued by Kant. These include not lying, breaking promises, or murdering, and are also known as perfect duties, as they are never to be broken.
Overall, deontology seems like a more precise and better philosophy than utilitarianism. Like I mentioned earlier, deontologists never deceive, lie, or make false promises to others, which can happen in utilitarianism. Furthermore, the maltreatment or enslavement of other human beings could never occur in a deontological world, whereas it could in a utilitarian world, so long as it was the optimific solution to a problem. Though O’Neill neatly lays out some of Kant’s ideals in her article, I still have a few questions that have been left unanswered from her text. For example, what happens if a living patient needs an organ, say a liver, from a dead person? Perhaps the dead never gave consent, but using his or her kidney would mean saving the other’s life. Surely a doctor would be using the dead person as a means of accomplishing a task, but shouldn’t he if it means saving the life of another? And wouldn’t that be breaking a duty of justice, if the doctor let a patient die but had the means of saving him or her? Or would a pure deontologist refuse to save the life, as the doctor would be involving another in an action to which they could not consent? It seems to me that Kantian ethics have a more restricted scope than utilitarianism does, and as I read more about deontology, I can detect some weaknesses in the philosophy.

Alexander, Larry and Moore, Michael, “Deontological Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

“Deontological ethics.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2014. .

“Kantian Ethics.” Sacramento State University. Sacramento State University, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014. .

The Trouble A(Foot) With Moral Judgements as Categorical Imperatives

In her essay, Foot argues against Kant’s establishment of the moral judgment as a categorical imperative; she believes that moral judgement qualifies as a hypothetical imperative.  I would like to review her arguments comparing etiquette and moral judgment and then reflect upon how it is impossible for moral judgment to be a categorical imperative if we are to be morally autonomous.

Within the first few pages of her article, Foot makes several arguments and weaves the comparison of etiquette and moral judgment throughout—I will focus on two of these arguments.  First, Foot argues against Kant’s distinction of moral judgments as categorical imperatives by analyzing the use of the words “should” (used in Kant’s hypothetical imperatives) and “ought” (used in Kant’s categorical imperatives).  Foot comes to the point that there is a problem with moral judgments being categorical imperatives because of the implied “dignity and necessity” married to the word “ought”; ultimately, she believes that Kant is incorrect in his belief of the “unconditional requirement” of categorical imperatives (308).  Foot supports this by noting that “should” can be used “non-hypothetically in some non-moral statements to which no one attributes the special dignity and necessity conveyed by the description ‘categorical imperative'”—for example, in the cases of etiquette (308).  This use of “should” does not play to the agent’s desires and interests and does not have “automatic reason-giving force,” as Kant defines it will in a categorical imperative, causing them to fall under hypothetical imperatives (309).  She applies this idea of “should” to moral considerations, which are supposed to “necessarily give reasons for acting to any man” (309). She questions what makes the moral “should” different from other “shoulds” by stating that “the normative character of moral judgment does not guarantee its reason-giving force” (310).  Etiquette, too, is normative and is required behavior.  Thus, Foot asks the question: “but are we then to say that there is nothing behind the idea that moral judgments are categorical imperatives but the relative stringency of our moral teaching?” (309-310).

At this point, Foot moves on to look at the feelings involved in etiquette and in moral judgments.  She proves the force of the “stringency of our moral teaching” by noting the feelings associated with morality—feelings such as the inability to escape.  In this light, she notes that both etiquette and morality bring about feelings of the inability to escape that can cause people to follow (or not follow) etiquette or morality without question. Foot acknowledges that some may still claim that “one has to or must to what morality demands,” but she still asserts that this is merely a feeling that people have (311).  Foot does not doubt the existence of these feelings; rather, she states that these feelings are not ground enough on which we can declare moral judgments to be categorical imperatives. Thus, by Foot’s comparison of etiquette and moral judgment we can conclude that moral judgments are not categorical imperatives.

Overall, I agree with Foot.  I was able to follow these arguments well and found them to be sound.  In fact, I agree with her simply based off of the idea that hypothetical imperatives are more diverse, while categorical imperatives are not.  This brings to light the main problem that I see with Kant’s ideologies: if Kant believes that morality is a categorical imperative, how is it possible to be morally autonomous?  How can one be morally autonomous if morality is based off of set duty and set laws?


Works Cited

Foot, Philippa. “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives.” The Philosophical Review 81.3 (1972): 305. Blackboard. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Kantianism > Utilitarianism

Onora O’Neill simplifies Kant’s moral theory through the Formula of the End in Itself, which is acting in such a way that treats humanity as an end, as opposed to a mere means. To use someone as a mere means is to “involve them in a scheme of action to which they could not in principle consent” (O’Neill 412). To treat a person as an end is to respect an individual “as a rational person with his or her own maxims” (O’Neill 412). After an understandable explanation of Kantian ethics, O’Neill shows the advantages of Kantianism over utilitarianism.

Kantianism and utilitarianism have different ways for determining whether an act we do is right or wrong. According to Kant, we should look at our maxims, or intentions, of the particular action. Kantians believe “human life is valuable because humans are the bearers of rational life” (O’Neill 414). In other words, humans are free rational beings capable of rational behavior and should not be used purely for the enjoyment or happiness of another.  On the other hand, Utilitarians believe that we should do actions that produce the greatest amount of happiness. The problem with this, however, is that it could involve using people as mere means and may lead to the sacrifice of lives for the greater good. (O’Neill 413-415). Christopher Bennett expands on this point by stating that Utiliarians justify punishing an innocent party “if it is necessary to bring about a sufficiently important good effect” (Bennett 59). Additionally, promises, which are typically binding in our society, can be broken if it produces a greater good. This can be applied to any promise, including those made with loved ones. Utilitarianism sometimes involves the sacrifice of an individual’s happiness or life in order to promote the greatest amount of happiness and the least amount of misery (Bennett 71).

It is easier to determine an action as morally right in Kantian ethics than in utilitarian ethics. When data is scarce, Kantian theory offers more precision than utilitarianism because one can generally determine if somebody is being used as a mere means, even if the impact on human happiness is ambiguous. Kantians “consider only the proposals for an action that occur to them and check that these proposals use no other as mere means” (O’Neill 413). Contrastingly, utilitarianism compares all available acts and sees which has the best effects. Although utilitarianism has a larger scope than Kantianism, it is a more timely process. The decision-making method of calculating all of the potential costs and benefits of an action is extremely time consuming and leaves little time for promoting happiness, which is the Utilitarian’s goal (Bennett 63).

What world would you rather live in? A world where your happiness or life can be taken away from you for the sake of others or a world where you’re acknowledged as a rational being?  A world based off of trust or a world full of broken promises? A world full of calculations or a world with quick decision making? The decision is yours.

Works Cited

O’Neill, Onora. “A Simplified Account of Kant’s Ethics.” 411-415. Blackboard. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Bennett, Christopher. “Utilitarianism.” What is this thing called ethics?. London: Routledge, 2010. 55-73

Duty and Morality


Selections from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Duty and Morality

This selection is only the first section of Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. I am only going to discuss duty and morality. Kant gives three propositions regarding duty (p.107). Kant argues that the will that acts from reason is the will guided by duty.

The first proposition is helps us distinguish which actions have moral worth by differentiating acts that are motivated because of duty and acts that are not. Kant shows the differences using a few examples, the first is a salesman who does not overcharge a customer even if he knows they are inexperienced, but the salesman’s reasoning behind this is that he doesn’t want to tarnish his reputation if he were to get caught overcharging an inexperienced customer. Kant says this is not because of morals, because the salesman was not motivated by duty to treat the customer fairly.

The second proposition is “an action done from duty has its moral worth, not in the purpose that is to be attained by it, but in the maxim according to which the action is determined.”(p.107). This meaning that an action is morally good if the motivating forces behind the decision to make that action are good.

The third proposition is a combination of the first two, stated, as “Duty is the necessity of an action done out of respect for the law.”(p.107). Kant thinks you must respect the law. The law is the only thing “which can determine the will except objectively the law.”(p.108).  So because the law can be objective, even if you are inclined to break it, you should not.

Duty and reason often conflict for an individual. An example that Kant uses is lying. When you lie, you expect that other people will believe your lie, you believe this because the universal law is that you should be truthful. In this situation you have expected that the universal law you should live by is to be truthful, but you have also decided that you are going to allow yourself to make an exception to this universal law and lie. Kant describes the universal law as the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is the law by which you should live by to be morally good, but you can also choose not to follow that law.

Kant, Immanuel. “Selections from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.” Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1993): 104-112. Blackboard. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Individuals vs Utilitarians

In this essay, Kant argues that there are several implications in morality and being moral.  Morality can be defined as the decision making ability from choosing between right and wrong and what is good and what is bad stemming from the laws and trending favorable outlooks society has towards a certain actions.  Kant argues that by taking away our own ability to make our own decisions on what’s good and bad because utilitarians say that we should just follow the norms of society, it takes away from our sense of self and makes us less of an individual by not being able to think for ourselves.

Kant states that utilitarians state that self satisfaction is found inadequate compared to the guidelines that utilitarians follow.  Kant uses this quote, “Projects of the sort I have called commitments, those with which one is committed more deeply and extensively involved and identified, this cannot just by itself be an adequate answer.” (Kant 104)  Through this, we can see that he argues that utilitarians think that individuals cannot think for themselves and postulate an adequate solution to a problem or become moral through their own commitments and convictions. Another quote that Kant includes is, “It is absurd to demand of such a man, when the sums come in from the utility network when he should step aside from his own projects and decisions and acknowledge the decision of the utilitarian calculation requires.  It is to alienate him in a real sense from his actions and the source of his actions in his own convictions.” (Kant 104)  Again we can see that Kant argues that by making the individual step aside for the utilitarian point of view, he loses his own sense of identity through the way he thinks because he can’t put to use his own convictions in the way he thinks abiding by the utilitarian point of view.

The next thing Kant argues is that he says that good traits in individuals are pointless/meaningless if that person with good traits does not have a good will because it could lead the individual to bad intentions.  Kant says “A good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is only good through its willing ie it is good in itself.” (Kant 106)  A good will therefore enhances the good traits of the individual or erases those traits through a not good will.  A good will constitutes the indispensable condition of being of worthy of happiness because if you have a good will you deserve the state of being happy.

Kant wraps up his argument by stating that “The pre-eminent good which is called moral can consist in nothing but the representation of the law itself.” (Kant 108)  We can clearly see that the oversimplification that only the law says what is good and what is not may seem very drastic as the law may not take into account certain circumstances.  Kant argues that utilitarians overextend the idea that only through society and laws can we say what is good and what is bad and the individuals in society get stripped of their ideas to think with their own ideas and convictions.

      Kant, Immanuel. “Selections from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.” Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1993): 104-112. Blackboard. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Extreme vs Restricted Utilitarianism

Known for his contributions in Metaphysics, Ethics and the Philosophy of Mind, Smart presents very discerning and interesting arguments in the article distinguishing the “act” and “rule” of utilitarianism. Though there may be benefits in complying with either doctrines, the core tenets of both beliefs seem to be morally conflicted after we review Smart’s scenarios and examples.

He opens by stating that, to fundamentally separate extreme utilitarianism from restricted utilitarianism, is to differentiate our interpretation of the word “actions”. Let us first examine individual actions. According to extreme utilitarianism, rules are not rules; they are merely guidelines or in Smart’s words – “rules of thumb”. And so when we face a rule like keeping promises, an extreme utilitarianism could render it obsolete if the goodness of the consequences of breaking the promise exceeds that of keeping it. Here, we come across the first flaw of extreme utilitarianism; in abiding to its doctrines, a society of mistrust would be inevitably created. In this case, would the consequences of breaking promises benefit society as a whole? The single action of breaking a promise may prove beneficial because of its “good” consequences but collectively, it shakes our individual moral guidelines and puts our moral integrity in a precarious position.

Smart went on to give an example of how a class of actions could be justified on the grounds of extreme utilitarianism. He supposed that a man was drowning in a river near Berchtesgaden in 1938 and he had a high resemblance of the villainous dictator Adolf Hitler, the rescuer, with no time to spare, trusted his instincts and saved him. An extreme utilitarian who knew that the drowning man was Adolf Hitler would nevertheless praise the rescuer because the man showed courage, strength and benevolence, all of which are dispositions of “great positive utility”. Yet ultimately, the extreme utilitarian praised an action that he knew was wrong. Suppose we all adopted the same beliefs, we would then be constantly wearing a facade and living in a society of deception as our words contradict our self-acknowledged truths. Thus, another flaw of extreme utilitarianism surfaces. To be a believer, we not only have to abandon our integrity but also forego our honesty. Perhaps the more rational method would be to praise the rescuer for the act but reprimand him for rescuing Adolf Hitler. But then another question would follow; how can we justify this punishment for the dictator? One of the key principles of utilitarianism is equality. If every individual is to be treated without prejudice, then shouldn’t Hitler also face the Justice system instead of dying without a trial? As we see, many moral dilemmas appear if we try to reason scenarios like this with extreme utilitarianism principles.

For restricted utilitarianism, we need only look at the “defense” that Smart made at the end; what if one of the rules is “act optimifically”? According to Stephen Toulmin, if “keep promises” conflicts with another rule, we are allowed to argue the case based on its merits but if “act optimifically” is itself a rule then there will always be a conflict of rules. Therefore, restricted utilitarianism, in theory, cannot substantiate its tenets with enough credibility and logic that it ultimately “collapses” into extreme utilitarianism. And so it follows that both doctrines are morally conflicted.

According to Professor Millson, a good normative ethical theory is one that “preserves core tenets and as many intuitions without changing the other”. After reading Smart’s article, we see frequent infringements between tenet and intuition and so it makes us question whether extreme and restricted utilitarianism should be appellated as good theories. Indeed, they offer scientific explanations of how things are but they don’t provide moral guidelines of which we can abide to in every scenario.


The Place of reason in Ethics Pg 146-8


Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism

Upon beginning to read this article, I was initially wary of extreme utilitarianism. My initial thought was that more often than not, extremes are not the best option. However, the more of the article I read, the more I found myself favoring extreme utilitarianism. I found myself relating to Smart’s explanation that “For an extreme utilitarian moral rules are rules of thumb. In practice the extreme utilitarian will mostly guide his conduct by appealing to the rules (“do not lie,” “do not break promises,” etc.) of common–sense morality (Smart, 90).

I think most people subscribe to this kind of thinking when it comes to their individual actions, especially those actions that impact others around them. Smart goes on to explain restricted utilitarianism is a school of thinking which “regards moral rule as more than rules of thumb for short-circuiting calculations of consequences. Generally, he argues consequences are not relevant at all when we are deciding what to do in a particular case. (Smart, 92).” I think the idea of consequences being irrelevant is somewhat counter-intuitive, seeing as more often than not, people consider the ramifications their actions will have to themselves and to others around them.

By following rules (as an extreme utilitarian would advocate), we recognize “that the rule does not give us a reason for acting so much as an indication of the probable actions of others, which helps us to find out what would be our own most rational course of action (Smart, 94).” By deducing the probable course of action of others, we can better optimize the utility of our own actions.


Smart says “The extreme utilitarian does not appeal to artificial feelings, but only to our feelings of benevolence, and what better feelings can there be to appeal to?” (Smart, 95).

The example that resonated with me most strongly was the theoretical situation of saving a drowning man. A restricted utilitarian would say we should always save the drowning man, however an extreme utilitarian would argue that sometimes breaking the rules is right thing to do. If the man drowning in the river was Hitler, extreme utilitarianism would tell us to let him drown, because this action would produce higher total utility.

Following several of Smart’s examples, I found his discussion of actions being right versus actions being praiseworthy to be interesting and thought–provoking. According to extreme utilitarianism, letting Hitler drown would be wrong, but would be praiseworthy at the same time.  Following this train of thought, I agree that between the two options, extreme utilitarianism seems to be the better option. However, I’m sure with further examination, criticisms of this theory will arise.


Works Cited:

Smart, J. J. C. “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism.” Moral and Political Philosophy (1956): 88-95. Blackboard. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.



Nozick’s Experience Machine and The Matrix

In Nozick’s book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he wrote about a thought experiment he called: The Experience Machine, in order to refute ethical hedonism.  This position states that what is ethical or moral is that which brings the self the most pleasure possible.  He uses the example of what he calls a “Pleasure Machine” to show why this point of view is invalid, and tries to prove that we live our lives because “we want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them” (Nozick 43).  This thought experiment is basically the same concept that I studied in my metaphysics class last year, but instead we called it the “brain in a vat” experiment.  It brings up the question that if a brain in submerged in some fluid in a jar, and is hooked up to electrodes that stimulate experiences and send impulses to the brain, then to what extent are these experiences real?  Nozick’s experiment instead address the question of what most people desire more out of their life: pleasurable “fake” experiences, or authentic and actual life.  Nozick, in a sense, refutes the claim of many Utilitarians by saying that life is not all about getting the most pleasure or utility out of something, but rather about being able to actually live one’s life and experience everything for oneself.  I agree with Nozick’s claims and will give an example of how this has been applied in modern culture.

The example I think that best matches this thought experiment, in modern cinema, is that of The Matrix film trilogy.  The whole concept of the movie trilogy is that the world everyone perceives to be real is actually just one big pleasure/experience machine.  Neo, the protagonist, comes to realize this reality when Morpheus shows him the truth.  Although the real world is desolate and ugly in this movie, “there are things we value in life that we’d be losing out on if we plugged into an experience machine (Pryor 40).” James Pryor, a professor of philosophy at NYU, sees the matrix as a prime example of Nozick’s pleasure machine, and thinks “there are things we lose out on even if the operators’ intentions are benevolent and we plug in of our own free choice (Pryor 40).”  The point that Pryor makes here, simply put, is that even though the matrix is much more pleasurable and happier on the surface, the actual value and utility we get out of living our actual lives outside of this machine world is much greater.  This is the whole point that Nozick tries to convey throughout.

In all, it seems clear that Nozick’s argument is rather compelling.  The distinction between the maximizing of pleasure through synthetic vices and actually living one’s own life are immense and impactful.  The questions I pose to you all are as follows: Do you think that this argument successfully refutes the main argument of utilitarianism (that we must get the most value and pleasure out of everything we do)?  What are some other examples of this thought experiment being used in society (I know there are many more movies with this concept)? What other ways can one refute hedonism and some forms of Utilitarianism?


Nozick, Robert. “The Experience Machine.” Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic, 1974. 42-45. Print.

Grau, Christopher. “What’s So Bad About Living in the Matrix By James Pryor.” Philosophers Explore The Matrix. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 40-52. Print.


Restricted and Extreme Utilitarianism

After reading Smart’s article, I agreed that extreme utilitarianism is more rational than restricted utilitarianism—and I agreed even more as I began to compare restricted utilitarianism to worship, and as I applied each of these ideologies to an argument for embryotic stem cell research that I read for another class.

Smart opens his discussion of restricted utilitarianism by stating:

The restricted utilitarian regards moral rule as more than rules of thumb for short-circuiting calculations of consequences. Generally, he argues consequences are not relevant at all when we are deciding what to do in a particular case. In general, they are relevant only to deciding what rules are good reasons for acting in a certain way in particular cases. (Smart 92)

 As I read this (and as I continued to read Smart’s argument against restricted utilitarianism), I was reminded of our discussion on Rachels’ article “God and Moral Autonomy.”  Rachels asserts: “to deliver oneself over to a moral authority for directions about what to do is simply incompatible with being a moral agent” (Rachels 118).  This line of thought applies to restricted utilitarianism.  The same way that one gives a godly figure full ruling over one’s moral thoughts, one gives “moral rule” this power in restricted utilitarianism.  The parallelism between these two articles helped me follow along (and agree with) with Smart’s arguments against the lack of rationality in restricted (or rule) utilitarianism.

This lack of rationality was further supported within an article titled “Stem Cell Research and the Claim of the Other in the Human Subject,” which I was assigned to read for an IDS class.  This article discusses different frameworks for bioethical deliberation and the different positions within each (and how these relate to the use of embryotic stem cells).  As I read this article, one argument (the “Discarded Embryo”/“Nothing is Lost” position of the Embryo Protection moral framework) in particular stood out to me as an excellent application of extreme utilitarianism (and an excellent example of its greater rationality as expressed by Smart).  The “Discarded Embryo” position argues for the use of embryotic stem cells, on the grounds that:

To date, the preponderance of embryonic stem cell research has been conducted on “excess” embryos originally created for purposes of in vitro fertilization. If not placed into a woman’s uterus, they are frozen and eventually discarded. … Those who hold the discarded embryo position believe it is morally licit to use for research embryos that will otherwise be destroyed. What is illicit is the deliberate creation of embryos that will be destroyed for research purposes. (Bennett and Peters 188)

 This point is furthered in the “Nothing is Lost” perspective, which goes into more depth by “appeal[ing] to exempting conditions to destroying human life such as (a) observing that existing embryos will be discarded anyway and (b) observing that as research material they could be indirectly life-saving” (Bennett and Peters 188).  Based off of the generally accepted moral rule that one should not kill (and acknowledging that this framework states that use of an embryo as research is killing), a restricted utilitarian would object to the use of embryotic stem cells for research.  However, an extreme utilitarian would support this research based off of the grounds that this research could ultimately save more lives.

Overall, I find extreme utilitarianism a reasonable moral ideology, though I am sure a more in-depth analysis would bring problems with the system to light.


Works Cited

Bennett, Gaymon and Ted Peters. “Stem Cell Research and the Claim of the Other in the Human Subject.” Dialog: a Journal of Theology 43.3 (2004): 184-193. Blackboard. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.

Rachels, James. “God and Moral Autonomy.” Can Ethics Provide Answers?(1997): 109-123. Blackboard. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.

Smart, J. J. C. “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism.” Moral and Political Philosophy (1956): 88-95. Blackboard. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.