Ethical Problems Strengths and Weakness

Ethical Problems
Strengths and Weakness
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
(October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900)
Against Conventional Morality:
Friedrich Nietzsche,
Beyond Good and Evil
• Dubs utilitarianism the morality of the herd.
• He sets out a genology of morals – historically
informed critique of how various moral principles
came into being.
• Moral principles are seen by Nietzsche as
attempts by the weak masses to protect
themselves against dynamic and powerful
individuals – against the ‘highest and strongest
drives, when they break out passionately and
drive the individual far above the average and the
flats of the herd conscience’.
Beyond Good and Evil
• Nietzsche points to the complexity of human existence,
the darkness and power of the unconscious forces of
the human psyche.
• Nietzsche proposes a complete overcoming of
conventional morality – a task ‘for the very few, a
privilege for the strong’.
• ‘Spirits strong and original enough to revalue and
invent eternal values.”
• Strength is necessary because tidily rational systems of
morality will have to be discarded, and the darker,
more dangerous, more passionate and mysterious
aspects of human existence plumbed to the depths.
Utilitarianism’s Problems
• To recap, utilitarianism must essentially have
something to do with promoting happiness
and well-being and minimizing unhappiness
and misery.
• All for the greatest amount of people in
society or community.
• One major problem rests on its
“consequentialist” nature.
Utilitarianism’s Problem
For example, suppose you had to go to court for
failing to pay a few parking fines. You are
alone in a small courtroom with the judge, the
bailiff, and the court reporter. After the bailiff
reads the charges (“failure to pay three fines
for expired parking meters”), you respond
(“Guilty, your Honor”), and she announces her
judgment: “I find you guilty on all charges. The
punishment will be that you shall suffer death
at the hands of a firing squad.” Continue…
Utilitarianism’s Problems
“What?!!” you scream. “Death for three lousy
parking tickets??” The judge leans forward and
whispers, “I know you don’t deserve this
punishment, but there has been a rash of
murders in our community, and a study has been
released demonstrating that immediately after an
execution, the crime rate drops substantially.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any convicted
murders on our hands right now. But we do have
you, and there is every reason to believe that if
we execute you, the public good will be served…
Utilitarianism’s Problem
“Hence, even though my decision may seem
unfair to you personally, it will certainly
promote the greatest amount of happiness for
the greatest number of people. So it is the
only judgment I can really reach in good
Utilitarianism’s Problems
Take another example: Sam, a basically normal,
rather nondescript but “nice” human being,
goes to the hospital to visit his only living
relative, his senile, sick aunt. His visit coincides
with five medical emergencies at the hospital.
One person needs a liver transplant, another a
spleen transplant, another a lung transplant,
another a new heart, and a fifth a new pineal
Utilitarianism’s Problem
Each of the five patients is tremendously important,
much-loved person whose death would bring a great
deal of grief and actual physical discomfort to a great
number of people. Sam’s death, on the other hand,
would be mourned by no one (except possibly by his
aunt in her lucid moments). The top members of the
hospital administration, all strict utilitarians, lure Sam
into a operating room, remove all his vital organs, and
distribute them to the other needy patients, thereby
operating (literally) in accordance with the principle of
utility: the greatest amount of happiness for the
greatest number of people.
Utilitarianism’s Problems
• Neither the parking meter violator nor Sam
deserve the fate dished out by the executing
judge and the hospital staff.
• Both cases are compatible with utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism’s Problems
• Act Utilitarianism: one must perform the
specific act that will produce the greatest
amount of happiness for the greatest amount
of people.
• Rule Utilitarianism: a person should perform
that act governed by a (hypothetical) rule
whose general obedience would produce the
greatest amount of happiness. (Supported by
Mill and Sidgwick)
Utilitarianism’s Problem
• Under rule utilitarianism, lying and deceiving, generally
cause more unhappiness than happiness.
• Also in view of rule utilitarianism, the judge and
hospital administration cannot proceed as the y desire
because the rule governing their acts would be some
thing like this: “If the lives of a number of people (or
even a few exceptional people) can be saved by
sacrificing an innocent bystander, the sacrifice should
be performed.”
• A society or community that excepts this rule lives in
constant fear of being arbitrarily killed or
Utilitarianism’s Problems
• General problem with rule utilitarianism – one
can think of a general rule to rationalize all
sorts of questionable behavior – ex.
“Shoplifting from large department stores is
okay as long as one doesn’t get caught and no
one ever finds out.”
Utilitarianism’s Problems
• Also notice, that no act is good or bad in and
of itself – every act is good or bad only in
terms of its consequences (against Kant).
• This leaves open the question of wanton
cruelty – such as stabbing kittens or kicking
• Furthermore, some acts are right independent
of their consequences (Kant would agree).
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• First Categorical Imperative: “I ought never to
act except in such a way that I can also will
that my maxim should become a universal
• Second Categorical Imperative: “Act in such as
way that you always treat humanity, whether
in your own person or in the person of any
other, never simply as a means, but always at
the same time as an end.”
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
If a heavily armed madman, frothing at the
mouth, asks me if I know where Sue Smith is,
and I realize that he intends to kill her if her
finds her, my moral intuition tells me that I
ought to lie – in fact, that it would be immoral
to tell the truth.
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
Yet Kant says that I must tell the truth even to a
murderous madman, on the grounds that the
principle behind lying cannot be universalized
without contradiction.
Critics of Kant have pointed out something that was
mentioned in connection with rule utilitarianism,
namely, that it is possible to generate modified
rules that can be universalized, such as: “One
ought to lie when doing so will save the life of an
innocent person.”
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
However, Kant argued against such modifications on the
grounds that they destroy the universalizability of the
rule by making it more context bound.
Kant thought that acts whose principle cannot be
universalized cannot in any way commit us to moral
obligation. (Reminder: if an act is declared to be bad
when you perform it, then an act that is the same in all
relevant respects must be bad when I perform it, in
exactly the same way that if this figure → ▲ is a
triangle when you draw it, then it must also be a
triangle when I draw it.)
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
Surely we don’t have a moral obligation to
perform every act whose maxim can be
generalized. (I like to smile when I see birds.
The maxim behind that act might be ‘It is good
to express joy in the presence of pretty things’.
This maxim can be generalized without
contradiction, but it’s hard to believe that
therefore we all have a moral obligation to
smile at birds, to whistle in the dark, or to
clear our throat before scratching our nose.)
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• Kant, instead, argues that we have a duty to
perform every act whose maxim can be
universalized, only that such acts are morally
• What gives an act moral with is not simply the
fact that it can be universalized but the fact
that it was chosen as a moral act.
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• Our duty is not that of performing any specific
acts bit to choose only acts that can be
universalized; and what makes them moral is that
we chose them in order to be performing our
• Remember – ‘goodwill’ is the will to do one’s
• The same act – like helping a neighbor fix her flat
tire – may be either moral, morally neutral, or
even immoral, depending on its motivation.
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• Kant’s idea of duty and ‘goodwill’ at this point
contrasts big time with utilitarianism/
consequentialism, in that the act’s moral
worth is no determined by its results, but by
its intentions.)
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• In the tire example, my act is immoral if my
motivation is to deceive her into thinking that
I’m a nice guy so she will bestow favors on me.
• It is morally neutral if the reason I helped her
is because I felt sorry for her (Mere feelings
can never be the basis of morality, according
to Kant.)
• The act is moral only if my motive for
performing it is the desire to do my duty.
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• For Kant, an agent’s intentions must be
considered when assigning moral worth.
• Kant has a problem with the Good Samaritan,
because his heart went out to the suffering
human being – not a peculiarly moral act.
• Yet, Kant thought that a Good Samaritan who
loathes people, including the man he helps,
yet helps him nevertheless out of a sense of
duty, is a moral man.
Kant’s Strengths and Weaknesses
• A coldness lurks in the heart of this doctrine.
• Perhaps feelings cannot be the sole criterion
of moral worth, but they certainly enter into
the picture in a big way.
• A truly good person must have sympathy and
empathy for a fellow human being.
• Thank goodness this icy side of Kant’s moral
philosophy can be ignored without damaging
his insights about universalizability.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• First, it takes education to instill into the subject
the sense of respect and self-respect which will
turn a profit made by selling his soul into a loss.
• Second, it takes a secure and stable political or
social system to generate bad effects on the
villain, such as a loss due to discovery, or loss of
• Third, it takes a culture or politics properly to
identify a lapse from virtue in any case.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• Suppose women systematically lack
opportunities and resources that the men
• Men (and women) in such a society my not be
conscious of anything wrong here.
• They have internalized the traditional values.
• Their conception of a woman flourishing will
be that she is nicely subservient or obedient
to the men.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• In such a world, the man oppressing the
woman has no bad conscience, and suffers no
loss of respect from those he care about –
mainly other men.
• He can flourish in his own eyes, and in his
friends’ eyes, and even in the eyes of the
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• Relate this to the example of a tree that
flourishes by deriving other trees of light, and
the western white person who flourishes
because of the economic and educational
derivation of people, including children, in the
third world.
• It takes something more than a desire to
flourish to motivate concern for them.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• The modern Aristotelian, less inclined to
discount inferiors and outsiders than Aristotle
himself, can fight back.
• They can say a life lived amidst lies, or in a
fool’s paradise, is not a flourishing life.
• So the ingredients are there to suggest that
real flourishing or true human health implies
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• It implies removing the oppression, and living
so that we can look other people, even
outsiders, in the eye.
• Objection: Our generation may flourish by
consuming all the world’s resources, and
letting the future go hang.
• It is only when we have a conversation with
the dispossessed that we scramble for
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
The biggest criticism of Virtue Ethics is that it
doesn't give clear guidance on how to act in
specific circumstances. It cannot tell us what the
law should be about abortion, euthanasia, preimplantation genetic diagnosis etc. It gives no
clear answer to questions such as 'Is the
environment intrinsically valuable?'. The lack of
moral rules or a method of addressing dilemmas
is the main concern here, but there is also
uncertainty about how you decide on what the
virtues are. Many critics say Virtue Ethics simply
doesn't do the job of an ethical theory.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• There are no absolute answers to these
questions (MacIntyre takes this view).
Contemporary ethics has distanced itself from
real people and real issues by debating fine
legalistic points which they will never agree
on. Virtue Ethics asks a much more important
question - what sort of person should I be?
This question may have different answers
depending where and when it is asked, but it
gives real direction and purpose to people.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• There are absolutes (Nussbaum says this).
However, it is virtues that have value, not rules.
We should strive for Justice, Wisdom,
Temperance etc. rather than looking for absolute
rules. When thinking about whether to go to war,
there are no absolute rules (You must not kill an
innocent person, for example, is seen as
impractical as all wars lead to innocent people
dying). However, we have elected a leader who
we want to act justly, to be temperate, to have
wisdom etc.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• Issues such as Embryo Research depend a lot on
answers to questions such as 'When does an
embryo/fetus become a person?' These questions
cannot be answered by ethical theories. MacIntyre
would say that to move forward in these issues, we
need to better understand the context. For example,
we are a society where thousands of embryos die at
various stages of the IVF process. There is therefore a
contradiction between our society's comfortable
response to IVF and the often violent negative reaction
to embryonic stem-cell research. When approaching
these issues, we should aim to respond with wisdom,
right ambition, temperance etc.
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• Virtue Ethics responds confidently to many of
these criticisms by drawing attention to the
failings of deontological theories and
'consequentialist' positions (GEM Anscombe
coined the phrase 'consequentialism' in her
1958 article "Modern Moral Philosophy"
which attacked contemporary ethical theories
for being out of touch with the real world. This
article may have been largely responsible for
the resurgence of interest in Virtue Ethics).
Criticisms of Virtue Ethics
• There are other criticisms, though. For
example, Virtue Ethics rejects moral absolutes
such as 'Do not lie', but then values the virtue
of honesty. Critics claim that the virtues are
really another way of stating moral rules, and
that the virtues depend on the existence of
these rules. Honesty is precisely a virtue
because it is wrong to lie. This sort of criticism
can lead to a circular debate, but it is actually
the biggest threat to the virtue theorist.