nica’s Weblog

March 8, 2009

James Rachels: The Debate over Utilitarianism

Filed under: itethics — Tags: , , , — monica @ 11:27 am

Monica Frances T. Hao ITETHIC
Book: Contemporary Moral Problems
Author: James E. White
Library Reference: N/A
Amazon Link:
A theory of life excites in many minds, and among
them in some of the most estimable in feeling
and purpose, inveterate dislike.
Learning Expectation:
In this chapter of the book “Contemporary Moral Problems” I want to learn about the debate over
utilitarianism. What will this ethics help me in realizing the good things and bad things that I have done
wrong in the IT industry? I also want to learn in this chapter if what does the information society means?
How does it help the industry? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? What is the basis of
these moral problems?
I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive, however. It is possible for private enterprise to have a
positive influence on societal welfare. I was just bringing up the question that if it was truly promoting
societal welfare, why does the application of eminent domain for the promotion of private enterprise seem
to benefit the higher class more, which is in fact not utilitarianism unless the negative has a card/statistic
that says the majority of people will benefit.
I certainly think that promoting private enterprise leads to societal welfare. This is because
societal welfare is ultimately met by such branches like economy, well-functioning government, and other
reasonable factors. And by promoting private enterprise we achieve a better economy, directly. So it
‘progresses’ societal welfare as a whole. And when it seems to benefit the higher class, there we look at
the diff. types of utilitarianism. Preference utilitarianism would suit this, because by the government
attempting to eliminate a blighted area through the implementation of eminent domain, it is going towards
benefiting a higher class. So you can still argue the idea of utilitarianism because it is being preferred by
the government to benefit the more higher-status classes. And yea a card may support this claim.
However, I’m sure there are some capitalist affirmative cases that will say laissez-faire capitalism
is best attained without governmental intervention. And while eminent domain it might progress the
economy, it doesn’t help the poor very much (I already gave my analysis on that). Also, about your
argument on “blight,” who determines urban blight? Does the government have the right to say, “OK
because we hate this area of poverty we’re going to get it cleaned up?” Also where does eminent domain
go towards once the government intervenes? (These are some negative burdens) After all, if the negative
is willing to argue that there is some sort of “just compensation” then they must justify what will happen
afterwards for those who are affected. Plus, eminent domain does little to eliminate the problem of
poverty (it in fact may worsen it because the poor are displaced into more crowded areas because they
can’t afford the housing that has been “cleaned up” by eminent domain). Impact? Harms social rights.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to make the link, don’t mistake my arguments. I’m just saying
societal welfare is a pretty weak value that will lead to a smack-down because you’re not negating the
resolution. Most people will attempt to link societal welfare to utilitarianism which I can refute and then link
that to utilitarian justice.
Lessons Learned:
I have learned about the debate of utilitarianism and I am happy that I have learned a lot from
this. I have also learned about societal welfare is a pretty weak value that will lead to a smack-down
because you’re not negating the resolution.
5 integrative questions:
1. What is the debate over utilitarianism all about?
2. Who is James Rachels?
3. What is the Resilience of the theory?
4. What is classical utilitarianism?
5. What is the defense of utilitarianism?
1. Rachels says that classical utilitarianism can be summed up in three propositions. What are they?
– Actions are judged right or wrong solely in virtue of their consequences
– In assessing consequences, the only thing that matters is the amount of happiness or
unhappiness that caused.
– In calculating happiness or unhappiness that will be caused, no one’s happiness is to be
counted as more important than anyone else.
2. Explain the problem with hedonism. How do defenders of utilitarianism respond to this problem?
– Hedonism is the philosophy in which pleasure is the most important thing in the world.
3. What are the objections about justice, rights and promises?
– The objection for justice, rights, and promises is that these three were not underrepresented.
4. Distinguish between rule- and act- utilitarianism. How does rule- utilitarianism reply to the
– Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism which states that moral actions are those which
conform to the rules which lead to the greatest good. While Act utilitarianism is
a utilitarian theory of ethics which states that the right action is the one which produces the
greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people.
5. What is the third line of defense?
– Act-Utilitarianism
6. Smart’s defense of utilitarianism is to reject common moral beliefs when they conflict with
utilitarianism. Is this acceptable to you or not? Explain your answer.
– No, because the moral beliefs we have is our happiness or the one who makes us happy.
7. A utilitarian is supposed to give moral consideration to all concerned. Who must be considered?
What about nonhuman animals? How about lakes and streams?
– Maybe the person who is immoral should be considered first
8. Rachels claims that merit should be given moral consideration independent of utility. Do you
– No.


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