Utilitarianism is a theory that emphasizes ethical practice as that oriented towards ensuring the wellbeing of others. Unlike theories such as ethical egoism that regard ethical actions as those that benefit the individual, utilitarianism is universal. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory that defines ethics or virtue based on the outcome of actions. As such, a virtuous existence is defined as the ability to conform one’s actions towards ensuring the greatest benefit to many. In general, a utilitarian outcome will be characterized by a greater amount of happiness gained by many people as well as a minimum amount of pain that affects a few individuals. As such, utilitarianism is a theory that advocates for actions to be oriented towards benefiting others as opposed to being confined towards individual gain.
Jeremy Bentham and Stuart Mill are key proponents of utilitarianism, as part of their larger support for teleological theories that advocate for good over evil. According to both philosophers, ethical existence is exemplified by the ability to ensure happiness that is exemplified through pleasure prevails within society, as opposed to evil that is equated to pain. Stuart Mill argued utilitarianism as the most effective way of ensuring rights and freedoms are respected within society. On the other hand, Bentham’s view of utilitarianism was largely geared at dissuading or negating actions that are self-centered or confine pleasure and value to the individual context. Bentham and Mill argue that the premise of ethical existence is based on adopting a lifestyle outlook that advocates for the greatest among of universal good and the least amount of pain or evil.
Kant’s deontological ethics are largely basedon considering the nature of actions as opposed to the outcome like in the case of utilitarianism. Kant’s theory includes an added focus on the ability of a person or agent to meet or conform to an established ‘norm’, ‘duty’, or standard. According to Kant’s theory, the ethical nature of an action is largely indicative of correlated to its rational outlook. As such, an action may be considered ethical if it conforms to a rational or moral obligation, irrespective of whether the outcome is wrong. Therefore, Kant’s theory does not consider the consequences of an action and emphasizes the trend towards ethical existence as one that is based on considering actions as the prime objective and not a means to an envisioned end.
Kant’s theory defines the aforementioned norm, duty, or standard as a categorical imperative that forms the basis of ethical existence. The categorical imperative, which may be compared to rational action, refers to a principle or code of moral rules that people should practice for them to considered ethical. Since the suggested principle or categorical imperative is a predetermined standard of practice, then it becomes applicable to all individuals and is in turn considered a universal maxim that everyone should follow. Therefore, Kant’s categorical imperative is largely geared towards establishing a set of rules and actions that exemplify virtuous or ethical existence. For instance, actions such as bravery andshrewdness by a soldier constituted Kant’s categorical imperative and were ethical, despite the fact that they could result in pain to other people.
The greatest benefit of Kant’s theory is that it assigns standards of morality or moral existence in line with meeting performing actions that are right, which is particularly important if one considers that there are actions undeniably rights or wrong. However, the theory may be faulted for its negation of the impact or consequences of actions. On the other hand, utilitarianism is often considered difficult to apply based on the general inability to identify an effective measure pleasure or value that is expected from actions. In general, it is often difficult to determine the levels of value or loss occasioned to individuals following an action, which makes it a complex theory to impart within regular social settings. In addition, utilitarianism is predisposed to various ambiguities especially if one was to consider that particular outcomes may seem ethical yet the means used to accomplish them were largely unethical. For instance, consider the ethical dilemma that comes from a situation where the murder of an individual may seem ethical of the outcome is the safety of other millions of people. However, utilitarianism has a greater ethical standard that Kant’s theory based on its emphasis on the virtuous nature of outcomes. On one part, utilitarianism is largely based on ensuring happiness supersedes pain through the ensuring positive outcomes. Moreover, the universal nature of utilitarianism means that more people stand to gain from ethical practices. While Kant’s theory may have a sense of universality by indicating categorical imperatives; the theory does not necessarily consider the notion of holistic happiness or value gained from performing actions.
Ayn Rand was a historical supporter of the theory on ethical egoism. The theory is a moral doctrine that considers ethical existence as the ability to orient actions and outcomes towards the benefit of the agent (or person performing the action). Rand argued that ethical existence is based on the individual (agent) working towards achieving his or her interests. According to Rand, the aspects of self-interest implied in ethical egoism may not be inherently true, since some actions have a suggestedutilitarian oruniversal value. For instance, actions that include helping others in society may be utilitarian, but establish their egoist nature based on the fact they bring pleasure to the agent.
Brain Medlin’s response to ethical egoism was largely based on describing the arbitrary (and sometimes abstract) nature of ultimate ethical theories. According to Medlin, ethical behavior and existence are immutable concepts that cannot be reduced to specific theories such as ethical egoism. As such, identifying a suitable ethical conclusion will come from establishing a premise that is accepted by everyone. Therefore, ethical egoism may not be considered a justified form of virtuous existence if it is not seen to conform to an ethical premise accepted by a second or more parties. In general, Medlin argues that ethical egoism lacks validity since people seek a world where ethical actions are accepted and appreciated by others.
Medlin’s response is justified since adopting an egoist outlook may create a situation of conflict when one or more self-interest perspectives or pursuits clash. While ethical egoism may also mean gaining pleasure from helping others, the ethical perspective largely contradicts the social nature of human beings. In addition, ethicalegoism is based on a self-defeating principle of individual happiness, since egoists also find it difficult to accept that they adopt the suggested practice. Overall, Medlin is right in asserting that ethical egoism is not a plausible approach for ethical existence within human society.
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