Utilitarianism vs Categorical Imperative: Of JC Penney, Blowing Up Cities, & Plane Safety
I want to incorporate the mentality of doing things because you want that intention to become a universal law. Sometimes I find when helping others or in doing tasks people ask me to, I’m hesitant and annoyed but end up doing it anyway. I’m still unsure as to whether or not this would be morally creditable by categorical standards, because though I’m doing it out of some sense of duty I’m not very happy about doing it. But I find the concept of it and people following that kind of moral code admirable. I feel like wanting to help people and having good intentions is part of being a good person, but the categorical imperative doesn’t really stress results. Like a certain proverb once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That’s pretty much the big thing that bothers me about categorical imperative, the only other one being it wouldn’t really work unless everyone decided to all adopt this way of thinking at once. What comes to mind is what happened to JC Penney, where they decided to be honest with customers and do away with sales (because a lot of the time when clothing is put on sale it’s what was considered the standard retail value. When you buy something not on sale, it’s a markup). Though in a humanitarian sense this is great, it didn’t work out because though it worked better for the customer it didn’t feel better. In a year’s time they lost an estimated 700 million dollars. I think that a good intention to be required to some extent though, because people doing charitable things to make themselves feel better or improve their status sounds pretty questionable.
As for utilitarianism, I think it’d be great to consider the happiness as everyone as your own happiness. Before starting this unit, that’s pretty much what I considered a really good person to be like. It was kind of a combination of the two, where from utilitarianism I had the concept of putting before anything the happiness of everyone and good intentions from the categorical imperative. I’d like to be able to incorporate that into my own morality, but I don’t care about everyone and can only find it admirable when someone does. When approached with the problem of destroying a city or saving a best friend, I’d pick to save my friend. Though I find a lot of concepts admirable, I’d say I’m pretty average in that most of the time I just follow what feels like the right thing to do. I don’t exactly do anything extraordinary, but react to situations presented to me. It’s something I feel as if I should improve by seeking out justice, but I don’t really have the determination for it. Given a moral problem, I’m pretty objective until you throw something or someone important to me in it. Thankfully, I’ve never had the choice of destroying a city or saving a friend. If I were presented with figuring out whether or not gender neutral bathrooms should be made available for example, I’d probably check what benefits/harm they present, weigh it out, and see which option is better. That’s still an issue I’m not very informed on and fail to see the big problem with just having them. If they make people more comfortable, isn’t that enough? In that sense I’m probably more on the utilitarianism side since I’m not passionate about the issue. But on something like airplane companies not spending money to make flights safer because it’d be less expensive to have an airplane crash once in a while, that’s a little more concerning to me. Maybe it’s the threat of a lot of death, or because I don’t know the perspective of the person who has to decide on putting extra resources in safety, but somehow this seems more pressing. I think it’s something people should be notified of at least. Maybe it’s just different perspectives, but I wonder if it weighs on the people that have to make that kind of decision, and if it’d be solved if they considered themselves in a crashing plane that they could’ve survived. Categorical imperative assuming that as thinking beings we’d all come to the same conclusion isn’t really great in that aspect, considering the number of views people can have. Maybe some people are alright with the risk of a plane crashing as it is, considering it’s pretty low right now anyway.
People being ruled by pleasure and pain is something I considered natural and true, but I always figured going against that to help others good. From the biological standpoint, your DNA basically programs you to survive and to preserve yourself and pass on your DNA at whatever means possible. But if you can put that aside and rub it in your DNA’s face by -for instance- sacrificing yourself so 5 strangers can live, I consider that to be pretty admirable.
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