Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Your Faves are Problematic: Kant & Mill

We began ethics by familiarizing ourselves with utilitarianism, a system of morality focused on results, or the consequences of one’s actions. There was much emphasis on doing things for the greater good, that the right thing to do is always the thing that exists in service of this “greater good”. I had some problems with this concept as it could easily be used to justify things that are, to me, clearly wrong. The death penalty for example justifies the killing of people based on the fact that they have killed and it is therefore in service of the greater good to kill them, making that killing the “right thing to do”. Needless to say, this is not something I agree with. There is also a lack of concern for the minority in this system that I feel is problematic. Of course there will always be situations where majority must rule, but there are also ways to protect the minority and ensure that their needs are met as well, at least to some extent. The idea that the concern’s of a minority may be of less importance because they do not align with the “greater good’ is not right to me. This led me to believe that I may identify more with the idea of categorical imperatives, but I found problems with that too. I viewed this system as one which focuses only on the intentions behind an action and not at all on its consequences. The lack of concern for the consequences of an action does not align with my views on morality. Intention does not equal impact and I believe the idea of “treating others how you would like to be treated” contributes to the misconception that an action with pure intentions will be the right thing. Everyone is different, and it is unlikely that everyone will want to be treated the same way that you want to be treated. If we were all to live a life of treating others how we want to be treated rather than how they want to be treated, the consequences of our actions, no matter how pure the intention, could be extremely negative. I believe to truly do the right thing, we must consider how our actions will be received.

Since I couldn’t fully identify with either of the above systems, I’ve set up my own belief system somewhere in the middle. I liked the consideration for consequences included in utilitarianism, and the emphasis on inherent morals rather than doing things simply for the “greater good”  in the categorical imperative. While there are some situations in which I believe in the greater good, I think on larger scales it is important to take care of everyone as much as possible rather than disregarding minority needs simply because it will be to more people’s benefit.

Let’s take the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community for example: clearly we are a minority and our interests may not serve the “greater good” (unless in a utilitarian sense, straight cis people say so) but protecting us is the right thing to do because as people, we all deserve to be heard and to be respected. There is a moral duty to protect people and to do right by them regardless of whether they fall into the majority or the minority in a given situation. From my perspective, the “greater good” approach would not be the morally right one in this context because the definition of “greater good” will always be left up to the majority and it is unfair for one group to have that kind of hold on another. I believe that the minority should always be accommodated to the fullest extent possible, in the interest of maximum happiness and that the concept of “greater good” should be used only as a last effort in situations where compromise may not be possible.

 

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