Utilitarianism is the theory that actions should be taken based on their interpreted outcome. If your actions lead to an outcome in which the most happiness and least pain is generated, then the more just your action is. Basically, you’re always acting for the greater good, no matter the actions you take. An example of utilitarianism would be from the trolley problem; choosing to kill one person in order to let 5 live instead. This is taking action for sake of the greater good, even though it means sacrificing one life. Utilitarianism differs from Kant’s theory of the categorical imperative which is based on every individual’s moral compass. The obligation we have to our own morals overpowers our desires and inclinations. An example of categorical imperative would be buying and giving food to a homeless person you see. Having a categorical imperative is also having no ulterior motives for the things you do-you do something for the sole purpose of it to benefit someone else.
There are parts of both of these theories that I agree with and try to incorporate into my own morality. In terms of utilitarianism, I feel like I have always tried to be a people pleaser and a problem solver, so the concept of making choices to benefit all parties makes a lot of sense to me. On the other hand, I associate with the categorical imperative as I have a strong sense of justice and am a strong believer in doing things for the right reason. I think it’s important to have a balance between these theories, as there are many good things to take away from them. However, there are cons as well. Because utilitarianism evaluates actions based on their consequences, it can become tricky in certain situations. For example, we discussed in class the scenario of the army(the good guys) holding a person from a terrorist group(the bad guys) hostage and deciding to torture them in order to gain information that would ultimately help them save lives. In order to help the greater good, would you be willing to compromise your morals? As for the categorical imperative, it focusses more on the meaning behind actions rather than the consequences which can also be troublesome in certain situations.
A global issue that comes to mind when thinking about moral philosophy, is the controversy around abortion. Approaching this topic as someone who is pro-choice makes all the solutions seem very logical and easy to understand. On one hand, you have the pro-choice argument which is that abortion should be legal and accessible to all women because it’s their body and their choice. On the other hand, there is the pro-life argument which is that abortion should not be legal because it is the murder of a fetus. Looking at this with a utilitarian outlook, the option that has the best consequences is the pro-choice. There are many reasons why women choose to get abortions for ex. not being financially or mentally stable enough to raise a child. If this is the case, if the woman is forced to keep the child, it will most likely create a difficult life for not only the mom but the child as well. If the mother chooses to get an abortion, I believe its because she thinks it’s the best possible option for herself and her child. By forcing women to not have abortions, it creates anxiety and heartache, as well as some women will go through unsafe means to get one. So basically, by this school of thought, the pro-choice option generates the most happiness and therefore abortion should be legal everywhere. This also ties in with the categorical imperative, because choosing an option that is best for the mother and the child is morally right, and its unfair to deny this option.
Ethics was one of my favourite units; I loved learning about these theories as well as discussing hypothetical situations around them. I think this stuff is super important to be aware of and understand, because it’s applicable to everyone and everything.