Term Paper: Living Well and Rightly

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Living Well and Rightly

Moral theories have become theories because there are philosophers throughout time who have believed that these theories can help guide people, assist them in living a life that is both happy and rightly good. Some of these theories include utilitarianism, a theory that shows that right and wrong can be determined by a cost-benefit (what are the costs and who will benefit or who won't) analysis; Kantianism, which included Kant's categorical imperative, which basically states that we must act in a way that we can will to be a universal law (e.g., you can only steal from people if you will everyone in the world to be able to steal as well -- and that could be from you); and Aristotle's virtue ethics, where Aristotle argued that our personal happiness is the ultimate goal that we should promote. Of course there are other moral theories, but for the sake of this paper, these three are mentioned merely to show the differences between the three that are most commonly talked about. While all three of these ethical theories have solid opinions and arguments behind them, it is utilitarianism, an ethical theory put forth by philosophers such as David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, William Godwin, and John Stuart Mill -- among others later as well -- that is the ethical theory that is most representative of living well and rightly.

In his article, "Moral Theory: Thinking, Doing, and Living," Callahan (18) states that the best moral theories are the ones that can integrate all three of the actions in the title: thinking, doing, and living. The ideas that we think about, what we think about when we think of morality, and how we think that morality is important. A good ethical theory, in terms of understanding and applying it to our lives, is one that can "make sense of our moral instincts, intuitions, and traditions" and offers us a "plausible perspective on the making of moral judgments, the fashioning of rules and principles, and the devising of a virtuous life" (18). Utilitarianism is, arguably, best ethical theory when it comes to living a good and rightly life because it allows us to integrate all three of those actions. Utilitarianism is not a difficult theory to understand, it is easy to apply to our lives, and it will, ultimately, help us lead morally good lives that will also benefit.

The entire principle behind utilitarianism is that it says that an action is right if it produces as much or more of happiness of all affected by it than any other action, and it is wrong if it does not. John Stuart Mill focuses on the Greatest Happiness Principle -- actions are right if they promote happiness, wrong if they do not; the more the happiness, the better, of course, and the less suffering to others, the better too.

Some have argued that Mill's idea of utilitarianism leaves a lot of room for confusion, especially pertaining to the fact that simply because we act thinking it will return the greatest happiness, what if our actions took a bad turn and spurred something that we didn't know was going to happen? This is a viable argument, but it would be one for all ethical theories then because nobody can ever know what will happen in the future; a person can only act for the moment and in the particular situation. Acting so that our behavior will promote the greatest happiness is the only way that we can and should live our lives because any other way is simply out of duty (as with Kant's categorical imperative=do only as you would will something to be universally accepted, etc.).

Where Kant and Mill differed is how they measured morality; other than that they both simply wanted people to act in moral ways, which is good. Pretty much all of the ethical theories are good and right when it comes to their function, which is to help people act morally, but there are some that are either too one-sided or some that put the person who is acting at the center, which seems much too self-interested or egoistical. Aristotle's virtue ethics are one ethical theory that puts the person at the center and his theories are sound, but utilitarianism is special because it puts others before oneself and there is something incredibly moral about that. This is not to say that people should go… [END OF PREVIEW]

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