Essay: Utilitarian Kantian Virtue Ethics

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Utilitarian, Kantian, Virtue Ethics

As Vice President for Dutch Cosmetics, it is important to be involved in all aspects of the company's undertakings. After finding out from the legal department that 10,000 puppies and kittens will have to be injected with high doses of burning chemicals in order to discover at what level the glow-in-the-dark make-up will be dangerous to humans and what level it is safe, as well as the product needing to be tested on unsuspecting people in a developing country in order to satisfy human trial requirements, there are obviously vital ethical issues that must be addressed. There are obviously many people and innocent animals that will be affected by these tests, so deciding the best course of action will take some consideration.

Utilitarian ethics offers a pretty straightforward way for deciding the morally right thing to do for any situation that a person (or company) finds themselves in. Under utilitarian ethics, we first have to come up with the different ways of action that could be performed. Next, we have to think about all the potential benefits and harms that would result from each action for everyone affected by the action. Lastly, we decide which course of action to take based on what offers the greatest benefits after the costs (or harms) have been considered.

Using a utilitarian ethical model of thinking, we would have to consider how many people are potentially going to be using this product. What will happen if the tests don't happen? Will the product still make it to the market? The answer to this question is probably not. As Vice President of the cosmetic company, to deny that 10,000 puppies and kittens get tested and especially the unsuspecting human beings in a developing country, would mean that the product does not make it to market. There are some that might say that under utilitarian ethics the way to go would be to allow the testing since there are more people who might use the product and be harmed by it if the testing isn't done, but the truth of the matter is that, as Vice President, the product should not go to market if it involves hurting so many individuals -- animals and humans.

As a utilitarian, one has to ask himself or herself, "What effect will my doing this action (whatever it is) have on the general balance of good over bad in the world?" So, under this way of thinking, if lying would create the best results in a situation, then a person ought to lie.

Under a Kantian way of thinking, we would have to ask ourselves, "What effect everyone's doing this have on the general balance of good over bad in the world?" This was Kant's 'categorical imperative.' Kant believed that to act morally was to act as if how one was acting could be a universal truth. That is to say that if I lie, I have to accept that someone else lies to me, and I cannot think that this is wrong; that would be, simply, how the world works. In utilitarian ethics, morality is dependent upon balancing the beneficial and the harmful results of our behavior.

In the case of the Vice President, what needs to be considered is how many innocent lives this testing will affect negatively. The answer is at least 10,000 puppies and kittens and thousands more of unsuspecting humans. This would be done so that the people who buy this make-up product do not suffer, but we do not know how many people will buy the product, or details like where the product will be sold. None of this really matters, however, because the amount of people who will be negatively affected is larger than the number that can be assumed for the consumers. From a utilitarian perspective, the Vice President should not allow the testing to be done because the only fact that is given about the consequences is that it will hurt well over 100,000 innocent creatures and human beings.

Kantian ethics goes against utilitarian ideals. Kantian ethics state that we can only do something if we wish it to be a universal law. This was the categorical imperative. Therefore, as Vice President of the cosmetics company, it would only be ethical to perform the tests on the animals and human beings if we were to accept that this was how the world worked and, at any time, we could be the people who were being unknowingly tested on. For example, Kant would say that one can only lie to someone if one is to accept that they too shall be lied to and that this is okay.

Kantian ethics has more to do with duty than anything else. A categorical imperative could be that one does not commit any harm against any animal or any human being. Therefore, under Kantian ethics, even if harming 10,000 animals and countless human beings served one's interest, one may not commit those harms. Kant believed that morality must be based on the categorical imperative because morality is something that one is commanded by, and thus a person cannot say that morality does not apply to him or her.

Kant had a formula of universal law that said, "Act only on the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." A maxim is a rule or principle and the universal law states that one cannot do something unless one is willing to allow every else to do the same thing as well.

Kant believed that a person is either "good" or "bad" depending on their actions -- not on the goodness of the consequences of those actions. This goes against utilitarian thinking. Utilitarian thinking says that the greatest consequences for the greatest number of people is the best, but Kant would say that what urges one to do the moral action is what has the moral worth (i.e., what makes someone a good person, or not). To give an example of this, pretend that someone inherits a lot of money and she doesn't know what to do with it. She decides that the people in her community will really think she is a great person if she gives a good chunk of the money to the church, so she does it because she craves that kind of admiration. For Kant, this action (even though this woman is giving money to a church) would not be moral because she is not thinking about the good in the action or the duty of it, rather, she is thinking about how it will benefit her and how others will see her.

Under Kantian ethics, the Vice President would have to order that the testing not be done because it is wrong. She must know that this is not how the world should work because, according to Kantian ethics, if she is to agree to the testing than she must be wishing that this is the categorical imperative (or how the world works), and she must accept that she, too, could also fall victim to this testing.

Consequences do not matter for Kant. If the testing on the 10,000 puppies and kittens goes fine and none of the animals are significantly hurt, and then nobody is really hurt in the developing country, it still doesn't matter; the action was wrong, according to Kant, because other companies may run similar tests and kill all the animals or kill all the people in the developing country. It does not matter what the consequences are, when a person makes a bad choice, sometimes really bad things will occur because of it and sometimes bad things won't; what matters is that we are constantly making decisions that are moral and that have more to do with duty than with consequence.

Plato and Aristotle, the founders of Virtue Ethics, believed that character and virtue was more important than doing one's "duty" or acting in a way that would bring about good consequences; therefore, Virtue Ethics is the antithesis to both utilitarian and Kantian ethics.

For Aristotle, a virtuous person was who had ideal character traits. These ideal traits came from an inherent place, natural tendencies, but he believed that these traits needed to be nurtured. He thought that once these traits were nurtured, they could then become stable parts of the person's character. According to Aristotle (and Plato), a person that is virtuous will act kindly in many different situations throughout the person's life because that is the character of the person; it has nothing to do with wanting to increase notability or gain favors. The big difference between Virtue Ethics and Kantian and utilitarian ethics is that virtue ethics do not try to claim universal principles that can be applied in any kind of ethical situation. Virtue ethics theorists ask bigger questions, such as "How is one supposed to live?" And "What makes a good life?" As well as, "What are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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