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Utilitarianism And Kant's Categorical Imperative Essay

1368 words - 6 pages

Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative
The issues of morality are most clearly expressed through examples of different methods of analyzing a situation. The case of Holmes, an officer in charge of a sinking ship, shows the striking differences between philosopher Immanuel Kant’s beliefs and those of the Utilitarians. After Holmes’ ship sinks, there are twenty passengers in a lifeboat that is only meant to hold fourteen people. There was no time to send out a signal for help before the ship sank, so no rescue is guaranteed and the nearest land is fifteen hundred miles away. Holmes decides to force the wounded passengers and those wearing life jackets off of the lifeboat and ...view middle of the document...

Act Utilitarianism also focuses on creating the most good for the greatest number, but recognizes the fact that sometimes there are exceptions to rules that will in fact create the most good, and in those cases the rules should be broken. For example, there is a hunter who wonders if it is morally acceptable to kill a deer. Act Utilitarianism analyzes the effects of this one action to decide if it is moral by assigning a value to the amount of pleasure and pain each individual involved will experience. In this case the hunter and his family will experience the pleasure of having food from eating the deer, many of the neighbors of the hunter will experience pleasure by having the deer off their property, and the deer’s family will experience the pain of the loss of a family member. If the outcome is that the net value of pleasure is greater than the pain caused by the killing of the deer, it is morally right for the hunter to kill it.
The example of the sinking ship and Holmes’ decision to throw people off of the lifeboat represents an Act Utilitarian belief. Holmes’ decision making process can be seen as morally right when one assesses the amount of pleasure and pain that can be expected from his actions. The lifeboat is the only method of getting to shore, and the less people that are in it the better the chance they all have of surviving since it will be less likely that the lifeboat will capsize. The boat holds fourteen people, so it is best to take exactly fourteen and no less so that the most people have the greatest chance of survival. The decision on who to take in the lifeboat can be made by explaining that those with lifejackets have a better chance of surviving in the water than those without them, so those without them should stay in the lifeboat. Also the wounded have the least chance of surviving whether or not they are in the lifeboat, so if they are thrown off more room can be made in the boat for the healthy ones with a greater chance of survival. There are twenty survivors total, and if Holmes can almost guarantee the survival of fourteen of them, this ultimately creates much more pleasure and much less pain. Even though the other passengers might die, the pain they endured in their struggle, and the pain of their family and friends who mourn their death becomes outweighed by the pleasure created by the survival of the others. Holmes’ actions can be said to produce the greatest certainty and extent of pleasure, which is the aim of Utilitarianism.
When accepting this view of morality Holmes would not seem to be guilty of murder if any of the passengers he threw in the water were to die. This is because he was doing what he believed to be morally right, and he was attempting to save the most lives in order to ultimately create the most happiness. It would not have been morally better for everyone to die together, because then that would create the least...

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