the only easy day was yesterday

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ethics, Now

this is a large category to be explaining in a post, and i dont know if i need to go into so much depth, because they are very simple concepts...

Rule Utilitarianism.

I will begin by assuming that everyone knows that the overall utilitarian mantra is "the greatest good for the most people in the long run." Simple enough. Now, there are two major schools of utilitarianism, each with it's practical issues. Rule utilitarianism is the sect which believes that every action should be judged under a set of rules, and that either an action falls within the rules, or is in violation of them. If an action falls clearly in violation or in compliance with the rules it is said to be a paradigm case, and can be easily judged and punished as the rules dictate. However if the case is not clear, it is called a vague case and it would have to be litigated and then be judged, but under the rules, not individually. So the gist of rule utilitarianism is that there is a hypothetical set of rules which have been determined to yield the best results for the most people over the longest period of time than any other set of rules, and that every action will be judged under those rules strictly, with no individual exceptions.

Act Utilitarianism.

Certain problems arise with Rule Utilitarianism, let me tell you a story, a real story:

There is a cop, and throughout this whole thing he does everything legally and by the book. There is a rapist on the loose, who just committed another rape. The officer saw the sketch, and recognized the man from a traffic encounter earlier in the week, and went about the proper way to get his address from the license plate number he recalled. He went to the address, and in the same car he saw evidence from this latest rape. The officer legally got warrants for the house and the car, and found "trophys" from 3 prior rapes that had never been solved, amounting to 4 rapes. As it happens, the case, in the American legal system, would combine only to one rape, and the man at most would be out of prison in seven years, and likely would rape again with greater knowledge of how to cover his tracks.

Now, with the rule utilitarians, though it makes everyone sick, the legal proceedings would go through, and the man would be free in 7 years and very likely rape again. Knowing this man's track record, and knowing the consequences of applying rule utilitarian principles to his case, the Act Utilitarians have a suggestion.

An act utilitarian would say that in this case, the officer should certainly have the discretion to kill the rapist, because he's raped many times, and will almost definitely rape multiple more times. Act utilitarians idea is that every act should be judged individually according to what is best for the most people in the long run. This seems like a good idea as well, but it, of course, has its downfalls.

Take voting for example. Educating oneself on every candidate in an election is a timely endeavor, and yields a relatively small result, seeing as you only have one vote. Now, if you donated the same amount of time to habitat for humanity, or some other charity, you would be accomplishing a much larger and noticeable thing for more people than your one vote would do. But take a step back, and though there would certainly be a lot of houses built had we all worked for habitat for humanity instead of caring about the presidential election, we would get an awful president, and likely have equally bad effects from this. Sort of like the effects we've had from our collective ignorance during the last two elections, except we all didn't build houses for the homeless and poor, we just sat with our fingers in our butts, i guess.


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