The Instigator
Stephen_Hawkins
Pro (for)
Winning
22 Points
The Contender
Noumena
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

This House Believes in Utilitarianism over Virtue Ethics

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 4 votes the winner is...
Stephen_Hawkins
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/14/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,391 times Debate No: 35590
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (8)
Votes (4)

 

Stephen_Hawkins

Pro

This challenge is for the Jury Voting Tournament. The first round is for acceptance, the second for elucidating on the ethical theory being proposed by the speaker, the third round for rebuttals and building the case further, and the final round is for concluding remarks.

Common courtesy rules apply: no plagiarism, forfeiting a round is a conduct point, etc.
Noumena

Con

I accept.
Debate Round No. 1
Stephen_Hawkins

Pro

Is utilitarianism a justifiable ethical theory? Ethics is of course an issue which has been debated heavily for millennia, with no clear consensus being reached. Ethics has had the largest number of theories – stoicism, epicureanism, Nichomachaean Ethics, Natural Law, Situation Ethics, Kantian Ethics, Egoism, Discourse Ethics, Ethical Monotheisms, and more, each dominating the ethical landscape and reshaping it, ignoring the two we are debating today. However, ethics of course has been essential to the growth of society: our entire society is based on what we mean by “moral”, “just”, “fair”, and other terms. Economics still deals and needs to deal heavily with “normative economics”; the ‘ought’ economics. Politically, near every ideology from ethical socialism to libertarianism’s Non-aggression principle has had roots in ethics. So this is of course a huge issue, with huge repercussions, and needs to be thoroughly examined.


To address the benefits and losses of utilitarianism, I’ll be using the Millite approach found in his Utilitarianism: I shall go through common examples and problems regarding utilitarianism to expose the solutions to them and all the while build up a case for its validity. I shall go through the problems brought up commonly against it, as well as by some scholars on the issue. Before doing so, however, I'll state what utilitarianism is, for those who are unsure. Utilitarianism can be stated simply by the maxim: “The greatest good for the greatest number” (Hutcheson, 1726). However, this is a simplification. Utilitarianism is also hedonic: either in maximising pleasure or happiness, like Bentham or Mill propose, or in maximising interest or welfare, as the modern utilitarians Singer, Hare, Smart and others propose. I’ll propose interest for this debate.


“Nine out of Ten People Enjoy Gang Rape”


This slightly dark humorous example can be brought up against utilitarianism: when nine people want to rape, and the other one does not, then gang rape is justified, the opponents of utilitarianism will argue. It has been brought up before on multiple occasions, always in different forms. This, however, is only justified based on a crude understanding of utilitarian ethics. For as Bentham noticed, once we take into account the felicific calculus, nowadays known as the hedonic calculus, a heuristic device for “computing the morality of actions” (Hutcheson, 1726), we can understand what is a moral and immoral act. Bentham characterised these ideas into seven major values, of which can be narrowed five I hold to as the way to calculate (Bentham, 1823):



  1. Intensity

  2. Duration

  3. Certainty

  4. Purity

  5. Extent


We can now apply the calculus. The intensity of the desire for intercourse is infinitely small compared to the desire to not be raped. The duration of the rapists’ pleasure is much less than the trauma that the victim. The act is impure: it will not lead to other pleasures, and it will lead to other displeasures (the trauma). Finally, the act will make the rapist's family and friends seriously upset with empathy, upset the community, and upset the rapist’s family for the shame brought upon them. The act causes much more harm than pleasure. This crime would not be justified.


One can consider further a situation, though one that exists in practice I doubt, where, even all of these factors being taken into consideration – no family or friends of the victim, the families urging the rapist on, no-one finding out, etc. – where the act will now be justified. However, we can take another heuristic device, this time from Rawls: the “veil of ignorance” (Rawls, 1971). The idea goes, simply, imagine we do not know where we are in society, what will happen to us, our future, dreams, hopes, aspirations, context, etcetera. If we were to analyse what we’d want in this state, we’d want our rights to be upheld no matter where we are in society, and the chance to better ourselves, no matter where we are in society. Therefore, rape, for example, would be seen as wrong.


Jim and the Indians (Williams & Smart, 1973)


Jim is an explorer who stumbles into a village where 20 innocent Indians are about to be shot. The captain says that as a mark of honour to Jim as a guest, he will be invited to shoot one of the Indians, and the other 19 will be set free. If Jim refuses, all 20 Indians will be shot. According to Williams, utilitarianism is uncaring. Not only does it claim that we ought to kill, but we must do so. We have a moral imperative to kill. He gives another example of whether we ought to work in a morally repugnant job: the creation of biological warheads, for example. They can easily get someone to replace you – should you work? According to Williams, utilitarianism discards the integrity of the individual, and forces us into a transcendental position, which removes the humanity and passion that is essential for morality.


However, I see this transcending as a benefit, not a weakness, of the ethical theory. After all, if ethics is based on a subjective viewpoint of an individual, and the individual self-development, rather than the morality of an action, what really is this moral theory other than a “how-to” guide? Utilitarianism developed in the Enlightenment as a rational-empirical theory which rejected wholly the emotional and intuitive ethical theories before it in the Christian conscience tradition, and used the ethical theory to create a dispassionate look at what one ought to do in a situation. Its criticism birthing from the lack of integrity, however, is one that ought to be addressed. If one is a utilitarian (and thus try to be moral under utilitarianism), then one ought to aim for maximising the interests of as many as possible – including yourself, to emphasise this is not a gratuitously altruistic theory. To be virtuous, moreover, is a good way of fulfilling the desires and role of utilitarianism (though explicitly not the other way around). To have integrity means to consistently attempt to employ the felicific calculus. To have courage means to use it in face of pressures against you. However, these virtues are all ways of achieving the truly moral end: “the greatest good for the greatest number”.


We cannot always employ the calculus


The issue of employing the calculus is easily resolved, and is done twofold. Firstly, Mill pointed out: “the answer to this objection is that there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time makind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions…” (Mill, 2001) and goes on to include education. Secondly, Hare emphasised education; our personal supply of knowledge. His two-tiered ethical stance said that our intuition is (if not can be) trained to be crudely utilitarian so that we, when put to the test in pressure, can make the moral decision. We can adopt prima facie rules, similar to deontology, which generally (but not always) work so in practice we can make moral decisions, while on a greater system adopt an Act Utilitarianism where we analyse each situation individually. I prefer the second, more sophisticated response to the original problem, though in fact I believe it simply to be a logical conclusion of Mill’s ethical writing.


What can we conclude? Utilitarianism is an empirical theory, based on a transcendental, dispassionate view of what is for the greatest good for the greatest number. It can reliably be the basis of our society. Incidentally, Bentham’s work is seen by many as the base for the United Kingdom’s judicial system. With this in mind, I pass over to my friend and opponent to explain virtue ethics. Thank you.


Bibliography


Bentham, J. (1823). An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.


Hutcheson, F. (1726). Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil.


Mill, J. S. (2001). Utilitarianism (2nd ed.). (G. Sher, Ed.)


Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice.


Williams, B., & Smart, J. ". (1973). Utilitarianism: For and Against.

Noumena

Con

Noumena forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
Stephen_Hawkins

Pro

Extend all arguments?
Noumena

Con

Noumena forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
Stephen_Hawkins

Pro

Vote PRO.
Noumena

Con

Noumena forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by Stephen_Hawkins 3 years ago
Stephen_Hawkins
Assuming larz wins - which he should - and we agree on a topic similar to this again - which I hope we will - my next pitch will be a tad more traditional. But will involve singing.
Posted by bladerunner060 3 years ago
bladerunner060
Oh, I rather liked the style. The only problem with the example concept, though, is that it brings to the forefront obvious objections. Like I said, I'm sure you had a response, but the whole "oh, their desire isn't as much as the desire for the 1 NOT to have that happen" came across as hand-wavey. I think if you're going to use examples, the immediate objections should probably be addressed as much as possible. Though, like I said, I think you probably would have if an actual debate had happened...you can't cram everything into one round!
Posted by Stephen_Hawkins 3 years ago
Stephen_Hawkins
I'll firstly clarify in case we've got crossed signals in that I believe the calculus cannot always be used because it is impractical to apply it when deciding whether to run a red light or not - we'd be hard pressed to do the maths in time!

And thank you for your comment on my opening pitch. It is difficult cramming all of utilitarianism into an opening pitch, because it is very small but blows itself up (that is to say like a balloon it becomes huge) very easily and very quickly, making it awkward in a debate. I was trying to avoid defending each of the six standards because, other than dryness, the length becomes problematic.

Can I ask for a comment, though I do appreciate what you've stated already, on the style I used though? That is, a style of "this is a potential problem, this is a solution". I always wonder the best way to present.
Posted by bladerunner060 3 years ago
bladerunner060
Stephen, obviously you win for full forfeit. But you asked for opinion on your round, so here goes.

Your arguments against the "9 out of 10" point seemed light regarding the calculus. I hope that, had your opponent responded, you could have adequately defended, but you really never explained how the calculus isn't wholly subjective. I think the veil of ignorance argument has more inherent strength, so I'm glad you brought it up (and you did mention the calculus can't always be used).

Overall it was a fine round and explication, and I'm sure had the debate actually happened you would have done fine.
Posted by Raisor 3 years ago
Raisor
Bummer that noumena forfeited...
Posted by Stephen_Hawkins 3 years ago
Stephen_Hawkins
Any comments on my R2 style/form would help me out, as I am trying out different techniques in order to learn new ways of presentation.
Posted by 1Devilsadvocate 3 years ago
1Devilsadvocate
You may vote, but the vote doesn't count as far as deciding who goes on to the next round.
Posted by Raisor 3 years ago
Raisor
Idk what the rules of the jury voting tournament are but if it is allowed please message me to vote on this debate when you all finish up.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 3 years ago
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Stephen_HawkinsNoumenaTied
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit
Vote Placed by thett3 3 years ago
thett3
Stephen_HawkinsNoumenaTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Well that was disappointing
Vote Placed by bladerunner060 3 years ago
bladerunner060
Stephen_HawkinsNoumenaTied
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Reasons for voting decision: All points for full forfeit.
Vote Placed by johnlubba 3 years ago
johnlubba
Stephen_HawkinsNoumenaTied
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Reasons for voting decision: ff