utilitarian attitudes to the environment

a2 ethics with OCR

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Applying Utilitarianism to the Environment
Rule utilitarianism ­ quick reminder
o Version one: Actions are moral when they conform to rules that lead to the greatest
good: "the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the
correctness of the rule of which it is an instance." So, the correctness of a rule is
determined by the amount of good it brings about when followed
o Version two: The greater utility of following a given rule in general. The practice of
following some rule in all instances (always stopping at red lights) will have better
consequences overall than allowing exceptions to be made in individual instances
o Version three: Practice utilitarianism ­ a rule may not always work well in practice...
But if you didn't have it a greater evil would arise: E.g. immigration ­ whilst allowing
immigrants into the country may threaten jobs, not allowing it at all may lead to
bigger problems
Mill supported the Malthusian theory of population. By population he meant the number of
working class only. He was therefore concerned about the growth in number of labourers
who worked for hire. He believed that population control was essential for improving the
condition of the working class so that they might enjoy the fruits of the technological
progress and capital accumulation. He propagated birth control as against moral restraint
Malthus thought the dangers of population growth would stop endless progress towards
Utopia: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to
produce subsistence for man". As an Anglican clergyman, Malthus saw this situation as
divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour.
Believing that one could not change human nature, Malthus wrote: "Must it not then be
acknowledged by an attentive examiner of the histories of mankind, that in every age and in
every State in which man has existed, or does now exist. That the increase of population is
necessarily limited by the means of subsistence... and the actual population kept equal to the
means of subsistence, by misery and vice."
Mill demonstrated an early insight into the value of the natural world ­ Book IV, chapter VI of
"Principles of Political Economy: Of the Stationary State"
Mill recognised wealth beyond the material, and argued that the logical conclusion of
unlimited growth was destruction of the environment and a reduced quality of life
He concluded that a stationary state could be preferable to never-ending economic growth:
`I cannot, therefore, regard stationary state of capital and wealth with the unaffected
aversion so generally manifested towards it by political economists of the old school.'
If the earth must lose that general portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the
unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of
enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or happier population, I sincerely hope, for
the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity
compel them to it.
Exploring how Singer's Preference Utilitarianism may be applied to environmental issues
What Singer (and other Preference Utilitarians) are trying to do is expand the horizon of who
(or what) should feature in moral debates. If testing a nuclear weapon is morally acceptable
because it discourages wars, and no humans are harmed... have we also taken into account
the impact this will have on the environment, and on non-human species living in the region of
the test area? Singer invites us to think about the consequences of nuclear tests from the
non-human perspective...
What will happen to animals or environment near the test site...? If we were `in their shoes'
would we want someone to detonate a nuclear weapons on, or near us? If no, and we would

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Preference Utilitarianism.
Peter Singer: "...We are able to say that the fact that some people are not members of our
race does not entitle us to exploit them. Similarly the fact that some people are less
intelligent than others does not mean that their interests may be disregarded. But the
principle also implies that the fact that beings are not members of our species does not
entitle us to exploit them...…read more


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