Applying Ethical Theories

  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 08-05-13 10:44

Abortion and Right to a Child- Kant

  • The first maxim of the Categorical Imperative requires that you should want others to act upon the same principle that you act upon. Clearly you would not want to have never been born, so this obviously goes against the categorical imperative.
  • Aborting a foetus for selfish reasons (for example, to look good in a wedding dress) would obviously classify as treating a human beings as a means to an end. But perhaps aborting a foetus because it would not have a happy life if it were born could be seen as okay.
  • If it is not possible to perform an action, no duty exists to do so – if you can’t care for a child, do you have a duty to bring one into the world?
  • Kant’s emphasis on reason and rationality begs the question ‘at what point in development does a foetus become a reasoning individual’?
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Abortion and Right to a Child- Utilitarianism

  • A clincher in this debate would be the question ‘at what point does a developing embryo begin to feel pain’. Clearly, a utilitarianism would have no problem destroying a ball of cells but once the foetus begins to feel pain its rights should be taken into account.
  • To abort a foetus might be denying it any chance of pleasure it might have in life, but it also might be preventing it from feeling pain. Attention would need to be paid to the kind of life it would have (eg rich and fulfilling or unhappy and impoverished?)
  • If the mother has some kind of life-threatening condition during pregnancy then obviously her needs should be taken into account. Mill was a big supporter of women’s rights, so he would say that it should be up to the mother to make an informed decision.
  • A counterpoint to this is that many unwanted pregnancies end with happy lives and valued children – utilitarianism is often a great ethical approach when you’re looking retrospectively but somewhat less useful when trying to make a decision.
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Abortion and Right to a Child- Natural Law

  • Aristotle, the founder of natural law, said that abortion was an immoral act – but it was murder if it happened after ‘the quickening’ (the time when the baby starts to move in the womb, 90 days for girls and 40 for boys).
  • The most important of the primary precepts is ‘to live’ in order to continue the human species, and abortion by its very nature is denying a life.
  • IVF could be seen as permissible as it allows an infertile couple to have a child, but on the other hand it destroys all the unused embryos, so it is doubtful it could be justified.
  • Natural law is a deontological ethical theory, so even if abortion or IVF could have positive effects on the human race as a whole, they would not be considered.
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Euthanasia- Kant

  • The Categorical Imperative specifies that you should not treat others as a means to an end, but this includes yourself! This means you should not commit suicide for the benefit of others.
  • Kantian Ethics requires an objective, emotionally detached state of mind which is pretty much impossible in this type of situation. It also requires that the decision made not made through compassion.
  • Any decision made ought to be made by the person, but in order to make a decision you have to be a reasoning individual (this automatically rules out involuntary euthanasia, and also raises concerns about the rationality of people with terminal illnesses as to whether they are well enough to make the decision.
  • If it is the duty of a doctor to end suffering, doesn’t that mean they ought to pull the life support?
  • On the other hand ‘If you want to stop suffering, die' is a hypothetical imperative.
  • Any decision made is likely to be very circumstantial and thus impossible to universalize.
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Euthanasia- Utilitarianism

  • Bentham and Mill both recognized the rights of people to be autonomous (and thus, to decide their own fates).
  • Although euthanasia prevents suffering on part of the person who is ill, it could (although not always) cause additional suffering on part of their family\friends.
  • f you use Bentham’s hedonic calculus, it might say that the cumulative happiness of friends and family is more important than that of the ill individual.
  • The money and resources used to keep a person on life support might be better used to treat people who have a hope of recovery.
  • It is difficult to predict the outcome of the decision for all involved.
  • We put down animals because we believe it is in their best interests.
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Euthanasia- Natural Law

  • An obvious violation of the primary precept ‘to live’ as life is part of the purpose of humans, going against it would be going against god and his purpose for us. Surely natural law would say that no amount of suffering can justify taking a life?
  • The doctrine of double effect might come into play here – is it the duty of a doctor to reduce pain, or to preserve life? Aquinas’s Doctrine of Double Effect could be used to support euthanasia, which in turn violates his Natural Law!
  • Should the reasoning of a terminally ill individual be trusted such that they be allowed the autonomy to choose whether they should live or die?
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Genetic Engineering- Kant

  • Genetic engineering upon animals (eg, xenotransplants) would be A-Okay for Kant as long as they pose no risks to humans. He saw animals as inferior to humans as they were not rational.
  • The second maxim of the Categorical Imperative states that people should not be used as means to an end, which causes serious problems for embryo research (if you consider embroys people) and also provides a definite answer to the saviour sibling debate.
  • Kant might allow for gene therapy that allows for babies to be born without genetic diseases as it could be seen that it is the duty of a parent to give their child the best possible start in life.
  • Kant was critical of hypothetical imperatives, so he would be unconcerned with the potential benefits genetic engineering could have for society.
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Genetic Engineering- Utilitarianism

  • Obviously, every type of genetic engineering has the potential to be a great benefit to humanity.
  • But Bentham’s hedonic calculus takes the certainty of an outcome into account, and it is not yet certain whether introducing GM crops will do more harm than good in the long run.
  • Techniques like Germ Line therapy could potentially save many human lives, but way they permanently alter the human gene pool makes them an equally risky investment.
  • On utilitarian grounds, research on embryos could be justified because they are unable to feel pleasure\pain and thus wouldn’t be included in the hedonic calculus.
  • Utilitarianism is difficult to apply to this topic – obviously genetic engineering is carried out with good intent, but it is equally obvious how dangerous it could be.
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Genetic Engineering- Natural Law

  • Our god-given purpose is the advancement and preservation of humanity. Aristotle thought highly of reason in his teachings, but would he condone our use of reason in order to discover ways to tamper with the genetic make-up of living organisms?
  • The somewhat controversial issue of playing god comes up here – the whole basis of Natural Law is god’s purpose, so even if none of the primary precepts are violated would Aquinas still see it as an immoral practice?
  • Again, Natural Law is a deontological ethical theory – while it’s possible that Genetic Engineering could benefit our species a great amount, the consequences are not considered.
  • Natural Law may be against permanently changing genes (such as in germ-line therapy) but not treatments for people diseases like somatic therapy, or the growing of replacement organs for transplants.
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War and Peace- Kant

  • War should not be waged because a country benefits from it, this is not from doing duty but from following a hypothetical imperative.
  • Kant discounts any authority commanding you to perform an immoral action – does this mean he views the soldiers on the battlefield as guilty of murder?
  • Compassion should not motivate ethical decision-making, but should it be used in order to decide what degree of force to use?
  • Many pacifists act out of passion, not a disinterested sense of moral judgment.
  • Are the soldiers on the battlefield being used as means to an end by their respective governing authorities?
  • The UN seems to take a Kantian approach, with its emphasis on human rights and treating people as ends in themselves.
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War and Peace- Utilitarianism

  • A war may cause a lot of pain in the short term, and while it could lead to peace in the long term it could also lead to the collapse of economy like Germany after WWII.
  • The ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’ principle could lead to an unjust war being waged against a small nation if a larger one benefits from it.
  • A rule utilitarian might lay a blanket judgement stating that certain types of destruction (eg WMDs) are never jusified.
  • Peter Singer’s preference utilitarianism rejects the greatest happiness principle and takes into account the rights of minorities.
  • The effects of war are extremely unpredictable, so it’s not always easy to judge the outcome of going to war (for example, the ‘war on terror’ has resulted in a great loss of innocent civilian life).
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War and Peace- Natural Law

  • Although war violates the primary precept ‘to live’, this same precept could be used as an excuse to wage war – in order to protect innocent people.
  • Another primary precept would be to ‘live in an ordered society’ which waging war clearly violates.
  • In the long term, a war could save more injustice than it causes, but the deontological nature of Natural Law does not allow for this. Even if the intention is good, Aquinas sought good action which war is not.
  • A nation that goes to war believing it to be good could be following an apparent good rather than a real good.
  • Although pacifism would seem like an appealing option, I reality it could lead to civilized society collapsing as a pacifist nation is easy to conquer.
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