“What is a good life?” is one of the oldest philosophical questions. According to Aristotle, what separates human beings from animals is human reasoning. In this case, a good life involves a person’s ability to cultivate and exercise their human reasoning (Gere, 2017). People activate their human reasoning by engaging in philosophical inquiry, discussion, artistic creation, among others. This paper explores four parts, including the Consequentialism debate, political and ethical impacts of utilitarianism. Part three will explore how virtue and care ethics give an alternative to deontological and utilitarianism. The latter part of the paper will explore the existential ethics and how various philosophical theories affect my future career in nursing.
The Consequentialist Debate
According to the Consequentialist debate, the end outcome or actions consequence determines a right or wrong act. A study by Roby (2018) argues that deontology and utilitarianism theories try to explain the moral rules. Everett, Faber, Savulescu & Crockett (2018) argue that the ethical theories guide individuals on how to act ethically. The two theories are a part of the three perspectives of normal ethics. When creating moral judgments, a couple of things are considered as per Everett et al. (2018). These elements include motive, maxim, consequences, purpose, and rule. The main philosophers who practiced these theories include Kant, Mill, and Bentham.
Comparing and Contrasting Deontology and Utilitarianism
One of the most recognized forms of Consequentialism is utilitarianism. This theory was recommended by Jeremy Bentham and his student John Stuart Mill. Mill argued that the maximum happiness for the maximum number of persons is a leading principle in utilitarianism (Roby, 2018). According to Mitchell (2015), Consequentialism and utilitarianism theories are one of the same. In this case, the consequences of an action are the basis of one’s judgment. Mill’s theory opponents argue that the theory is flawed since it denies people to follow various moral rules. In many ways, it tends to focus more on consequences rather than the means. Deontology, on the other hand, focuses on adhering to the regulations towards an action (Roby, 2018). Deontology is a term coined from the Greek word “Deon.” Deon refers to duty. One of the significant proponents of deontological ethics is Immanuel Kant, who argued that the regulations are to be followed in doing various actions. “Do not steal” is a rule that should be followed by everyone. If everybody steals, the concept of private property would be lost.
According to deontologists debate opponents, the theory is flawed since it is too absolutist. In this case, some acts are right or wrong even before any judgment of the context of a deed (Everett et al., 2018). After exploring the two ethical theories, it is evident that they have little in common. One of the similarities is that they demonstrate interest and concern towards what is morally right or wrong. Another similarity is the fact that the two focus on the ethics and the consequences of human beings’ actions and behaviors regardless of the results.
Bentham and Mill’s Versions of Utilitarianism Differences
The two schools of thoughts focused on the moral value of an action as determined by the pleasure it produces, also referred to as the Hedonistic utilitarianism. According to the study by Mill & Eggleston (2017), Bentham argued that the quantity of pleasure from action matters. On the other hand, Mill considered both the action’s pleasure quantity and quality. In his work, Roby (2018) argues that Bentham’s work is questioned for being an argument “Worthy of Swine” where he never distinguished the pleasure experienced by beasts and human beings. Mill, on the other hand, differentiated the two pleasures in his higher pleasure explanation. Higher pleasure (them that requires educated mental faculties) becomes more valuable than the lower pleasures (experienced by humans and animals) due to the intrinsic superiority. Even though Mill’s explanation is respectful when it comes to human nature, calculating the amount of pleasure becomes a challenge.
While Bentham believes in act utilitarianism, Mill considers rule utilitarianism. According to Bentham ethics, people’s actions result in much pleasure without qualitative distinctions (Mill & Eggleston, 2017). The theory applies to the principle of utility to both the personal acts and circumstances in a direct manner. Abhorrent acts are permitted when using the act utilitarianism (Roby, 2018). For instance, two people torturing an individual action may be permitted if their activity results in a pleasure that outweighs the harm caused to the victim. With such in mind, Mill developed a rule utilitarianism that avoided such an instance. He developed a principle of utility that argues that moral values should govern utility. For example, “Do not kill” rule should be followed since killing lowers the net utility. Despite the rule utility seemingly improving the act utilitarianism, there are instances in which going against the rule boosts utility.
According to Mill, men are nowhere near animals, and in this case, humankind is valuable. He argued that people are made in a way that they can endure the pleasures of wholesome sensuality. Everett et al. (2018) argue that according to Mill, human beings have a duty to attain the highest kind of pleasure. While utilitarianism judges a person according to his/her actions, the rule utilitarianism judges them according to the “end results”.
Utilitarianism Political and Ethical Implications
When introducing the Principle of Utility, Jeremy Bentham was an official in the British administration and purposed to turn ethics into scientific proposal. Bentham rarely focused on personal ethics, but he majorly focused on Kant’s Categorical Imperative (1785). Bentham founded the Hedonistic Calculus at the public level, where one cannot see an individual conscience gauge their ethical merits (Bentham, 2017). One can only use open pleasure and open pain to judge an action. When speaking about public policy, one should exclusively remain at the external level. According to the study by Roby (2018), Bentham Hedonistic Calculus can only quantify public pleasure and pain that is involved in a planned public project. Afterward, he would compare the quantities (of pleasure and pain) and later make an ethical decision where a public program or to veto was later recommended (Deutsch & Fornieri, 2008). From this perspective, it is evident that the utilitarianism school of thought is tailored for politics. However, it fails to address the Individual ethics (Bentham, 2018).
Virtue Ethics and Care Ethics
A third approach, when it comes to normative ethics, is virtue ethics. This ethic uses the moral standard of what an honest person should act instead of the consequences or even obligations. The main question related to virtue ethics is, “What type of an individual should I be? (Mitchell, 2015). As Misselbrook (2017) narrates in her work, virtue ethics focuses on the consequences similar to utilitarianism. The rules and the acts focus on the character who is acting. In this case, human beings act right if they get to establish a good personality. For instance, when one meets a person in need of basic things, a utilitarianism ethical person will provide to the person focusing on the consequences.
On the other hand, the deontological ethical person will view the situation as a “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” (Roby, 2018). Individuals following the virtue ethics will help the needy as a charitable act. From the above analysis, it is evident that virtue ethics tends to focus more on people’s overall traits over their duties or even actions’ consequences. One of the philosophers who are used to follow virtue ethics is Aristotle. In one of his works, he wrote: “For if what was said in the Ethics is true, that the happy life is the life according to virtue lived without impediment, and that virtue is a mean, then the life which is in a mean, and a mean attainable by everyone, must be the best” (Mitchell, 2015).
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He later stated that happiness is the human beings’ unconditional end, and one should focus on achieving happiness when engaging in various acts. In his philosophical work, Aristotle recommended two kinds of virtues one being intellectual virtues and mortal virtue developed through courage and honesty (Everett et al., 2018). When it comes to the intellectual virtues, he believes that as people got educated, their intellectual virtues increased. When one makes an effort to tell the truth, it becomes a continuous conscious effort that turns into a virtuous individual. On the other hand, moral virtue is gained through two elements that include courage and honesty (Mitchell, 2015).
The ethics of care is a moral foundation of relationships. When taking care of a sick person as a nurse, for instance, the word theory may be irrelevant since it’s an act of meeting others’ needs. According to Mitchell (2015), the ethics of care was coined for people who tend to rely on others. Care ethics, when dealing with sick people, is an option to both deontological and utilitarianism. Mitchell (2015) adds that care ethics can relate to Confucian and African ethics. From the utilitarianism perspective, caring for people is bringing forth their best. The deontological towards caring for others will view it as a rule.
Existential Ethics and the Role of Free Will in Moral Decision Making
Existentialism is a term for all philosophers who consider the human condition nature as a key philosophical issue. Such philosophers include Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, among others, who share a view that such a problem can only be solved through ontology. As Mitchell (2015) argues, this philosophical school of thought emphasizes the individual existence, freedom, and even choice. This ethics focuses more on how individuals identify and how they define the meaning of life. It also touches on how they make rational decisions, even when living in an irrational world. In this case, human beings have an unquenchable desire to know their identity. They do such based on their past incidents, norms and beliefs.
When it comes to an individual making various decisions, the free will is significant. Mitchell (2015) argues that free will is also a driving force in an individual’s prominent laws, ethical ruling, and traditions. It also emphasizes a person’s existence, freedom, and even choice. Following making rational decisions even in an irrational world, people tend to identify their meaning and life purpose. From the course text, it is evident that existentialism involves various elements, including authenticity, ambiguity, anxiety, freedom, and bad faith. The below part explains the main themes in existentialism.
Firstly, philosophy can be viewed as a way of life (Tirsahar, 2017). Unlike many who view philosophy as a tool to investigate and learn about self, philosophy should be integrated within life. In this case, professional philosophers who develop an elaborative set of methods and concepts are required. Anxiety and authenticity is another key idea in this ethical theory. In this case, human existence is in various ways “in its way.” In this case, anxiety has two effects that include affecting emotions and feelings (Tirsahar, 2017). The implications were found in Kierkegaard and Heidegger’s work when he was discussing the “mood.” Anxiety is also viewed as an existentialism form and recognized as “being on its own.” The concept of authenticity is connected to anxiety. In this case, existentialism tends to spin on the aspect of a “good life.” This view can also be said to be connected with individualism (Tirsahar, 2017). However, various philosophers, including Nietzsche, view individualism as a chronological and a cultural tendency (Roby, 2018). Others, for instance, Camus, sees it as an uncertain political value rather than an essential authentic existence component.
Freedom, another key concept is linked to anguish, where one’s freedom is defined by the segregation of his/her decisions. During the 19th and the 20th centuries, many existentialists cited undergoing crises of values as a result of an increasingly secular society, rise in scientific research (Tirsahar, 2017). Additionally, philosophical movements, including Marxism and Darwinism, also questioned the traditional accounts, which led to a value crisis. Freedom entails the responsibility for one’s actions and where both freedom and responsibilities become absolute.
Bad faith comes in when authenticity is absent (Mitchell, 2015). A person is considered to act in bad faith when he/she allows others to guide their results. In many ways, authenticity keeps an individual’s door open to liberty while acting in bad faith closes such an entry. As Per Mitchell (2015), the past creates the future self since it makes an individual who they are (good or bad). It is also ambiguity to imagine that human beings have no connection with the things that they cannot control. Examples of such things include lives and freedoms.
How Ethical Theories relate to my Nursing Career
Philosophical theories tend to play a significant role in the nursing career. By encompassing various values and ethical principles, taking care of the patients would be a duty and something I love. Through experience within their careers, nurses tend to acquire various nurse philosophies. For instance, a nurse placed in a mental health department will probably come up with a focus theory on patients’ relationships. The two ethical theories values that such a nurse is likely to train the patient using include utilitarian and deontology. Such patients need to discover the consequences of their actions and personal duty as a society member. Using the utilitarianism theory, the nurse can also teach the patient the consequences of their addiction habit. If a patient remains an addict, they may end up making grievous mistakes and vice versa.
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Bentham, J. (2018). The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
Deutsch, K & Fornieri, J. (2008). An Invitation to Political Thought. Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage Learning.
Everett, J., Faber, N., Savulescu, J., & Crockett, M. (2018). The costs of being consequentialist: Social inference from instrumental harm and impartial beneficence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 79(14), 200-216. Doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.07.004
Gere, C. (2017). Pain, pleasure, and the greater good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner box and beyond. Chicago; London The University of Chicago Press.
Mill, J. S., & Eggleston, B. (2017). Utilitarianism: With related remarks from Mill’s other writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.