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Philosophy Versus Ethical Dilemmas: Analysis of the Ideas of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer

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Philosophy vs. Ethical Dilemmas

Introduction

The Dictionary defines ethics as “a moral philosophy or a code of morals practiced by a person or a group of people, but how can ethics be described within Philosophy? Well, philosophical ethics is the analysis of morals using a logical method that focuses on human welfare. Within philosophy, there are three sections of ethics: normative ethics, meta-ethics, and applied ethics. Normative ethics is the study of moral expectation that has us distinguish our behaviors as right from wrong or good from bad. Meta-ethics is based upon the meaning of our ethical perceptions, those of which are responsible for the honesty and rationality of said actions. Metaethics can be used to establish whether a judgment can be applied to any circumstance ranging from any current to past time. Metaethics can be used within situations by asking questions such as what necessarily is the meaning of ethical terms, what are our motives for wanting to act moral, and what is the essence of ethical reasoning. Finally, the third section to ethics is applied ethics, that of which the use of moral philosophy can be applied to real-world circumstances, already explored by normative ethics and judged through the knowledge of metaethics. Within this report, I will be examining two different ethical dilemmas and how three philosophers, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer, would react to each, as well as how I would base upon what I have learned throughout my Ethics unit.

Ethical Dilemma One

The first ethical dilemma that these philosophers and I were faced with was on the subject of mass murder. The dilemma goes: To end world hunger, the idea of putting all those that live on land not able to support agricultural growth to death was purposed as a solution to ending world hunger. Bringing up a world without starvation would be considered realistic after those who were suffering would be put down humanely, all while ending their life of misery.

Immanuel Kant’s Stance

Kant released three books that recorded his views on moral philosophy: “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” (1785), “Critique of Practical Reason” (1788), and “Metaphysics of Morals’ (1797). Within these works, it is shown that Kant believed morals and ethics were chosen by moral law which we all need to follow. Moral law states that humanity must be respected before we respect ourselves and there is no consideration or exceptions when thinking of how to act upon a situation ethically sound. Kant believed that morals should be objective, as we follow the rules along with everyone else and there is no justification for not obeying them. This made it our duty to follow moral law which is why he is considered a Deontologist. Kant wanted us to follow rules that were based upon being unconditionally good, not only good. We have beneficial resources that can be considered good but can also be used for evil such as power or wealth, even saying happiness is not unconditionally good unless it is deserved. Since Kant believed in Deontology, although the action has the intention of benefiting the world, the characteristics of the action itself is immoral. Ultimately, he would want a new solution proposed. Since this solution involves a genocide of people, it has the possibility of actually being ethically worse than leaving them to starve. Ultimately, murder is wrong so this would not oblige to his stance on moral theory.

Jeremy Bentham’s Stance

Bentham wrote about his views on Utilitarianism in his book Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), in which he often called moral philosophy “the greatest happiness principle”. This principle that was being referenced did not mean how helpful something or someone’s actions could be but instead how much they were able to assist in creating pleasure. To further explain, we are ethically obligated to make judgments that create happiness for the masses, not for a specific person, even if we do not agree. He states that happiness can be shown through the absence of pain which is how we need to make judgments, it has to be based on the outcome of pleasure to the largest group of people. Bentham recognized that if pleasure equals good then good depends on who the perspective is coming from. The solution to this was making sure that the interest of each party was known, this allowed people to view things subjectively, and decisions are not to be made for others but with others. He writes that ethical philosophy is ‘the art of directing men’s action to the production of the greatest possible quantity of happiness, on the part of those whose interest is in view.’ With this, I concluded that he would be split on because this proposition since he did not believe that the characteristics of action should outweigh the outcome, as long as it provides the majority affected with a positive view. I would have to say that Bentham would not support this only because I believe this example would be promoted by a member of Egoism, a person who pursues interests with possibly morally corrupt ethics but for the benefit of themselves even if it hurts others, and not Utilitarianism. This example would hurt as many people as it would benefit and the controversy surrounding it would cause a rift between opposing sides which ultimately is not what Utilitarianism is about because there is no sure factor that the majority, in this case, would be pleased more than furious.

Peter Singer’s Stance

Peter Singer is also a known supporter of Utilitarianism and I do not believe he would support this specific situation but for a different reason than Jeremy Bentham. My reasoning behind this is that he believes that right vs. wrong is distinguished by how much it is providing happiness vs. pain, but mainly because he has discussed famine before in the article ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (1972). In this piece, Singer answered a question about whether those in wealthier countries have a larger responsibility to provide support to famine relief. Singer states “It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbor’s child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away.” This leads Singer to question if the pain that is being prevented by someone’s contribution would outweigh the pain given through someone’s contribution. This makes me believe he would not agree with this proposal since yes, it is taking away a lot of pain from those suffering and the burden of those who support them, but the heartache given to those who had no say and are negatively impacted would top that. Singer also had an opinion on duty vs. charity, what one has to do versus what one feels they should do. This causes me to believe that Singer would also rather help those who are suffering than get rid of them completely, my reason being that any action becomes a duty if it is going to prevent more pain than it causes or causes more happiness than it is preventing. Ultimately, this makes it our duty to help rather than feeling as if we should help, or in this circumstance, find a way to avoid helping altogether and take an easier way out.

Jannelle Graham’s Stance

If it were myself who had to decide on this ethical dilemma I could not support it. My reasoning behind this being is although I can see the ‘benefits’ of this, I can only see it benefiting those who were privileged enough to be born into the life they were and can see how upsetting this could be as well as the outcomes that could result. Utilitarianism would accept this for the fact that there are positives to this, but I see the positives as an easy way out to a problem that can be solved differently, the morals that are involved do not suit me as a person. For example, those who are opposed to murder but support the death penalty can, but mass murder is hardly justifiable and the backlash it would receive would be extreme. Those who are more privileged could say that this is subjective but I would consider this more as objective as the tragedy from this would be wrong no matter what the reasoning is behind it. Social relativism would highly be influencing people as well instead of having people base their opinions off their own beliefs on the matter. In this circumstance, I believe that morality should be a top priority but that is hard when you are under the influence of other people’s beliefs and not your own.

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Ethical Dilemma Two

The second ethical dilemma that is being looked into involves a personal experience that I face regularly while examining this I have carefully chosen how I believe these Kant, Bentham, and Singer would react. The situation is that I am a server, oftentimes I need to upsell food through promotions. Regularly I have not eaten these items but am described what it ‘should’ taste like. If I do not get a certain amount of sales on our food promotions I get in trouble, if I sell above what I need to then there is an incentive which is often 100$. I have on many occasions had to lie and give a positive review to customers so they purchase these meals when they are not good, or state they are amazing when I have not yet had them. I can be honest and gain the respect of a customer while losing my sales, ultimately losing the restaurant brand’s money with the possibility of getting fired. My second option is to lie with the possibility of having a guest be unhappy with what they ordered, all while gaining an incentive and pleasing those above me and staying employed.

Immanuel Kant’s Stance

I believe this quote from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals gives a clear answer on his opinion within this situation: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your person or the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” Kant would not support this as there is a possibility of someone being negatively affected by my actions, even if the customer was content with the meal, my actions and reasoning were technically immoral as I was not focused on how they would feel and instead my happiness. Though the outcome could be positive, the grounds on which they came from were not unconditionally good.

Jeremy Bentham’s Stance

I have chosen to take another quote from Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation that says the ‘principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness.’ Within this quote, he emphasizes that by not following through with an action that would maximize the happiness of most people is morally unsound. I believe that Jeremy Bentham would support this as my actions are inducing happiness and are not meant to hurt the other party involved on purpose. Though this would positively impact me mostly, it would also provide a positive outcome for the majority involved and by not pursuing this action, I would be ethically wrong as I disappointed more people than I had made happy.

Peter Singer’s Stance

I believe that Peter Singer would support me, not only because he supports Utilitarianism, but because this specific situation is not to the extremes of ethics that he is involved with like that of animal rights, environmentalism, etc. Other than that, he can distinguish it as the right action instead of the wrong action since no matter what the outcome of the situation is, my side would be benefited more than the opposing side would be upset. Utilitarianism is outcome-oriented and it could even be considered a “duty” to support me as I am on the side that will be pleasing more people.

Jannelle Graham’s Stance

To me, this is subjective, as a waitress I support it as it is a part of my job and what I have to do to keep it, but as a customer in this situation, I would be extremely unhappy. After learning of Utilitarianism and Deontology, I am more on the side of Utilitarianism which makes this situation easier to morally defend. Utilitarianism is outcome orientated as I learned, in this situation, I would be letting down one to two people at a time but benefitting myself by getting to keep my job after reaching sales goes my management and my restaurant owners. Though my tips may be affected by this, I could still leave work with the possibility of an incentive at the end of the month for my upselling! In this specific case, I would say that I am a part of egoistic relativism as I am choosing what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I would ultimately have to consider myself as ‘right’ by the end of my shift as technically no morals are being broken because I have already established my actions with ethical theories, not just because of narcissism or lack of justification.

Conclusion

After examining two different ethical dilemmas and the possible reactions of three philosophers, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer, as well as myself, I have been able to provide informative yet relevant reasoning to each scenario. I was able to do this based on what I have learned throughout my Ethics unit.

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Philosophy Versus Ethical Dilemmas: Analysis of the Ideas of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/philosophy-versus-ethical-dilemmas-analysis-of-the-ideas-of-immanuel-kant-jeremy-bentham-and-peter-singer/
“Philosophy Versus Ethical Dilemmas: Analysis of the Ideas of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/philosophy-versus-ethical-dilemmas-analysis-of-the-ideas-of-immanuel-kant-jeremy-bentham-and-peter-singer/
Philosophy Versus Ethical Dilemmas: Analysis of the Ideas of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/philosophy-versus-ethical-dilemmas-analysis-of-the-ideas-of-immanuel-kant-jeremy-bentham-and-peter-singer/> [Accessed 27 Nov. 2022].
Philosophy Versus Ethical Dilemmas: Analysis of the Ideas of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and Peter Singer [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/philosophy-versus-ethical-dilemmas-analysis-of-the-ideas-of-immanuel-kant-jeremy-bentham-and-peter-singer/
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