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Defence Of Au Essay

1634 words - 7 pages

Opponents of Act Utilitarianism attempt to argue that Act Utilitarianism (henceforth AU) does not account for justice when applied to ethical dilemmas. It is the authors opinion that these claims are factually incorrect and this essay shall attempt to prove this through analysis of common arguments against AU, and modifying AU to allow for justice to be more readily accounted for.

AU is an ethical theory credited largely to Jeremy Bentham. AU attempts to assign every action a value, or utility. The principle of utility means the “principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which is appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of ...view middle of the document...

An early example of the organ harvest debates appears in J. J. Thomson’s ‘Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem’, from 1976. Thomson’s organ harvest debate is as follows - “David is a great transplant surgeon. Five of his patients need new parts; one needs a heart, the others need respectively, liver, stomach, spleen, and spinal cord-but all are of the same relatively rare, blood type. By chance, David learns of a healthy specimen with that very blood type. David can take the healthy specimen's parts, killing him, and install them in his patients, saving them. Or he can refrain from taking the healthy specimen's parts, letting his patients die.” (Thomson, 1976) The case then follows that if AU is true, then the morally correct action is for David to kill the healthy individual and harvest his or her organs for transplant into the five unhealthy people, thereby saving five lives and maximizing overall utility, as the amount of utility produced by the five being healthy (personal happiness and relief as well as the relief and happiness of family and friends) outweighs the pain produced by the death of one individual (personal pain and pain of family and friends). A rational being can see that regardless of the result of applying AU, it would be unjust and morally wrong for David to kill the innocent individual regardless of how many lives are saved, and thus AU is not a correct ethical theory. This can be presented as follows -

1. If AU is true, David should kill the healthy patient and transplant his organs.
It is false that David ought to kill the healthy patient and transplant his organs.
Therefore, AU is false.

Opponents of AU use this example to highlight how AU can produce unjust, and thus incorrect results to ethical dilemmas.

Whilst on the surface these criticisms of AU appear to have merit upon closer inspection problems arise. A small thought exercise can cause problems with the organ harvest debate, as follows - Case 1: Two possibilities present themselves, there is a car accident and five people die, and there is an accident in a hospital in which one person dies from incorrect dosage of anesthesia. It would be considered normal to prefer one person dying over give people dying in this example, providing one had to happen. Case 2: A genie appears and lets you decide which outcome you want to happen, if you do not pick, a random outcome occurs. As in case 1 it was decided that the lives of the five outweighed the lives of the individual, it is apparent that the morally correct choice to make would be to ask the genie to cause the death of one person, to save the five. Case 3: The genie now gives you a button that will grant your wish, rather than perform the wish himself. Is it morally correct for the genie to bring about the death of one but not yourself? Case 4: We now learn that the button works by magically inserting extra anesthesia into the doctors needle, causing the individual to die, and the individuals organs...

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