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Title: Two Theories Of Right And Wrong

1284 words - 5 pages

Two Theories of Right and WrongJohn Stuart Mill, author of the essay entitled Utilitarianism, gave an in depth theory of right and wrong commonly referred to as utility or the utilitarian view of morality. Utility claims thatactions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness pain and privation of pleasure (Mill, p.7.)In essence, the rightness and wrongness of an act is determined solely by its consequences. Sir W.D. Ross, however, criticizes utilitarianism because he says it is too permissive about lying, but I don't think his criticism can be accepted.According to Act-Utilitarianism, an act is morally right if and only if there is no other possible alternative act that would result in a better balance of good consequences relative to bad consequences. If two acts are tied for having the same balance of consequences then it would not matter which course of action was taken because the consequences would be equal. If any action results in more bad consequences then good, the right act would be the one resulting in the least amount of bad relative to good. Act-Utilitarianism requires a lot of careful calculations about the consequences and can be easy misapplied depending on whom the good consequences apply to. Mill says that the good consequences should be for all of society not just for oneself (Carson, Utilitarianism & Hedonism.)Sir W.D. Ross?s theory of right and wrong is based on what he calls prima facie duties. A prima facie duty is one?s actual duty all, other things equal. That is, with all other courses of action considered its prima facie rightness must outweigh its prima facie wrongness and its rightness must outweigh its wrongness more then any other course of action. Ross claims that his prima facie duties are self-evident without need for further proof. He says that if there are two conflicting prima facie duties then it is one?s duty to follow the more important duty, but if both duties are equally important the one followed does not make a difference (Carson, Ross's Ethical Theory.)On lying Ross says that it is our prima facie duty not to lie because one of our prima facie duties is to not break promises and whenever we communicate with someone else we make a promise not to lie. He does say that there is no duty to tell the truth?just not to lie. Sometimes lying is permissible, but if and only if the duty to not lie conflicts with another duty of good or greater importance. This would occur if a person had to use a lie in order to prevent a great bad from occurring or to promote a great good. An example of this would be to lie to a terminally ill person who is in the hospital about the whereabouts of their significant other when you know that their significant other has been in a terrible car crash. It is permissible to say that you don?t know where they are in this case to prevent...

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