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Utilitarianism and Relativism Research Papers

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Research paper on your ethical position in respect to Utilitarianism and Relativism. Your research paper should contain the following: 

  1. Utilitarianism and RelativismThe ethical theories that inform your professional moral code. In this part you are to pick no more than two ethical theories that inform how you think regarding them. 
  2. The autobiographical components that play a role in your ethical position (thereby identifying and tracing influences on your moral development)
  3. Focus on Utilitarianism and Relativism in light of the following:
    1. Normative ethical [theory]
    2. Moral actions / convictions
      1. Absolutist
      2. Deontology - Always right or wrong - Kantian ethics
      3. Divine Command - God's will is always right.
      4. Consequencialist - outcome of your moral actions are weighed
      5. Utilitarian - maximize the greatest good for the max number of people
      6. Virtue ethics - teleological - the end result - ultimate good for a culture.
      7. Relativism
      8. Egoism
        1. Physiological - everyone does what is in their best interests
        2. Ethical - we ought to act in our best interests

Relativism and Utilitarianism examined

Relativism as a theory rejects the idea that certain universal truths exist. Instead, it accepts the idea that there are many different ways of interpreting our world. A person’s objective truth is considered the best idea he has at the time for explaining what is occurring. Relativism proposes that there are no universally valid moral principles, because moral principles are only valid in terms to a specific culture and/or individual choice. Customs and choice dictate the development of moral values and morality can only be understood within that context. From a collective perspective then, Relativism suggests that public morality is a construct of social convention. The result is that and two people, or groups of people, can examine exactly the same action or behavior and one might consider it moral while the other considered it immoral.

Relativism is not without its critics. Relativism as a theory was brought to the forefront of debate by people like Jean-Paul Sartre.  Sartre’s extreme beliefs did not always win fans for the theory. For example, after Israeli Olympians were killed by a Palestinian organization, Sartre suggested that terrorism was a “terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others”(Bowman 2003, 7), and he found it “perfectly outrageous that the Munich French press and a segment of opinion should judge the Munich attack an intolerable outrage while one has often read dry reports without comment of strikes in Tel Aviv that cost several human lives” (Bowman 2003, 7). Sartre also suggested that the Nazis should not be judged by universal values if their values were relative to a different culture. These statements follow the rules of pure relativism, but while I support the Palestinians’ and even the Nazis’ right to posses their own personal moral tenets, my support for relativism does not extend to validate their actions against other human being. Sartre might have embraced existentialism, concerning himself more with abstract universal human qualities. But to me, ethics is more about practical application.

According to the ethical doctrine of utilitarianism, the moral worth of any action is determined by its contribution to general utility. Utility is the good to be maximized and can be viewed as happiness, pleasure, good or the fulfillment of one’s preferences and desires. According to this theory a person’s decisions and actions should produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. And thus, the least amount of harm/evil to the greatest number. Utilitarianism governs individual actions, the utility of one act over another, and the utility of rules. Under the theory, for an action to be considered morally right it must produce at least as much good for all people involved as the possible alternative actions. In this way, utilitarianism can judge individual actions on how well they conform to the dictates of greatest good and least harm.

Jeremy Bentham was one of the first to explore the idea of utilitarianism.  Bentham believed that pleasure is the only good, pain the only evil. He acknowledged pleasures of the senses, property ownership, power, and interpersonal relationships, suggesting that pleasure and pain determine everything we do. Bentham advocated for changes in the legal system, particularly in criminal law, intending to maximize happiness for everyone. He suggested that criminal acts should only be those which are intentional and injurious, and in those cases punishment had to serve as deterrence and be severe enough to outweigh potential benefits of offense.  On the other hand, he proposed abolishing imprisonment for things like indebtedness, which in his view was an offense which did not injury anyone.

Another strong proponent of utilitarianism was John Stuart Mill. Mill proposed that right actions maximize human welfare. He suggested that people seek only pleasure and it is pointless to suggest they shouldn’t. However, he also felt that general human welfare could be a pleasure, and should be the aim of everyone. John Stuart Mill suggested that the only purpose for which power could be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others

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