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The Theory of Utilitarianism

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Our actions in everyday situations and scenarios result in either good or bad results. They are based on our own moral observations for what’s right and wrong. The theory of Utilitarianism applies to most people’s lives based on personal moral decisions that focus on the positive outcomes it produces. In the article Famine, Affluence, and Morality by Peter Singer, he argues that if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.

Singer applies utilitarianism as a main ethical theory in his argument to further his point of view in the article. In an opposing view of distinctions between moral obligations, the article Act Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristics or Decision-Making Procedure? by Eugene Bales, he argues the importance of maintaining a sharp distinction between decision making procedures, and accounts of what make right acts right. Bales challenges and argues the fact of applying act utilitarianism theory to moral situations and is a “weak” way to establish a problem occuring.

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By identifying the use of Utilitarianism in these two articles, one can distinguish which argument is more prevalent to their moral obligations and decisions.

As Singer begins his argument in the article Famine, Affluence, and Morality, he first informs and puts the reader in a position where they are reminded of the suffering and poverty people are going through in other countries. Singer applies this by appealing Pathos in the beginning of the article to further his point in emotion and tragedy based on a moral viewpoint. Before Singer introduces his argument he states his assumptions and moral position in the article, following with the statement ‘those who disagree read no further.’ This establishes a firm standpoint in where Singer stands in his argument, because it shows that he values the importance of your moral position and your use of time. Singer shows that we in affluent countries like the U.S. have a moral obligation to give away more than we actually do in international aid for famine relief. He thinks we need to alter our way of life in order to help others. Furthermore, Singer has two main premises in his argument to further his conclusion. His first premises is, “ I can prevent people dying from starvation by giving more money to famine relief than I do.” This leads to his second premises, “By giving more money to famine relief than I do, I would not be sacrificing anything morally significant.” Which leads on to Singer’s conclusion for the argument, “Therefore, I should give more to famine relief than I do.” Singer uses examples such as scenarios and giving to charity as strong inductive generalizations in his argument. He did this to target the majority of the population’s similar moral values towards this issue.

The sample used in this argument is the U.S. population, which gives very diverse and biased elements that makes a strong generalization in the argument. As a Utilitarian, Singer believes the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing good things and habits, such as pleasure and happiness, in the world. Singer uses charity as an example, because most of the population’s moral generalizations in giving to charity is looked and acted upon in a wrongful way. In the article, (pg. 8 paragraph 2) Singer gives a rhetorical analogy on the distinction between duty and charity as he states, “The outcome of this argument is that our traditional moral categories are upset.” In other words, Singer wants to emphasize that charity is seen as another form of duty from a moral standpoint of most of the population. This definitely is not the right way to have a utilitarian view, because they do not focus on the real moral importance of giving only based on the positive outcome to others, but only focusing on the positive outcome for themselves. Furthermore, Singer’s argument is not only intended to appeal to utilitarians, but also to anyone who agrees and sided with the premises of the argument.

In contrast towards a Utilitarian view, Eugene Bales argues on the distinction between decision making procedures and what makes right acts right to further his claim that applying a utilitarian act is not necessary. In the article Act Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristics or Decision-Making Procedure? by Eugene Bales, he starts by stating his personal intentions to further his position and make his argument clear for the reader. Bales begins with an effective use of rhetorical strategy while presenting his argument. By attacking the analogy, Bales shows the decision making process distinction, and in what makes right acts right are not always similar to applying an act of Utilitarianism theory. As Bales attacks the analogy of utilitarianism and act-utilitarianism, he also evaluates the Utilitarian concepts and guidelines to properly distinguish claims made from act-utilitarianism. For example, he mentions how act-utilitarians apply rules where there are guidelines to their behavior, known as the “rules-of-thumb.” Bales claims that the rules in no sense are determinative of the rightness or wrongness of acts.

The “rules-of-thumb” generally shift the problem, because a utilitarian has to decide either to follow the “rules-of-thumb” or calculate and plan a response in the most valid way based on the situation. Bales also mentions how a response based on how a utilitarian response should be could be absolute no help to the person in the situation. In the article, (page 5 paragraph 2) he gives an example of a question and a response from a utilitarian, “Ought I in this case to use enough gas and electricity to keep my home warm?” As a Utilitarian a response has to generally be a positive or helpful outcome in where someone gains something from it. Response from a utilitarian being “If and only if doing so would maximize utility.” This response is identified as unhelpful and not what the person who asked the question wanted to know. Their response has not told us whether using gas or electricity would be less than not using them. Furthermore, Bales concentrates on the distinction between ethical theories seen as “right-making” and “decision-making” procedures, because the act-utilitarian theory isn’t identified clearly and is stated in a weak form.

In conclusion, Peter Singer and Eugene Bales give well founded and understandable arguments in different points of view on Utilitarianism. I personally identify myself as a Utilitarian, because I agree with the moral values and generalizations as I continue to understand and apply the theory in my life today. Thus, I have to agree with Peter Singer’s view on Utilitarianism and claims made in his article Famine, Affluence, and Morality. His rhetorical devices helped further his argument based on his structure and reasoning towards the issue. Singer’s premises made it clear and easy to understand his viewpoint on famine and morality connecting to a strong stated conclusion. In some aspects on act-utilitarianism from Eugene Bales article, Act Utilitarianism: Account of Right-Making Characteristics or Decision-Making Procedure?, I can come to an agreement with, but his overall standpoint and structure of the article made it hard to follow. As I read the article I felt that I have been reading the same content and claims but in different wording. Furthermore, the act of Utilitarianism applies to most people’s lives based on personal moral decisions that focus on the positive outcomes it produces. By identifying the use of Utilitarianism in these two articles, one can distinguish which argument is more prevalent to their moral obligations and decisions. One’s morality plays a huge role in their everyday decision making processes, it’s only up to you in how morally important it is from what’s right and wrong in your life.

Cite this The Theory of Utilitarianism

The Theory of Utilitarianism. (2021, May 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-theory-of-utilitarianism/

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