Difference between Act & Rule Utilitarianism

In this video I provide a short explanation on the difference between act and rule utilitarianism.

The Status of the Embryo

AS Ethics 

The Status of the Embryo and Abortion

The status of the embryo is extremely important when exploring the morality behind abortion because it implies whether abortion is an act of murder or not. There are several suggestions of the status of an embryo:

  1. Personhood 
  2. Natural Law/Christianity
  3. Aboriginal People
  4. Ensoulment 
  5. Science (viability)
  6. Kant
  7. Judith Jarvis Thomson

Personhood – Life begins when develop into a person

Personhood essentially suggests that when a human being is a person acts such as abortion become murder otherwise they are acceptable. This is a secular approach to medical ethics and is a subjective one too (that is perhaps one of its problems). 

Mary Anne Warren was an American writer and philosopher who died last year (2010). She put forward a criteria and said to be a person you don’t have too meet all the criteria but at least a few and because a foetus does not meet any of it, abortion is not murder because the foetus is not a person.

Criteria

  1. Consciousness – foetuses are not aware of objects and events external or internal to the  being and are not capable to feel pain.
  2. Reasoning – Foetuses cannot solve new and complex problems
  3. Self-motivated activity – they are not capable of activity independent to genetic or direct external control 
  4. The capacity to communicate – the foetus does not communicate
  5. Self-awareness – babies are not aware of themselves.

Furthermore, she rejects the idea  of the foetus as a potential person, a being which would develop these characteristics. She said predicting the potential person a foetus would develop is difficult and there remains a chance it would still not meet these criteria and hence using this argument does not work, she said following a criteria is better

Conclusion: Abortion is acceptable as a foetus is not a person

Evaluation

Problems:

  1. Even young babies are not self-aware.
  2. Later foetuses have the ability to feel pain and communicate by kicking.

Responses:

  1. But they have the ability to communicate and engage in reasoning.
  2. There is no evidence for this and it is arguably just a perception of the mind.
  3. Sperm has the potential to be a person yet no-one sees it as a human its the same with a foetus.

Natural law /Christianity

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.

Evaluation

Strengths

-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.

Weaknesses 

  • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.
  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people believe life only begins once a person is named. A name is what distinguishes a person from a bunch of cells so unless the foetus is named abortion is arguable acceptable.

Ensoulment

This links to the Christian belief that ensoulemt happens at conception so life begins at conception and any form termination is immoral as it is killing. 

St Augustine, another theologican offers another way to approach this matter. He suggests that when the embryo ‘quicks’ i.e. starts to move, the embryo has been ensouled so any point after this (after 16/17 weeks) makes abortion murder but before that it is fine.

Science – Viability

The embryo isn’t even viable till 24-weeks so the mother has greater rights than the embryo and should be able to grant an abortion before this point. The human fertilisation and embryology act, suggests that after 14 days when the primitive streak begins to appear the foetus is now a human in its own right.

Kant

Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong.

Judith Jarvis Thomson

Thomson puts forward an analogy

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. … To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.’  – taken from Wikipedia

But you still have the choice whether you want to do this or not, not to give a choice would be violate your human rights – so the same way not to offer abortion would be to violate your human rights.

Some points:

  • The foetus is not a separate individual like the violinist it is a part of the women’s body.
  • Isn’t the choice with contraception not abortion?
  • Would unplugging the violinist be the same as killing him? Is an abortion the same as killing?

Deontological and Teleological Ethics

Deontology and Teleology are two specialist terms used to separate ethical theories. They difference between deontology and teleology, is in essence, the same as the difference between absolutist and relativist theories.

Deontology: This means the same as absolute. The ethical systems are based on some form of a rule system. Following a deontological system such as Kant, Natural Law or some forms of Christian ethics means that the moral thing to do is one that does not change from situation to situation. For example, according to Kantian ethics it will always be wrong to lie even if it saves someone’s life. This is because consequences are not taken into account and the universal law does not change.

Teleology: Teleological theories are the same as relativist theories. They state that the moral thing to do is one which will change from situation to situation because the consequence of an action is sovereign. Ethical systems like Utilitarianism and Situation ethics voice this belief. They suggest that lying can only be moral if it results in the most pleasure for the most people (Act Utilitarianism) or the most love towards the most people (Situation Ethics).

Below is a video outlining this and some key strengths and weaknesses:

Aristotle’s Idea of Purpose & Eudaemonia

This is a quick note on Aristotle’s ideas on purpose:
  • He believed that something is good if it fulfils its purpose. For example, a plate is ‘good’ if it fulfils its purpose to serve food.
  • This is based on Aristotle’s ideas of causality.
  • As everything has a Final Cause, it is possible to determine what is ‘good’ by examining the organism’s apparent purpose.
  • The basis of the Roman Catholic morality is Natural Law which was put forward by Aquinas. Aquinas married that ideas of Aristotle to Christian Theology.
  • Aristotle spoke of eudaemonia, ‘greatest good’ or spiritual satisfaction. This good comes about through self-realisation and fulfilment of human potential.
  • The eudaemonia is achieved through exercising the virtues, which would not only seek pleasure but knowledge and spiritual satisfaction.
 
Personally, I think that these are good values to base an ethical theory on because they are logically. However, in the gist of mixing it with Christian theology I believe Aquinas lost the logical sense it made. This is because with Natural Law, there can be a lot of ‘hypocrisy’ e.g. it was OK for Mother Teresa to devote her life to the poor and not get married and have kids and people like her are exempt from the law but for an average person they must fulfil the law of getting married and having kids.

Situation Ethics

Here is a short video on situation ethics – below are some more detailed notes!

Situation Ethics – Notes
  •  Situation Ethics is a relativist theory of ethics. The only principle which is used when determining morality in this theory is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.

 

  •  ‘Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’ 1 Corinthians 13. This quote is just one example of how the new Testament promotes this idea that love is the best way to respond to everything.

 

  • Fletcher, an American Theologian, promoted this idea of situation ethics in an influential book written in the 60s.

 

  • Situation works by first look at individual situations and applying general principles to them. The key in this type of ethics is love.

 

  • In other words, whatever situation we are faces with we should do the most loving thing.

 

  • But what is love? There are 4 different types according to the Greeks: PHILOS -friendship, STORGE -family love, EROS- erotic love and AGAPE – selfless love.

 

  • The reason why Fletcher believed in situation ethics and dismissed Natural Law is because he believed the individual concerned is more important than the action and every situation should be judged according to its own context.

 

  • Situation ethics is a branch of Christian ethics. The Christian God is personal one therefore Situation Ethics claims that morality too should be person-centered and as far as the conscious is concerned it is used to formulate the decision in each circumstance. Decisions are made situationally!

 

  • Situation ethics is mid way between 2 extremes: ANTINOMIANISM – no rules, principles etc. which is a recipe for moral disorder and LEGALISM- rule based moral systems where rules become more important than people.
THE SIX PRINCIPLES OF SITUATION ETHICS
  1. Nothing is good in it self except AGAPE
  2. Jesus and St Paul replaced the torah with AGAPE
  3. Love and justice are compatible
  4. Love wills the goods of thy neighbor
  5. Love is the end that is sought – agape is a consequentialist ethic
  6. Love’s decisions are made according to each individual context.
Weaknesses
  • Dangers that we miss the big picture – immediate responses may not be the most loving thing in the long term.
  • It is not structured – there is no collective ethical framework.
  • Our emotions can cloud our judgement making it hard to see if we are acting out o f love.
  • What is the most loving thing to do for one person may not be the most loving thing for someone else.
  • Can human nature really allow us to act out of unselfish Christian love.

Examples of Whistleblowing

In this example I want to explore the different forms of whistle blowing. The first and one of the most famous is called the Watergate scandal.

Watergate Scandal ‘Deep Throat’

Watergate scandal refers to the capture of President Nixon’s fraud. Five men were arrested on June the 17th 1972 on the sixth floor of the Watergate hotel building in Washington inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. The five burglars had $2,300, lock-picking equipment, a walkie talkie, radio scanner, two cameras 40 rolls of unused film, tear-gas guns and bugs. These men were working for the president. The was one of the schemes he used in order to get re-elected.This incident lead to him being the first ever US president to resign as he was not able to cover up the incident because someone with the pseudonym ‘Deep Throat’ whistle blew.Former FBI agent W.Mark helped two reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the truth.

The second famous example of whistle blowing is one of Erin Brockovich.

Erin Brockovich was again an American whistle blower. She came to work in a law firm called Masry & Vitiate as a file clerk. Here she discovered medical records which worried her. What she found is that countless number of people who lived around Hinkley in California from 1960s to 1980s had been severely damaged because of the exposure to the chemical Chromium VI. The chemical had leaked into the ground from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s compressor station. She started legal case against them in 1993 – another example of whistle blowing.

The last famous example I will discuss in this article is one of Dr David Kellywhich didn’t end as happily as the others.

In 2002 the government asked Dr David Kelly a scientist ti check the draft version of a dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction in preparation for the invasion in Iraq in 2003. He was concerned about the statement that Iraq was capable of firing battlefield biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes if receiving an order to do so. Subsequently he made journey to Iraq later on that year to inspect two mobile weapon laboratories. He discovered that the statement he was concerned about was actually false and he told a journalist from the Observer that ‘They are not germ warfare. You could not use them for making biological weapons’. In the following years as Kelly spread the word he was given a warning by the Ministry of defence and had to appear before two committees of the House of Commons. Sadly in 2003 when he was working in his home in Oxfordshire he went for a walk and was found dead. They say it was ‘suicide’ – he ‘swallowed 29 Co-proxamol tablets before cutting his left wrist with a knife’.

Whistle blowing in the news – October 2010