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Ethics Reflection

Essay by review  •  October 20, 2010  •  Essay  •  2,266 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,999 Views

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There is a firefighter who is obligated to make a crucial decision. Upon arrival to a five-alarm blaze, the firefighter must make a life or death decision. There are two individuals unconscious in the burning building, and only one can be saved. One person is Dr. Rutland, a world-renowned pioneer in treating suicidal-depressives. The medication he has developed has helped thousands of patients already, and when perfected, will save many more. The other individual is Dr. Rutland's secretary. Being that only one person is to survive, who should be saved?

In order to decide what the moral or ethical decision would be in this situation, one may look the utilitarian philosophy of Mill. According to Mill,

The theory of morality- that pleasure, and the freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. (Mill 1)

Because Mill believes that in order to achieve morality, whatever will result in the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain will be the correct choice, he is a consequentialist. With all of this in mind, Mill derives a theory known as the Greatest Happiness Principle. The GHP requires that in order for a decision to be morally right, it has to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. Mill states, "The ultimate end [of the GHP], is an existence exempt as far possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality (Mill 2)," the quantity being the greatest number, quality being the greatest good. Mill also says that "The utilitarian standard Ð'... is not the agent's own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether. (Mill 2)"

According to Mill's theory of utilitarianism, Dr. Rutland should be the one who is saved. Mill's theory of the greatest good for the greatest number states that in any situation when one is trying to make a decision, the right choice will always be the one that benefits most people as a result of that decision. Dr. Rutland is a famous physician who treats suicidal persons. With his development of this medication, many lives have already been saved. With the continuation of research, the medication could be perfected, and many more lives could be saved in the future. Because the greatest happiness principle requires the most or greater number of people to be benefited, saving the secretary is irrational and illogical.

In class, mention had been made about how the secretary, being female, can produce life, and therefore, she should be the one being saved. However, assuming half of the thousands of patients Dr. Rutland had saved are female, they are also, with the assistance of the medication, are able to reproduce life. Because more lives would be able to be reproduced, not only by the females who were on the medication, but as well as the men who were on the medication (it takes two to make a baby), Dr. Rutland should still be saved.

Another argument presented in class was how although Dr. Rutland had invented or created the medication, he may not be the only physician working on perfecting the medication. And even if he is doing research, he may not be the one to perfect it. Just because thousands of lives had been saved in the past does not mean others will be saved in the future. A counterargument for this, however, is that it is a "what-if" argument. Because he has saved so many lives as of this point, chances are he will continue to do so, even if he does not perfect the medication. Also, there is no evidence that someone else is or has been working on this medication. Finally, even if there are others working on this medication, or if Dr. Rutland does not perfect the medication, if he dies in this fire, none of this will ever be known.

The situation is slightly changed to make the secretary pregnant. For Mill, even if the secretary is pregnant, Dr. Rutland is the one who should be saved. There was some controversy in class about this situation as well, about who should be the one who is saved. Some people in class stated that it was morally wrong to kill the secretary and her unborn baby. Some individuals in class stated that the secretary's baby could end up being even a better person than Dr. Rutland, and help even more people. However, this is again, a "what if" situation, and because Dr. Rutland has already helped a significant number of people, chances are he will continue to do so if he is saved.

The situation is changed again to have the secretary be the firefighter's mother. Again, Mill would state that in order to fulfill the greatest good for the greatest number, it would have to be Dr. Rutland who is saved. Just because the secretary was the firefighter's mother, she would not have as much of a benefit to society as the saving of Dr. Rutland's life. Also, in the final situation, which is that Dr. Rutland did not save lives but restored vision in his patients, Mill would still choose Dr. Rutland to survive. This because saving his life would allow for the promotion of the greater good for a greater number.

There is one philosopher who would strongly disagree with the philosophy of Mill, especially when it is applied to this situation, and the various other circumstances given. Mill is a consequentialist, or an outcome-based ethicist. This means that the decision about what is morally correct is based on the best possible outcome of a situation. In Mill's case, the best possible outcome is that which serves the greatest good for the greatest number. The one philosopher who not only strongly disagrees with Mill's utilitarianism, but also the entire basis of consequentialism, is Kant. Kant, being an agent-based ethicist, does not believe that one can judge or make a moral decision based on the outcome alone. He believes, "A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e., it is good in itself. (Kant 7)" Because Kant does not believe it is possible for someone to predict the future or the outcome of any decision, choice, or event, basing an entire philosophy on an end is completely preposterous.

Kant believes that in order to make a moral decision, the decision cannot be made on the outcome alone. In order to make a correct moral decision, one has two tests that can be used in order to determine if the decision has moral worth. For the first test, an individual must define the maxim, which is defining what the individual would like to do. The individual must then universalize the maxim, and see if there are any contradictions.

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