Utilitarianism and Categorical Imperative Essay

Submitted By shawnganti
Words: 1497
Pages: 6

Avinash Voruganti
Philosophy 100 Essay (topic 6)
March 22, 2013 Holmes is the officer in charge of a sinking luxury liner. Twenty survivors are clinging on to a lifeboat that can only hold fourteen people and due to the spontaneous conditions of the incident, it is uncertain whether or not there will be help arriving. Holmes forces the wounded and those of which were wearing life-vests overboard and takes the survivors to the nearest coast which is fifteen hundred miles away. The question being raised is whether or not Holmes is guilty of murder. Murder is defined as the unjust killing or causing of death of others. In this essay, I will examine Holmes’ situation through the views of an Act Utilitarian, Rule Utilitarian and through Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Utilitarianism revolves around the idea that an act is morally right or permissible if it produces the greatest utility (happiness/pleasure) for the greatest number and wrong if it produces unhappiness or pain. First-generation Utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham, suggested that the value of pleasures and pains of actions could be determined by a list of conditions. Among these conditions was intensity, which is how strong the produced pleasure would be. Duration, which is how long the said pleasure would last, was also considered. Also, how sure they were that the action would produce this pleasure and how soon these pleasures would come. Also to be considered were fecundity, which meant that pain would not follow the pleasure produced by the action but pleasure of a similar nature, and finally, extent, or the amount of agents that it would affect. In Holmes’ situation, he would have had to take all of the above factors into consideration as he made his decision to deny assistance to those that were wounded or that had their own life jackets. But in order to choose to do one action, there must be another action to be considered and if there is more than one option, one must decide which option would be the one to carry out. So in the case of there being two actions to choose from, second-generation Utilitarian John Stuart Mill, came up with the idea that one can decide between two actions based on whether one expects to get more pleasure from action A over action B, or simply having a preference over another action. Holmes’ could have had the option to attempt to assist all of the survivors or only assist a select few. In this case, he would have had to decide which one of those actions would fulfill the outline for pleasures/pains provided by Jeremy Bentham. But the question still stands at was what Jeremy Bentham chose to do morally right? This brings us into the topic of contemporary Utilitarian’s. Utilitarian’s of the modern world have separated Utilitarianism into two categories: Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. Those that believe in Act Utilitarianism judge an action specifically on the consequences of the action itself, meaning they examine individual situations to find out what would produce the greatest happiness. In Holmes’ situation, one might think that he committed murder by denying assistance to people that were in need of help. However, if examined through the views of an Act Utilitarian, one might suggest that because the lifeboat has a maximum capacity of fourteen people and that there were twenty survivors, attempting to give assistance to those that were wounded to the point that they were beyond the ability to be kept alive would have meant that the number of people to make it to the coast alive would be uncertain. Perhaps the wounded people were trying to fight for a spot on the lifeboat and because the lifeboat only had a capacity of fourteen people, attempting to transport all twenty survivors would have probably caused chaos and sink the boat. With this being said, having every surviving passenger die wouldn’t create the greatest utility for the greatest number, but will instead do the exact opposite. And because Act Utilitarian’s…