Saturday, June 23, 2012

Are We All Utilitarians Now?

I'm getting ready to spend a week at a debate camp helping about 15 students develop their skills as Lincoln Douglas debaters (LDers). We'll work with material that won't be on the test.

 LDers traditionally have a value criterion framework that stems from either a deontological school of thought, a virtue ethics school of thought, or a consequential school of thought.

The deontological schools of thought emphasize rules or duty.  Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you is an example of a deontological rule.  This old Man Law advertisement humorously illustrates the thinking.


The virtue ethics school of thought argues that one should focus not on the rules but on the actor.  Under a virtue ethics framework, the actor practices the virtue and avoids the vices that come from lack or excess.  People become virtuous through desire and habit,  Lucy provides a negative example of virtue.  Like the scorpion that stings its potential savior, she pulls the ball away because she lacks the virtue produced by habit and desire.


The utilitarians emphasize avoiding pain and increasing happiness by doing the greatest good for the greatest number.  Mr. Spock illustrates the noble side of this theory.


Spock's noble sacrifice aside, utilitarians will throw the Golden Rule aside if doing so will produce the desired good for the greatest number.  Machiavelli encouraged his prince to eschew virtue if doing so would keep the prince in power and maintain order.

This morning as the last of the coffee gets cold, it strikes me that I don't hear much about categorical rules that emphasize treating people as ends unto themselves rather than means to an end. I don't hear much about improving individuals' virtue.  Instead, everything seems to be about a utilitarian cost/benefit analysis.  Allowing that world view to dominate will lead to a country where everyone has a price and no one is valued.


1 comment:

D.E. Bishop said...

Very good. Your last paragraph excellently summarizes our current culture. Unfortunately.