The things they write… live blogging grading papers, round 1..

I’m writing the following feedback based on 10 years of reading papers on this stuff — and the fact that students keep making the same basic mistakes.  If I discuss the problem here, it’s likely that more than a few students have done it.. see  your paper feedback for specific critiques.

  • First of all, Utilitarianism should be precisely defined as “the greatest overall good”, which is different from “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”.  The goal is to increase utility — and if making one person very happy, or relieving them of significant pain, comes at the cost of making a bunch of people a small amount of “happy”, then the ethical thing to do is to help the one person a lot.

Think about it this way — if you have a choice between preventing a slow and painful cancer death for one person, or giving 50 people a lolly-pop… the greatest overall increase in utility comes with preventing the cancer death — BUT, if you use the “greatest good for the greatest NUMBER of people” formulation, then you have to distribute the lolly-pops —

Also, it’s “Mill”, the possessive is “Mill’s”, you have NO reason to write “Mills” in regards to utilitarianism.

The theory is called “utilitarianism”, someone who practices it is a “utilitarian”.  More than one person who practices utilitarianism would be “utilitarians” — “utilitarian’s” is possessive… and not usually used when writing about it.

  • The objection “not everyone is moral” or “not everyone will accept this theory” or “not everyone is going to act on this kind of analysis” — doesn’t fly.  The thing about ethics is that, at least when it comes to utilitarianism or deontology, the goal isn’t group consensus. IF only one person acts morally, while everyone else is choosing actions based on other reasons, that still makes the one person following the ethical path the right one.  For example, if you’re a Nazi SS officer and all of  your peers are doing the terrible things the Nazis did — and you see an opportunity to choose the moral choice, you should do so even though your peers are not acting that way.

Further, ethicists are generally only concerned with people who WANT to do the right thing, as well as those who CAN make ethical choices.  So, people who want to be evil, or people without the mental capabilities of choosing right action aren’t of particular concern to ethicists — except as much as they provide a counter-example, or maybe a motivation for good people to act well.

DOUBLE SPACE YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • When discussing a theory, quote the theory then explain what it means… this will avoid many awkward sentences.  Don’t use the dictionary, you have a textbook and lots of other good sources in  your online class, use them instead.
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Filed under Ethics, How to..., Medical Ethics, Uncategorized

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