Intro to Ethics Essay

Intro to Ethics Essay

In an essay of four to five pages, double-spaced, in a standard twelve-point font, with standard margins, answer the following essay question. This is, in essence, a lengthy essay and not a

term paper. Your grade will be determined by the thoroughness of your answers, the way in

which your answers demonstrate a basic understanding of utilitarianism and Kantianism and

virtue ethics and the way in which you are able to criticize these views and defend your own. Of

course, grammar, spelling and writing will matter, too.

Consider the following situation: You are an intelligence agent who knows that there is going to

be a terrorist attack on San Diego in the next 48 hours. It will probably kill hundreds of people

and injure hundreds or thousands more. However, you do not know where in the city it will occur

or what it will be. You have five suspects in custody, one of whom was involved in the planning

of the attack, but you don’t know which one it is and none of them are providing any information,

either because they are unwilling to talk or because they know nothing. As far as you know, at

least four of the suspects are innocent. You are fairly certain that if you torture the suspects one

by one, even if it means killing them, you will gain the information necessary to prevent the

attack. You have to decide whether to torture the suspects or not. (Assume for the purposes of

this essay that torture is, in fact, effective; whether it is is an open question.)

What would utilitarianism tell you that you ought to do in this case? Make sure that you make it

clear why the utilitarian theory of the right action would tell you to do this, taking into account all

the relevant features of the situation and the way that utilitarianism makes moral decisions. The

more detailed your account is, the more it pays attention to the specifics of the situation and the

more it shows an understanding of the moral account that Mill provides and that we discussed in

class, the better. If you believe there is any difference in the way Bentham would discuss this

case, you should address that difference, as well. (20%)

Given your understanding of Kant’s position , what do you

think his theory would tell you to do? In order to answer this, you ought to try to form the maxim

that you would be following were you to torture the supposed terrorists and see whether you can

imagine everyone following that maxim. Make sure that your maxim and your account of

universalizing it pay attention to the details of the situation. Would it be possible for everyone to

follow it? Would they be following a motive or maxim that was self-defeating? If you don’t want

to think about maxims, you need to say how the idea of treating people as ends and not as

means would guide you in this case. Make sure that it’s clear how your answer follows from

Kant’s view. (10%)

Having considered the situation from the perspective of the first formulation, you need to say

how the idea of treating people as ends and not as means would guide you in this case. Make

sure that it’s clear how your answer follows from Kant’s view. (10%)

What virtues, in the Aristotelian sense, do you think would be called upon in this situation—here

you will have to think about what qualities are needed to live in society—and what do you

believe those virtues would lead one to do? Note that there might be different virtues called into

play and they might pull in different directions, so I am asking what the final direction would be.

Here, you might also consider what someone adopting Noddings ethics of care might advise

and why. (20%)

What do you believe you ought to do? Make sure you say exactly what you think you are

permitted or required or forbidden to do in this case. And, say why you believe this is what you

ought to do. This is where you have a chance to argue and convince me. (15%)

You ought also to tell me what, if anything, is wrong with those approaches with which you

disagreed. (15%)

The remainder of your grade will be determined by structure, grammar, and writing.

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