Right to Liberty

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  • Topic: Jeremy Bentham, Utilitarianism, Utility
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  • Published : January 23, 2013
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Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?

The greatest happiness principle / Utilitarianism

Example: The Mignonette & the cabin boy

Parker (cabin boy) was an orphan. Mignonette sunk at sea. While on the lifeboat, Parker had drunk seawater out of desperation and appeared to be dying. On the 19th day Dudley (captain) suggested drawing lots to determine who should die so that others might live. Brooks (sailor 1) refused. Next day Dudley motioned to Stephens (sailor 2) to kill Parker. All 3 men subsisted on parker’s body with staggering euphemism, calling it breakfast. Dudley and Stephens when to trail for murder with, Brooks as witness. They confessed and claimed they had killed out of necessity.

Arguments:
1.Did the benefits of killing the cabin boy, taken as a whole (considering utility of the 3 men’s family)? And consequences to society – weakening the norm against murder, increasing people’s tendency to take the law into their own hands.

2.Killing and eating a defenseless cabin boy is wrong for reasons that go beyond the calculation of social costs and benefits. Isn’t it wrong to use a human in this way – exploiting his vulnerability, taking his life with out consent even it doing so benefits others? (Would the boy’s consent change the situation, making it justifiable?)

The first argument accepts the utilitarian assumption that morality consists in weighing costs and benefits and simply wants a fuller reckoning of social consequences. I.E. Morality of actions depends solely on the consequences it brings about; the right thing to do is if it will produce the best state of affairs, all things considered.

If killing the boy is a moral outrange, the second objection is more to the point. It rejects the idea that the right thing to do is simply a matter of calculating consequences. It suggests that morality means something more- something to do with the proper way for humans to treat one another. I.E. Consequences are not all that we should...
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