Doing the Right Thing in Hamlet

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Doing the "Right" Thing in Hamlet When an individual has taken a certain course of action, who is to determine whether that action taken was right or wrong? And what basis should the individual passing judgment use to decide whether that action was right or wrong? Should the individual passing judgment consider the other individual's purpose or intent in taking the action, or should he consider the resulting consequences of the other individual's actions? If the individual passing judgment were to choose to do the first of these two alternatives, he would be taking a deontological stance, as compared to the later which describes the consequentialist view. As Stephen J. Freeman explains, consequentialism is the belief that "actions and/or rules are right as long as they produce the most favorable consequences for those affected by the actions or rules" (Freeman 63). Consequentialists view the morality of a consequence in two aspects. One aspect is what is called ethical egoism. Ethical egoism is "the idea that morality is defined as acting in one's own interest and in such a way as to maximize the consequences of good over bad" (Freeman 49). In contrast to ethical egoism is utilitarianism. Utilitarianists view morality as when an action promotes the greatest balance of good over bad for all people. "Utilitarianism is a teleological, goal-directed theory emphasizing happiness as the end result of human action" (Freeman 49). In Freeman's book on ethics, he discusses Holmes' proposal of two types of teleological ethical theories that apply to these two differing consequentialist views. Holmes' proposal is that of micro and macro ethics. Micro ethics regards the happiness of the individual as the highest good and defines what is right as the action that maximizes that end. By definition, micro ethics is very similar to the belief of ethical egoism. On the other hand, macro ethics views happiness as the well-being of a group as a whole and defines what is right as the action that maximizes that end. As used here, a group can be those people of a specific city, state, nation, or race, and any particular group has "greater importance than any particular individual or subgroup within it, because its good exceeds the sum of any and all of its parts" (Freeman 49). Those in support of macro ethics would justify the sacrifice of an individual or part within the group, as long as it brings about beneficial consequences for the group as a whole.

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