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Louis Pojman’s Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong

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Utilitarianism is a theory which states that the purpose of morality is to achieve maximal goodness in a society. It is consequentialist rather than deontological in that the moral value of ethical decisions are to be judged in terms of their effects, rather than the intrinsic properties of the acts themselves. Those effects are deemed good which generate the most pleasure or happiness, or which minimize overall pain. There are two classical types of utilitarianism which will be under our consideration: act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism. Two objections to utilitarianism will be examined, as well as Louis Pojman’s responses to those objections in Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. It will be shown that Pojman presents an adequate defense of utilitarianism, and that utilitarianism succeeds as a worthwhile moral theory.

Act-Utilitarianism is the thesis that “an act is right if and only if it results in as much good as any available alternative” (Pojman 110). One conspicuous problem with the thesis is that it suggests that correct moral actions will often clash with our intuitions about basic moral norms. For example, Pojman refers to Richard Brandt’s criticism in which he points out that the act-utilitarian seems to be committed to helping the needy above one’s own family, repaying debts only if there is no better use for the money, and ending the lives of those who are a drain on others (Pojman 110). Rule-Utilitarianism is a response to this objection and an attempt to formulate a more plausible conception of the theory. Pojman’s definition is: “An act is right if and only if it is required by a rule that is itself a member of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for society tha...

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... more difficult objections can be countered in various ways. The “no-rest” objection isn’t defeating, since leisure can be incorporated into the moral rules. The justice objection has two responses: one of defeat, the other of integration. I have found the response of defeat (that justice can be overridden) to be unsatisfactory, since justice is an intrinsic good that is absolutely necessary for human flourishing. The conciliatory approach to the justice objection seeks to integrate justice into the higher level rules. I think that this is a credible utilitarian position. It captures the importance of justice in our moral reasoning and legitimates utilitarianism as a moral theory without sacrificing the principles of consequentialism nor utility.

Works Cited:

Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. 5th edition. Thomson Nelson. Toronto: 2005.
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