AN EMPIRICAL APPROACH TO MORALITY Essay Research — страница 3

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which an agent (the driver of a runaway trolley) must choose between either killing/letting die an innocent person or saving five other innocent persons. This problem, of which there are many variations, highlights the conflict between the deontological and consequentialist approaches to morality. The deontologist believes that individuals have certain moral rights which cannot be sacrificed for the benefit of others; the consequentialist believes that morally correct action depends on its effects. The primary objection to the deontological view is that, in the absence of religious authority, its adherents provide no alternative basis for their choice of moral rights. Their final appeal, as expressed in many papers, is to “moral intuition” or “what we know is right”. In

the next section we discuss the sources of our moral intuition and suggest an alternative approach to morality using elements of systems described above. 2. Analysis The moral system we propose takes as its premises (i) a belief in consequentialism, viz., that the morally correct action depends upon its effects, and (ii) a belief that the effects desired are those which promote happiness. In choosing happiness as the goal of morality, we are in agreement with Mill’s assertion in Chapter 4 of Utilitarianism “that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end”. Note, however, that our formulation will differ from utilitarianism in not adopting the maximization of happiness as a premise. A

philosophic question of immense importance to individuals living in a society with a common moral system is whose happiness is considered of moral importance. Historically, most societies did not believe the happiness of slaves to be of moral importance. At an opposite extreme, Nietzsche proposed that only the welfare of the Superman is significant. We propose, in agreement with the almost universal prevailing opinion, to assume that the happiness of all men/women is of equal moral importance. We noted in section 1 the practical difficulty in using a moral system in which all decisions are made ab initio. Our proposed system includes moral rules which confer rights on individuals. It differs fundamentally from pure deontological systems in that these rights are not absolute.

Using philosophical terminology they are prima facie rights in the sense that ” ‘the right to X’ is always to be understood as ‘the right to X unless some stronger claim shows up’ ” (Feinberg, 1973, p. 73). These rights are to be derived from moral rules which give the best consequences over an extended time period. Exercise of such rights may decrease the happiness of some individuals or even of most of society in the short term. In this sense we agree with the objective of utilitarianism on a long term basis, but not as a system for making short term decisions. As an example of the application of this approach to the moral question raised in “Killing, Letting Die, and The Trolley Problem”, one would be justified in killing one innocent person to save five other

innocent persons because there is no absolute right not to be killed. As applied to “The Survival Lottery” one can uphold X’s right not to be killed against the needs of Y and Z for organ transplants because there is no maximization principle to be satisfied. As mentioned in Section 1, most people do have strong feelings of right and wrong. Where do moral rules come from? In many societies most moral beliefs come from a religious tradition. Some moral rules are common to the major religions. Notable among these is the prohibition against killing-with exceptions for self defense, wars and execution of criminals. Other moral rules differ among religions. An example here would be the Jewish-Catholic-Protestant limitation to one wife and the Muslim-early Mormon approval of

multiple wives. While the traditional religious basis for these rules is the authority of a sacred text, we would suggest that their origin is consequential in that they represent the rationalization of experience accumulated over time. Those moral rules which are common to nearly all societies (both religious and non-religious) we believe to result from something which is common to “human nature”, i.e., nearly all societies find their consequences to be more positive than negative. From the consequentialist viewpoint, moral rules which differ among societies are cultural decisions based upon each society’s historical evolution. History shows that moral rules evolve over time. A most striking example is slavery. It is now almost universally agreed that the institution of