Eduqas/WJEC Ethics B grade summary notes


This page contains an oversimplified summary of the Ethics notes which are aimed to be what is required to know in order to get a solid B grade. This concept is currently a bit of a work in progress.

Divine command theory

AO1: Divine command theory & the Euthyphro dilemma

  • Divine command theory is the view that God decides what is right and wrong.
  • God’s act of commanding something is what makes it right or wrong in an objective
  • Morality therefore has a metaphysical status in reality
  • g. 10 commandments & Aquinas’ concept of the ‘divine law’.
  • God’s omnipotence means that he must have power over morality.
  • The Euthyphro dilemma: is what God commands good because it is good (1st horn) or is it good because God commands it? (2nd horn).
  • The first horn is the view that goodness has its own intrinsic nature independent of God’s commands. This seems to conflict with God’s omnipotence.
  • Divine command theorist accept the 2nd
  • This leads to the issue that God could change his mind (arbitrary) tomorrow and make murder good.
  • Robert Adams’ modified divine command theory addresses the arbitrariness problem, claiming that God’s choices of what to command are not arbitrary, but the result of his omnibenevolent nature.
  • “Any action is ethically wrong if and only if it is contrary to the commands of a loving God”
  • Murder is wrong because it is contrary to the commands of a loving God.

AO2: Evaluation of Divine command theory & the Euthyphro dilemma

  • Accepting the 1st horn seems to lead to a conflict with God’s omnipotence as he can’t control what is good.
  • However, Swinburne responds that some moral truths are necessary and therefore cannot possibly be changed. Yet then God’s omnipotence is not challenged by being unable to change them, if we understand omnipotence as being able to do any logically possible action
  • The arbitrariness problem
  • Robert Adams’ modified divine command theory addresses the arbitrariness problem, claiming that God’s choices of what to command are not arbitrary, but the result of his omnibenevolent nature.
  • However, God does change his mind, e.g. Jesus on the sermon on the mount changed ‘eye for an eye’ into ‘turn the other cheek’
  • The Pluralism objection attacks divine and modified divine command theory. There are many religions each with their own God and their own divine commands. How could we know which religion to follow?
  • However, what if we accepted that all religions were true? In that case, we could follow the main theme and command of all religions which is arguably to be loving.
  • The issue of immoral commands, e.g. kill gay people, slaves can be beaten, women cannot have authority over a man.
  • Liberal Christians would solve this issue through the subjective theory of inspiration – that the Bible is not the perfect word of God and reflects the culture of its time.
  • However, then we cannot use the Bible as a list of divine commands.

Virtue theory

AO1: Aristotle’s virtue ethics

  • Aristotle’s virtue ethics.
  • The goal/purpose (telos) of all human action is eudaimonia (flourishing) because people only do something if they think it will help them live a good live (flourish).
  • We live a good life when we perform our function well, which is to reason.
  • Virtues are character traits and habits which enable us to choose the mean between the extremes. E.g. Choose courage over the excess of recklessness or the deficiency of cowardliness.
Deficiency Golden Mean Excess
Cowardice Courage Recklessness
Insensibility Temperance Self-indulgence
Understatement Truthfulness Boastfulness
Unfriendliness Friendliness Being too friendly

AO1: Jesus’ teachings on virtue

  • Jesus’ teachings on virtue including the beatitudes (part of the sermon on the mount).
  • Jesus did not command good action but being a good person too.
  • He said that actions must come from love
  • In the beatitudes he said that you should not have hatred in your heart without reason, nor should you have lustful thoughts.

AO2: evaluation of virtue ethics

  • Virtue ethics fails to provide clear guidance – it tells us to be a good person but not what to actually do. It especially doesn’t help with moral dilemmas where we need a clear answer and way to calculate which action is right or wrong. Telling us to be a good person doesn’t tell us what to actually do.
  • However, because the situations in life are so complex and diverse, it’s not possible for a set of rules to cover them all. Helping people be virtuous will give them the best chance of doing the right thing in their situation.
  • Cultural relativism shows that different cultures have different values and virtues. This shows that Aristotle and Jesus’ virtues were just the opinion of their culture, not a basis for a universal ethic.
  • However, there is a core set of values/virtues that all cultures have in common and Jesus’ recommendation of love seems quite universal. Aristotle thought Justice was a virtue and that also seems universal.
  • Virtues can justify bad actions – for example, it takes courage to rob a bank, and people do all sorts of terrible things out of love.
  • However, arguably that is only because they have failed to understand love and to satisfy all the virtues. It takes courage to rob a bank but it isn’t very loving.

Ethical egoism

Not finished yet

1. D. Naturalism

AO1: Naturalism

  • Naturalism is the view that goodness is real and is some property or feature of the natural world.
  • This means that moral statements (e.g. stealing is wrong) can be understood by empirically analysing the natural world.
  • This makes ethical language a cognitive expression of belief about (natural) reality than can be true or false.
  • Moral statements are objective truths and universal.
  • Bentham and Mill’s Utilitarianism is a form of naturalism because they claim that goodness is pleasure/happiness, which is a natural feature of natural creatures like us.
  • For them, moral statements express objective cognitive beliefs about whether actions maximise happiness.
  • F. H. Bradley is a naturalist but doesn’t agree with utilitarianism because it was too focused on individual happiness, ignoring that human nature involves a person being part of a group. Bradley proposes a different type of naturalism.
  • For Bradley, the important natural fact is not that humans feel pleasure but that we feel a sense of moral obligation.
  • This means we have a ‘moral consciousness’ – an awareness of right and wrong.
  • This sense of right and wrong applies to the way we act over a period of time – not just particular actions.
  • We need to develop our moral awareness through self-realisation. This involves coming to understand our place in society and the moral obligations that come with it. Often this means sacrifices we have to make for the good of society.

AO2: Evaluation of Naturalism

  • Naturalism attempts to claim that because it is a fact that human nature finds happiness good (Bentham & Mill) or involves a moral sense of obligation to the duties related to our place in society (Bradley) – that this means that such things are good. Since those things are natural parts of human nature and relate to the world, goodness is a feature of the natural world.
  • However, Hume’s Law (the is-ought problem) claims that you cannot derive a value from a fact.
  • Just because something ‘is’ a fact, that tells you nothing about what we ‘ought’ to do.
  • So, just because it is a fact that human nature finds pleasure good (Mill & Bentham) or that human nature has a moral sense of obligation to the duties related to our place in society (Bradley) that doesn’t mean that such things are actually good and that we therefore ‘ought’ to act on them.
  • Human nature feeling like something is good, doesn’t mean that it actually is good and that we therefore ought to act on it. It only means that human nature feels like it is good.
  • E. Moore developed Hume’s law into the Naturalistic fallacy, which claims that it is an assumption to think that something being natural makes it good.
  • Moore’s open question argument claims that if goodness is a natural property, then saying ‘goodness = natural property’ would be just like saying ‘a natural property is a natural property’, i.e. it wouldn’t be saying anything informative about the world. This shows that goodness cannot be equal to any natural property and so naturalism fails.
  • However, Mackie responds to Moore’s open question argument by claiming that it is only a linguistic analysis of words which doesn’t tell us anything about reality.
  • Emotivism would disagree with Naturalism.
  • However, criticisms of emotivism apply.

1. E. Intuitionism

AO1: intuitionism

  • Intuitionism is the view that goodness is not a feature of the natural reality but is a feature of the non-natural reality.
  • This means goodness is not a natural thing, meaning it cannot be defined. G. E. Moore says it is like ‘yellow’. You cannot describe or define yellow – you can only recognise it when you see it. This is also true of good and bad.
  • Our minds have an ability called intuition which has the power to know whether something is good or bad.
  • Intuition is when you just know something without figuring it out, like how you know what yellow looks like.
  • This allows us to know objective moral truths.
  • A. Pritchard claims that the sense of moral obligation gained through intuition shows that moral obligation must exist.
  • If our moral views need justification, that would lead to an infinite regress of the justification requiring justification too, which in turn requires further justification and so on. Morality can only work if it is based on an intuition where we just ‘know’ intuitively, without justification, to avoid this infinite regress.
  • Pritchard claims there is general thinking – using reason to understand the facts in a situation and moral thinking – intuiting the right thing to do in that situation.

AO2: Evaluation of intuitionism

  • Different cultures have different moral views. Mackie argued that this suggests that it is social conditioning which causes our moral views, not intuitions of non-natural moral truth.
  • However, there are a core set of moral views that are found in all cultures, such as not killing & stealing. Perhaps that is evidence for a universal moral intuition.
  • There is no obvious way to resolve moral disagreement when people have conflicting intuitions.
  • However, Moore responds that people’s intuitions only seem to disagree because they have not stated their intuitions precisely or at the right level of abstraction, or in relation to the same kind of action or situation.
  • However, some societies allow abortion and others do not – it’s hard to see how those completely different moral intuitions could ever be made compatible.
  • Ayer rejects the idea of non-natural moral properties that we intuit as unverifiable and meaningless.
  • Ayer’s emotivism has its own issues, like the verification principle being unable to verify itself

1. F. Emotivism

AO1: emotivism

  • Ayer agreed with Hume and Moore’s critique of naturalism, but found Moore’s intuitionism of non-natural moral properties unverifiable and so meaningless.
  • Ayer was a logical positivist who argued for the verification principle, that for language to be meaningful it must be analytic (true by definition) or empirically verifiable.
  • Language is empirically verifiable if we know how to find out whether it is true or false.
  • Ethical language is unverifiable, so it is meaningless.
  • The result is that there is no moral truth either in the natural or the non-natural reality. There is no such thing as right and wrong.
  • Ethical language is just an expression of emotion (non-cognitive) which is unverifiable and therefore meaningless.
  • This explains why ethical language is motivating of action – it inspires or reflects emotions and desires which affect our behaviour.
  • When someone says ‘stealing is wrong’ they are just having a negative emotional outburst about stealing, as if they had just said ‘boo to stealing’. When someone says ‘giving to charity is good’ they are just having a positive emotional outburst about giving to charity, as if they had just said ‘hurrah to giving to charity’.
  • This is sometimes called the ‘boo/hurrah’ theory.

AO2: evaluation of emotivism

  • If Ayer’s theory is correct then there can be no basis for morality. Essentially there is no right or wrong. This would mean that Hitler just had his personal subjective emotional feelings and those who thought he was wrong merely just have a different feeling. There is no way to say that Hitler was actually objectively wrong, just that we have negative emotional feelings about what he did.
  • However, perhaps Ayer is correct that there is no objective basis for morality – that it is just an expression of our feelings. We may not like that, but that doesn’t make him wrong.
  • If Ayer’s theory is correct, it could lead to the end of society. Why would people follow laws and try to be good, if there is no such thing as objective good or bad? Arguably people will just start doing whatever they want which will cause chaos and anarchy.
  • However, this does not mean Ayer’s theory is incorrect about the nature of morality – just that it would be a sad day for us if he were correct.
  • Ayer’s theory cannot explain moral disagreement. People disagree morally – they argue with reason and logic over ethical issues. Yet, emotions cannot disagree, they can only conflict. This means that ethical language can’t reduce to expression of emotion.
  • However, Ayer responds that there are no moral disagreements, just factual disagreements with emotional conflict involved that people confuse for a moral disagreement.
  • Ayer rejects the idea of non-natural moral properties that we intuit as unverifiable and meaningless.
  • Ayer’s emotivism has its own issues, like the verification principle being unable to verify itself
  • If Naturalism is correct, then Ayer fails because there is objective moral truth which ethical language expresses beliefs about (cognitivism).
  • However, Naturalism has its own issues (is-ought gap).

Natural law

AO1: Natural Law

  • Aquinas’ Natural law ethics is based on his four tiers of law.
  • Eternal law: the omnibenevolent nature of God
  • Divine law: God’s revelation in the Bible
  • Natural law: the moral law within human nature
  • Human law: the laws we make which Aquinas argued should be based on the natural and divine law.
  • Aquinas claimed that we could discover God’s morality within our nature through synderesis; the power God gave human reason to know the primary precepts.
  • The synderesis rule is ‘do good and avoid evil’.
  • The primary precepts are: protect and preserve human life, reproduce and educate, worship God and live in an orderly society.
  • These precepts are general (deontological) and must be applied to particular actions or situations to derive secondary precepts which will tell you what to do (teleological).
  • Following the Natural law will enable our purpose (telos) of glorifying God and eternal life in heaven.
  • The double effect is Aquinas’ principle that when an action has two effects – one good and one bad – so long as the bad effect was not intended then the action can be morally acceptable. E.g. Aquinas said this could justify killing someone in self-defence, if your intention is only to save your own life.

AO1: Aquinas and the role of virtue

  • Natural law is about following the Natural law in order to glorify God by fulfilling the purpose (telos) he created for us.
  • This means that it is important that we intend to follow the natural law. We must have the right intention and character.
  • Our character must be virtuous, meaning be in the habit of choosing good actions. This will enable us to follow the natural law more reliably.
  • The cardinal virtues are those that humans have the ability to cultivate:
  • Prudence: practical wisdom to understand how to fit general principles (primary precepts) to particular situations (secondary precepts).
  • Temperance: not being addicted to bodily pleasures, having control over emotions like anger and vanity.
  • Courage: having the strength of mind to overcome fear in order to do what is good.
  • Justice: having the desire for people to get what they deserve
  • The Christian theological virtues are granted to humans by God’s grace:
  • Faith: the virtue of belief in God and his revelation
  • Hope: the virtue of having the hope of eternal life in heaven.
  • Love/charity: the virtue of agape; selfless Christian love of your neighbour

AO1: application of Aquinas’ natural law to abortion and voluntary euthanasia

  • Abortion goes against the primary precepts to preserve human life and reproduction.
  • Abortion also goes against the divine law (thou shalt not kill)
  • Abortion is also argued to go against the stability of society by some because, as mother Theresa put it: ‘if a mother can kill her own child in her own womb, what is left to stop us from killing one another?’.
  • Some Catholics argue that abortion could sometimes be justified by the double effect however, in cases where the mother’s life is threatened by a medical emergency. As long as the intention is to save the life of the mother, killing the baby can be justified.
  • The normal reasons for allowing abortion, that the parents cannot afford a child or even that the pregnancy was the result of rape, are not relevant to natural law theory.
  • Voluntary euthanasia goes against the primary precepts to preserve human life.
  • Voluntary euthanasia also goes against the divine law (thou shalt not kill)
  • Voluntary euthanasia is argued to go against the stability of society because of the slippery slope argument – that if we allow it in cases like terminal illness, we will soon allow it for incurable physical conditions, then incurable mental conditions, then babies with terrible medical conditions, then homeless people, then depressed people, then minorities and eventually we will basically be Hitler.
  • However, some Catholics argue that voluntary euthanasia could be justified if it is passive, i.e. does not involve an action that kills the person but merely involves the withdrawal or suspension of medical support – if continued medical treatment would be burdensome or disproportionate.

AO2: Evaluation of Natural law and application of Natural law

  • Natural law is inflexible and leads to unnecessary suffering. For example, it would not allow someone to get an abortion even if they had been raped, nor would they allow euthanasia even if someone had a terminal illness and was going to die soon anyway after extreme pain.
  • However, Aquinas would argue that our purpose is not to avoid all pain and only do what we want – our purpose is to follow God’s natural law in order to have the right relationship with God and get into heaven.
  • Fletcher argued that there is no natural law, or that our minds are unable to know it – because if human reason really were able to discover the primary precepts, how come different cultures have such different moral views? E.g. Some allow abortion and euthanasia and others do not.
  • However, the cultural differences could be due to original sin, lack of virtue or corrupt culture. There is still a core set of moral views that is universal to all cultures – laws against killing & disorder like stealing, encouraging of procreation and education. The primary precepts seem universal.
  • Protestants often argue that we should not use human reason to try and understand anything about God, including God’s morality, because our reason is corrupted by original sin and thus unreliable. We should only have faith in the Bible to get our moral views. For example, the double effect can be used to justify abortion and passive voluntary euthanasia which they would argue goes against the Bible and is an example of arrogant human reason thinking it knows better than God.
  • However, Aquinas would respond that our reason is God-given and designed by God to be able to know the primary precepts. God would not have given us this ability to know the natural law unless God intended us to use it. So, we should.

Situation ethics

AO1: Fletcher’s rejection of other ethical approaches

  • Fletcher rejected legalism – the traditional Christian view that ethics must be based on strict absolutist rules, because they do not take the situation into account.
  • Fletcher rejected antinomianism – the view that there is no right or wrong and people can just make up whatever ethical principles they want to follow, because it leads to chaos/anarchy.
  • Fletcher proposes situationism – a middle ground between these two extremes. Rather than a list of absolutist rules, it has one absolutist guiding principle – agape – which has to be applied and interpreted in whatever situation you are in.
  • Agape is Christian love – selfless love of your neighbour.
  • An action is good if it leads to the most loving outcome of all possible actions. This makes situation ethics consequentialist and teleological.
  • Fletcher rejects the traditional views of conscience, that it is an inbuilt thing or moral compass.
  • Fletcher claims conscience is not a ‘noun’, i.e. not a thing, but a verb – a doing word.
  • Conscience refers to our attempt to interpret the demands of agape in the situation we are in.

AO1: Fletcher’s situation ethics

  • Four working principles:
  • Pragmatism: an action must take the situation into account and work for that situation.
  • Personalism: people are more important than rules
  • Positivism: we must take it on faith that agape is the centre of ethics
  • Relativism: an action is right or wrong only to the degree that it has the most loving consequence.
  • The six fundamental principles:
  • Love is the only intrinsic good.
  • Love is the ruling norm of Christianity.
  • Love and justice are the same.
  • Love your neighbour even if you don’t like them.
  • The ends justify the means.
  • Love decides what is good there and then in the situation.

AO2: Evaluation of situation ethics

  • Love is subjective: people do all sorts of terrible things because they think it is loving. E.g. a homophobic parent might send their gay child to conversion therapy and think it is loving.
  • However, although love is subjective – agape (Christian selfless love) is less subjective because it is about treating people how you would want to be treated.
  • However, a homophobic parent might actually themselves think that they would want to be sent to conversion therapy if they were gay – so unfortunately they are loving their neighbour as they would want to be loved by doing that.
  • Situation ethics grants people a dangerous amount of freedom according to W. Barclay. People can’t be trusted to do the loving thing, they will do selfish or cruel things. Power is corrupting and Fletcher grants people too much power by letting them determine the right thing in their situation.
  • However, Fletcher argues that we have progressed since the medieval times when Natural law theory was developed by Aquinas. People are better self-controlled, more civilised and more educated – so they can be trusted with more freedom to interpret the application of agape in their situation.
  • However, arguably Fletcher is overly-optimistic about humans – there is still evidence that power corrupts people.
  • Fletcher ignores most of the commands in the Bible, reducing Christian ethics entirely to Jesus’ command to love your neighbour as yourself. The Bible also says that being gay, committing adultery and killing is wrong, yet fletcher would allow those actions if it were loving.
  • However, Jesus did say that loving your neighbour as yourself is the ‘greatest’ commandment – perhaps that should mean it takes priority over the others – even the commandment to not kill.

AO1: application of Situation ethics

  • Fletcher would say the same thing about homosexuality as he does about everything – that if it is the most loving thing then it should be allowed.
  • Being gay is something people cannot change and attempting to change it or being forced to not be who they are causes them suffering.
  • Throughout history gay people were forced to live inauthentic lives because society would not accept them.
  • So, it seems loving to allow people to be gay. In Fletcher’s time, many conservative Christians worried about the impact allowing homosexuality would have on institutions like marriage and the family. However, since then it has become obvious that allowing homosexuality has not had a negative effect. The only change is that gay people can be happier, which is therefore the more loving and thus morally good outcome.
  • Polyamorous relationships.
  • Fletcher would say the same thing about polyamory as he does about everything – that if it is the most loving thing then it should be allowed.
  • Polyamory is a relatively new thing and there isn’t a huge amount of evidence about how it effects people or society long-term.
  • However, if consenting adults feel that polyamory is genuinely what they want to do with their lives, then it seems most loving to accept it.
  • Preventing people from doing what they think will make them happy will itself make them unhappy, so it is self-defeating.
  • Many people would struggle with polyamory because they would feel jealousy, but that could just suggest that it’s not for everyone.

AO2: Evaluation of Situation ethics and application of situation ethics

  • Situation ethics ignores most of the commands of the Bible. E.g. the Bible says being gay is wrong and that sex must be confined to marriage which is between one man and one woman.
  • However, Fletcher argues that the Bible should not be taken literally so it is up to us to follow its general themes, which he argues is love. If it’s loving to allow homosexuality or polyamory then the Biblical theme of love would support allowing it.
  • Barclay argues that Fletcher grants people a dangerous amount of freedom to decide what is the loving thing in their situation. People are not perfectly loving and will thus do selfish or cruel things if given the freedom. Power is corrupting. In the case of homosexuality or polyamory, a parent might think it is loving to try and persuade their child to not be gay or to engage in polyamory, even if their child was gay or would be happy through polyamory.
  • However, Fletcher argues that humanity has progressed since medieval times when they needed strict rules and that we can now be trusted with more freedom regarding interpreting and applying laws, guided by the principle of agape.
  • Love is subjective. Love is too subjective which makes it too unstable to be the basis of ethics. We need strict rules in order to have proper guidance on how to act. We would not know what to do in the case of homosexuality or polyamory if we were following the subjective principle of love.
  • However, although love is subjective agape is not. Agape doesn’t just mean love, it means selfless love of your neighbour, which is much more clear and not subjective. You should treat people the way you would like to be treated. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were a homosexual or wanted to be polyamorous and then treat such people that way. That is loving your neighbour as yourself and is not subjective.


AO1: Bentham’s act utilitarianism

  • Bentham argued that it is human nature to find pleasure good, which means that pleasure is good.
  • From this derives the principle of utility; an action is good if it leads to the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people.
  • This means that what makes an action good or bad is not the type of action it is, but it’s ‘utility’, i.e, how useful it is in bringing about good consequences. This makes utilitarianism a consequentialist ethical theory.
  • To know which action would cause greater pleasure requires that we can measure pleasure which is what the hedonic calculus is for.
  • The hedonic calculus is a list of 7 criteria you need to use to measure how much pleasure an action will cause, e.g. intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness.
  • Bentham thought that all pleasures were equal in value – he said poetry was just as good as kids games.

AO1: J. S. Mill’s development of utilitarianism.

  • Higher pleasures are those caused by mental activity (poetry, philosophy, opera). They have a lasting effect on the mind capable of appreciating them
  • Lower pleasures are caused by bodily activity (sex, drugs, food). They are not long lasting and can cause addiction. This makes them inferior to higher pleasures. Mill argued this means not all pleasures are equal – higher pleasures are better.
  • Mill thought applying the hedonic calculus to all actions was too time-consuming. He proposed that instead of analysing every action, we should figure out which rules would maximise happiness if followed, and just follow them.
  • The harm principle is an example of such a rule. It is that people should be free to do what they want so long as they are not harming others.
  • Individuals are in the best position to know how to make themselves happy. If people follow this rule, people will be free to make themselves happy without interference from others. This will maximise happiness.
  • We should use rules that human history and trial and error has tested to be productive of happiness.
  • Mill’s Utilitarianism therefore involves rules so is partly deontological. However the rules are only justified because of the consequences of following them is to maximise happiness, so ultimately it is still consequentialist (teleological).

AO1: application of utilitarianism

  • Animal experimentation for medical research.
  • Bentham and Mill both thought that animal pleasure and pain mattered ethically. Bentham said what matters is not whether they can reason, but whether they can suffer.
  • So, a Utilitarian would regard suffering caused to animals as bad.
  • Nonetheless, if the potential benefit to happiness from medical research outweighed the suffering caused to the animals who were experimented on, then the utilitarian would accept it.
  • It seems they would only be against animal experimentation if the chance of gaining useful medical knowledge was very low.
  • The use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
  • The purpose of a country using nuclear weapons as a deterrent is to prevent other countries from using nuclear weapons against them.
  • This is called mutually assured destruction.
  • There have been no nuclear weapons used since world war 2 and nuclear weapons have never been used by a country against another country that has nuclear weapons. So arguably it is an effective principle.
  • This successfully reduces the chance of nuclear war and therefore Utilitarians would be in favour of it because nuclear bombs cause immense suffering if used.
  • Nonetheless, having nuclear weapons even if only as a deterrent, increases the chance of nuclear war. There have been many cases during the cold war where nuclear weapons almost went off due to mistakes.
  • Deterrence also only works against other nations, it would not work against terrorists.
  • So, it seems that the best possible situation would be unilateral disarmament – where all countries agree to reduce their nuclear stockpiles together. This would reduce the chance of nuclear war the most.
  • The problem is that it’s very difficult to get countries to agree to reduce their nuclear stockpile because they would naturally be suspicious about other countries secretly keeping theirs.
  • So overall arguably utilitarians would be in favour of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

AO2: Evaluation of Utilitarianism and application of Utilitarianism

  • Utilitarianism seems to justify bad actions so long as they maximise pleasure. For example, if it would give 10 prison guards pleasure to torture and kill a prisoner, then it seems that would be a morally good act. It would justify causing harm to animals and risking immense harm in terms of allowing nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
  • However, Mill’s version of utilitarianism it seems would solve these problems because of the harm principle. That would prevent harming others.
  • However, Mill’s harm principle only applies to people – not animals.
  • However, Mill would still probably allow nuclear weapons as a deterrent because it’s goal is to reduce harm.
  • However, maybe Mill is right to allow those things and these aren’t really example of bad actions that we could criticise utilitarianism for allowing.
  • Utilitarianism has issues with calculation. In order to know whether an action is good or bad, we have to be able to predict the future of an action’s consequences (which is impossible) and calculate how much pleasure or pain those consequences will cause, but measuring subjective feelings is also impossible. For example, we can’t calculate nor predict whether a medical experiment causing suffering to animals will lead to more pleasure overall. Similarly, we can’t calculate nor predict the whether use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent will maximise happiness or not because we don’t know how well it will continue to work.
  • However, Mill’s utilitarianism solves these issues by not calculating every action but figuring out which rules would maximise happiness if followed, based on trial and error and evidence from history.