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Utilitarianism Philosophy Coursework Questions

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Hello you clever philosophers!

I have recently begun harboring doubts for my philosophy coursework - and I'm being very picky and cautious with it as I am aiming for a 7. My question is 'How practical is utilitarianism when faced with moral dilemmas?'

Obviously the majority of the marks come from it being a balanced, relevant and analytical argument. I'm beginning to worry I'm approaching it wrong. Obviously, I am analysing utilitarianism, so I'm not going to be penalised for not having Kantian Ethics or something, my teacher clarified that I can obviously still have a good balanced argument with just utilitarianism: as long as I give strengths and weaknesses.

So I'm beginning to wonder if I've structured it badly, and made it too one sided... Would appreciate any advice/clarifications by anybody upon reading what my overall structure was like:

Introduction - linked Utilitarianism to my source, defined utilitarianism.

Paragraph 1 - Act Utilitarianism. (Defined, highlight practicality issue of a criminal majority being more important than a victim minority.)

Paragraph 2 - Rule Utilitarianism as a counter to this. (Defined it and quickly dismissed it by pointing out impracticable aspects eg how to set rules)

Paragraph 3 - Issue with Utilitarianism of how to measure pleasure, especially in a split-decision dilemma situation (what my question asks)

Paragraph 4 - Discuss proposal of Felicific/Hedonic Calculus as a potential counter to this. However, I quickly managed to dismiss it as a poor counter, due to detailed analysis of each of its measurements (spent Paragraphs 5 and 6) critically analysing each aspect of the Calculus, and linked back to title of how again, utilitarianism is impractical in a moral dilemma situation.

Paragraph 7 - Final criticism of utilitarianism as a teleological theory, by discussing how unpredictable consequences are, ongoing, can't rely on them, etc.

Conclusion - I concluded that utilitarianism was impractical.

Essentially what I'm asking:

- Is this too one sided? I didn't think so initially as I am trying to answer a question and saying 'hmm i don't know' didn't seem helpful. I tried to propose counters such as Rule utilitarianism and felicific calculus, i was just then able to critically analyse them to justify my argument, which I thought was the better idea.

So, is that good? Present the counters and justify why I've dismissed them, and lay on the criticisms for utilitarianism? Or present counters that make me concede a blow to my argument and leave them? I don't think I even have any arguments for utilitarianism I wouldn't be able to criticise! So hopefully I'm just panicking about nothing. Maybe even if that's fine though the structure could do with improvement anyway.

Also, do I need to talk about my non-philosophical source in my essay? It wasn't fully clarified whether I leave that just to the beginning or not. They basically said it was up to me.

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Well it's been a long time since I did Utilitarianism, but it strikes me that you've not necessarily used the keyword of your question which is practical. I mean, how likely is it that there's going to be a criminal majority and a victim minority? Despite issues with measuring happiness as an outcome, can relative happinesses not be measured in the majority of day-to-day situations?

I suppose my view was always that Utilitarianism does what it says on the tin. It IS very practical. If you're going to have practicality as your main theme, I don't think you can just roll out the traditional textbook criticisms of Utilitarianism, I think it would also make sense to actually assess its usefulness in day to day life. At the end of the day, philosophical ideas are just abstract - by using the word practical, it sort-of implies that you're going to examine its utility as an abstract applied to real daily life.

Take what I say with a pinch of salt perhaps, but that's what I thought on reading it. You could always just change your title so it's no longer talking about what is practical. However at the end of the day, there's no ethical theory without its age-old list of problems that everybody learns to regurgitate in exams, so it would perhaps be a more interesting take on it to look at its actual application rather than more of the same.

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No you don't need to talk about your philosophical source throughout your essay. I made no reference to it. It was a cartoon with someone mooning god :lol: how philosophical can that get?

I'm torn about how you're approaching the essay. I think it's fine on one hand because you have all the criticisms and stuff (hopefully sources too) but the way you're approaching it is quite ... easy? How many strengths are you going to give for utilitarianism? Because the way it looks like it's going to go to me, is that you'll mention something like:

"However, a solution to measuring pleasure is the hedonic calculus. (explains calculus). BUT IT SUCKS BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT OBJECTIVE SO FAIL TO PROGRESS THE THEORY." then you stop using caps.

I'd be inclined to mention an alternative theory to be honest. It moves from just attacking utilitarianism (which isn't difficult to do) to offering an alternative. But it does link to your question so write your essay the way you have planned out and decide on whether it's just an extremely one sided essay then.

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Yeah from what you guys have said, I might redraft it with a particular structure that shows a balanced argument of strength, negative, strength, negative. I also may change 'practical' to 'effective' - my argument for it not being practical was that you couldn't be faced with a split-decision with only seconds to make the choice and successfully calculate all theoretical happiness, or predict all consequences, etc etc. That's why I concluded it to be 'impactical.' However, even the name of 'utilitarianism' implies the theory is useful/practical! I could even mention that at the time utilitarianism was invented, society was very different to the world of today and it was much more unfair back then so it was actually a useful and practical theory, the idea of the most people being 'happy.'

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Let me rephrase the question in a way that won't make you too "one-sided"

How practical is utilitarianism when faced with moral dilemnas?

Turns into:

To what extent is utilitarianism practical in resolving moral dilemnas?

When you look at the other question, you must note that the specific phrasing of the question will beg for an emphasized answer on one side. With this phrasing, you will be forced to add the weights of different perspectives.

With this question in mind, adjust your structure accordingly and you'll find the writing process more balanced.

After all...there's a reason why TOK uses "to what extent" a lot. And it's not because it's a catchphrase or an earworm.

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Yes, I see where you're coming from... I can't think of many good counter arguments for utilitarianism being practical in a dilemma situation though - it's just too hypothetical, extent and scope of consequences unpredictable, pleasure incalculable etc :P

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Yeah from what you guys have said, I might redraft it with a particular structure that shows a balanced argument of strength, negative, strength, negative. I also may change 'practical' to 'effective' - my argument for it not being practical was that you couldn't be faced with a split-decision with only seconds to make the choice and successfully calculate all theoretical happiness, or predict all consequences, etc etc. That's why I concluded it to be 'impactical.' However, even the name of 'utilitarianism' implies the theory is useful/practical! I could even mention that at the time utilitarianism was invented, society was very different to the world of today and it was much more unfair back then so it was actually a useful and practical theory, the idea of the most people being 'happy.'

Effective in what respect? Or do you just mean strong? Take into account what Sandwich said. If you have the word practical in there - talk about its practicality. Otherwise you aren't actually answering the question. In regards to your counter about it not being practical, is that all you can think of? How often does that legitimately happen? Secondly, what about the moral dilemmas that don't require you to make an instant decision? Finally, don't you think that it's normal for us to want as many people to be happy as possible? Does that not make it something we lean towards anyway?

Yes, I see where you're coming from... I can't think of many good counter arguments for utilitarianism being practical in a dilemma situation though - it's just too hypothetical, extent and scope of consequences unpredictable, pleasure incalculable etc :P

And what moral system isn't 'too hypothetical' for moral situations?

With all this being said, have you offered an alternative for a practical ethical theory?

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The only thing about offering an alternative ethical theory was that I was warned to just explore the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism, as I don't have the word count to discuss both when my question focuses on utilitarianism :/ I will be looking to include some of the advice and counters I've been getting on here though.

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