Utilitarianism Ethics in Michael Sandel's Video

Michael Sandel has done it again, this time, in his auditorium setting at Harvard University. He invites the public into his undergraduate lecture through the recordings provided online at JusticeHarvard. org. In this work, episode 1 The Moral Side to Murder and episode 2 Putting a Price Tag on Life will be summarized and analyzed as it is also put to use in a local situation. Both of these lectures evolve around one theory: the theory of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is basically described as the greatest good for the greatest number.

Both episodes are broken into two parts.

Episode 1

Episode 1 is broken into part one: the moral side of murder. He dives into the possibility of having to choose whether five workers should die by hitting them with a trolley car, whose brakes do not work, or steering and choosing to hit and kill one worker on the sidetrack. The second part is titled The Case for Cannibalism. In this part, Sandel explores the outcome of the trial case of the Queen vs Dudley and Stephens.

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Dudley and Stephens were charged with murder after killing their cabin boy, Richard Parker, and then eating his body to survive. Episode 2, also broken down into 2 parts, is appropriately titled “Putting a Price Tag on Life”.

Part one, Putting a price tag on life, takes Jeremy Bentham’s theory of Utilitarianism and applies it to cost-benefit analysis. Part two is titled “How to Measure Pleasure”. In this section he introduces JS Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who attempts to defend utilitarianism against the objections raised by critics of the doctrine.

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Episode 1:The Moral Side to Murder In episode one, Sandel presents a hypothetical case of a trolley car whose brake system is not working. You are the driver and see that there are five workers on the track that are in the path and will be killed. On the sidetrack, there is only one worker.

The car may not be able to stop but does have the ability to steer. Now there is a choice to be made: do you kill the five that are on your path? Or do you steer and save the five but kill one who is on the side track? The first student states it wouldn’t be right to kill five if only one could be killed instead. The second speaker supports her theory and uses 9-11 as an example. The Pennsylvania field crash was induced by the attendants in order to save a building from being hit. So they sacrificed the plane attendants as oppose to have additional casualties had the building been hit.

The third student then provides another example in contrast to the first two. He states that if this were the case, then this reasoning supports genocide and totalitarianism. Is it right to kill one race to save another? But is it right? Which position makes better sense here? After being told the story, the class was asked to choose a side. Most raised their hand in agreement that it was wrong to kill the five when only on could be sacrificed. Sandel then adjusts the story a bit and adds that there is a man standing leaning over a bridge.

The one worker on the sidetrack could push this man over to make room for him to stand out of the way of the trolley, but then the man pushed over would plunge to his death. What is the outcome? Most students agreed that this was a plain act of murder. A conscious choice was made to end a person’s life that was completely out of the way of disaster simply to save your own. One student claimed “murder is murder”. The third scenario presented in this segment is that of being a doctor. The doctor has five patients all needing dire transplants to live.

There is a healthy man in the next room. Do you sacrifice this man to save the other five? Would it not be the same as the trolley car scenario: one life for five? Sandels lecture was then comically pushed when a student answered that he would allow one to die and save the other four with the healthy organs the dead man left behind. Sandel then introduces consequentialist moral reasoning. What this means is that decisions are made based on the morality in the consequence of the act. With the trolley car, only two options were available: go straight and kill five or steer and kill one.

Regardless, one situation was going to occur, that was out of the drivers hands. But which situation would cause lesser damage? With the doctor scenario: let all five patients in need of an organ die, or dissect the perfectly healthy man to save all five? In this case, it would be considered murder. The man in the waiting room had no doing in this situation and would be “morally” wrong to include him as part of the solution in regards to taking his healthy life. Had the consequences not mattered in this scenario, then the idea of categorical moral reasoning would be taking place.

Categorical moral reasoning locates morality in certain duties and rights, regardless of the consequences. It is the doctor’s duty to save the five people in need of an organ transplant, regardless that the man in the next room is healthy and has no part in this situation. The most famous categorical philosopher known to our time in Emmanuel Kant, an 18th century political philosopher, as where the doctrine of utilitarianism was invented by Jeremy Bentham, also and 18th century political philosopher. Bentham believed that the right thing to do is to maximize utility.

Utility, in Bentham’s ides, was the balance of pleasure over pain and happiness over suffering. He arrived at this by observing that all human are governed by two sovereign masters: people like pleasure and dislike pain. This was often summarized as the greatest good for the greatest number. At the end of the first segment, Dr. Sandel reminds us that philosophy teaches and confronts us with what we already know. In the second part of episode one, the group is again questioned about utilitarianism. This time, they are presented with an old English case that received much publicity for its time.

The case of the Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens was a case that appalled an audience by its nature. Dudley and Stephens were being charged with the murder of their 17 year old cabin boy, Richard Parker. The story began when they were out to sea on a small ship name Mignonette. A storm hit and caused the ship to flip leaving the four crewmen drifting lost at sea. The fourth man aboard was a sailor by the name of Brooks. When left on this small life boat, the food remains they had were two cans of preserved turnips. They opened the first can on the fourth day and the second on the eighth with which they ate a turtle they caught at sea.

Shortly after, parker fell ill due to drinking the sea water against all advice given. Dudley and Stephens had the idea that a lottery should be had to see which of the four men would kindly sacrifice themselves for the other three to eat. Yes, to eat! Brooks was ill with the idea and chose not to participate. It was then that Dudley motioned to Stephens that the boy who was already ill should be killed. Stephens agreed. Parker was then stabbed with a pen in his jugular vein and his body and blood were used to thrive on. Four days later, a ship was seen and the men were rescued.

Upon reaching land, they were immediately arrested for the murder of Richard Parker. Dudley and Stephens proclaimed that the acted out of necessity and that it was better that one died to save the other three. The prosecutor argued that murder is murder and the case went to trial. The jury at hand was responsible for deciding whether or not the action were morally permissible. When the situation was tossed to the audience to decide on, the first speaker of the class stated that “degree of necessity does not exonerate a person from guilt of a crime”. Whereas the second speaker indicated that “you have to do what you have to do”.

A third theory then came in to play when a female in the audience asked if it was possible that the lack of food could cause a mental altered mindset to commit murder. Were the men delirious when they decided it would be ok to kill one to eat? Or was it savagely done under selfishness to save his own life. No situation would allow human beings to take the idea of fate or other lives into our own. It was argued that we simply do not have that kind of power.

Episode 2

Putting a price tag on life Refocusing on Jeremy Bentham, episode two begins by reminding the audience that he devoted his life to moral philosophy. He believed in maximizing the general welfare and utility. In this episode, the class was introduced to the cost benefit analysis. The first case presented consists of the monster company Phillip Morris creating a cost benefit analysis in regards to the economic gain of early mortality due to smoking caused issue. The following is a statement retrieved directly from the report provided by Phillip Morris: Once read, this report angered many worldwide, causing numerous anti-smoking agencies to release an opinion. One opinion voiced was that of Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Myers states that “This report is powerful evidence that the kinder, gentler Philip Morris depicted in the company’s U. S. ads is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Phillip Morris came back with the claim that this report was created merely for an economic impact study with a focus on data from 1999. This report was released in 2000. According to this study, it appeared that the Czech Republic would benefit from early deaths because with earlier deaths, fewer pensions would be paid out and calculated that 5. 23 years of life lost for the average smoker would result in 5. 3 years less of healthcare costs having to be paid out if paid by the CR. Another example used in Sandel’s lecture was that involving the Ford Pinto lawsuit that circled the idea of quality over quantity. Basically what occurred is when Ford released a model of their Pinto vehicle, a number of them were released with a safety issue that proved to cause numerous accidents, injuries and deaths across the United States. The Ford company than created a cost-benefit analysis chart evaluating if it would be “worth” fixing the issue on their vehicles or simply paying out those involved in tragedies.

A value of life was placed on a human’s head. Ford’s cost benefit analysis in regards to the vehicle model Pinto valued $200,000 per death and $67,000 per injury. It was less expensive to pay off those families who had someone die or injured in this vehicle then it was to fix the problem. After taken to court, the jury awarded a huge settlement for the losses occurred. In what situations do you place values on what articles of life? And does that extend to life itself? Where do the tables of utilitarianism turn? The issue laid in whether it was ethical to pay out for deaths or prevent them.

Most would say to prevent them because someone’s life lost could not be replaced or replenished with a paycheck, where from the business aspect, the company stood to gain from not preventing the death. The second part of episode two deals with how to measure pleasure. Sandel introduces JS Mill who was a utilitarian who tried to humanize utilitarianism. He believed that seeking the greatest good for the greatest number is compatible with protecting individual rights. Sandel tests this theory by showing clips of three famous, but different forms of entertainment.

Shakespeares Hamlet, the reality show “Fear Factor” and The Simpsons. He then questioned the audience to see if Mills idea of utilitarianism is successful. The results of the class vote weren’t exactly shocking. When it came to the form of entertainment most entertaining, the show “The Simpsons” received a great majority of the vote. When it came to something being most intellectually pleasurable, the class voted for Hamlet. The result of this vote goes to show that different items in life have different levels and types of pleasures, therefore, the idea of utilitarianism can be placed in multiple aspects of life.

Cost Benefit Analysis in El Paso, Texas The fact that El Paso is one of the largest international business border cities has never been questioned. But what was recently questioned was business transportation over short and long term trips. This analysis compared using railroads vs traditional roads and trucks. Some of the points presented by BNSF Railway were fuel efficiency, highway gridlock reduction (HGR), cost efficiency, and environmental friendliness. They predicted that on average, railroads were three times more fuel efficient than traditional trucks.

In regards to HGR, it was noted that a typical train can take the equivalent of several hundred trucks at a time, removing them from the road. The cost would be less because, typically, shippers pay less for freight by rail as oppose to land transportation. The environmental aspect is affected in the fact that trains release roughly one third the amount of nitrogen oxides and also ties into the HGR. By removing hundreds of trucks off the road, you reduce fuel emissions into the atmosphere. Multiple solutions were proposed.

One was grade separation. Already being used in multiple areas across North America, it would reduce city street congestion, air pollution and noise. It would also improve coexistence and increase quality of life. They went on to promote five key benefits that would emerge from this proposition that would better improve international business transportation between maquiladoras in Juarez and El Paso. All in all, BNSF presented a case that would benefit the El Paso area in numerous ways while still conducting successful business.

In this case, the utilitarian idea would be used efficiently and would provide the greatest good. On the negative, there would probably be a loss of jobs. By removing vehicles off the road, you remove drivers, so unless those drivers could be utilized elsewhere in the companies involved, that would be the loss in this situation. As beneficial as the idea of Utilitarianism can be, there will always be a lower population. As defined, it does revolve around the greatest good for the greatest number.

Where there is a greater, there is a lesser. Unfortunately for the lesser, some decision always has to be made. We can only hope as a society, that the decision made does the affect the mortality rate or, like in Ford’s case, does not place a number on a human head for business purposes. We can only hope that this idea can be utilized responsibly and in the best means possible. There will always be a measure of ethics involved in every situation. The trick is to be able to understand when it is best and proper to put it to use.

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Utilitarianism Ethics in Michael Sandel's Video. (2016, Sep 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/utilitarianism-ethics-in-michael-sandels-video-essay

Utilitarianism Ethics in Michael Sandel's Video

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