Methods of Ethics: A Debate

Three Methods of Ethics: A Debate


Are all humanitarian cases for war necessarily utilitarian?
During the past decade ethical theory has been in a lively state of development, and three basic approaches to ethics – Kantian ethics, consequentialism, and virtue ethics – have assumed positions of particular prominence. more about book…

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Are all humanitarian cases for war necessarily utilitarian?(r/askphilosophy)

Dear God, no, not all humanitarian cases for war are necessarily utilitarian. The thought that it would have to be requires the following two premises:

  1. All humanitarian acts are motivated by considerations of the goods gained by them.

  2. All considerations of goods gained by acts are exclusively utilitarian (or, more generally, consequentialist).

/u/drinka40tonight has already said why you shouldn’t believe the former. I want to stress vigorously that you shouldn’t believe the second. People will frequently talk as if any consideration of the ends of actions has to be consequentialist, but this is simply nonsense (and one that the best consequentialist writers, like Phillip Pettit, don’t lean on). The distinctive thesis of consequentialism (including utilitarianism) is that only the consequences matter, and that the goodness of anything is derivative on only the consequences. You can have many different views which say that you should pursue goods and good consequences (like, for instance, the safety of civilians and the stopping of massacres, respectively) which don’t put those goods within consequentialist calculations. Philip Pettit has a nice discussion about different responses to goods in his contribution (called ‘Consequentialism’) to the Singer-edited A Companion to Ethics, as well as his contribution to Three Methods of Ethics. All of them say you should pursue good states of affairs and avoid bad ones (which nobody denies)–that is not the exclusive domain of consequentialism.


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Marcia W. Baron

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Three Methods of Ethics: A Debate

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Are all humanitarian cases for war necessarily utilitarian?

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