Lucas and reason, stating that although the former

Lucas Marçal de Lima

PHIL2050-004

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Deontology vs Utilitarianism

     Immanuel Kant’s
theory of Deontology seems to be overly complex at first glance, but
understanding what is at its center, clears a bit of the fog caused by his
wordy writing (as is my opinion of course). This central concept for Kant is
what he calls the “Categorical Imperative”, which is explained primarily in two
formulations. However, before explaining these formulations it is important to
know what is constituted as virtuous or the ultimate good by Kant’s theory. Kant
makes a distinction between instinct and reason, stating that although the
former can bring more happiness, it is through reason that a good will is
brought about. Good will in context of this theory is: respect for your duty to
the supreme moral principle. Therefore, it is good will that is considered the
good for Kant.

Now to
understand what these two formulations under the Categorical Imperative are.
The first is perhaps the easiest and most crucial to understanding Deontology;
that is, the formulation known as “Universal Law”. As is implied in the name,
the universal law states that for any so-called action to be “just” it must be
universalized. In other words, if you cannot apply an action universally (in
virtually any scenario) then it cannot be considered the correct action. The
humanity formulation gives further clarity to this universal law. In summary,
it has everything to do with respecting an individual’s autonomy.

Utilitarianism
differs from Deontology in several ways. Bentham and Mill’s literature on the
theory gives us insight on what’s debatably the more influential theory on
today’s society. The principle of utility is focused on actions producing the
greatest happiness (or the least pain) for the largest number of people. In
this idea of thinking, it is seemingly less black and white than Deontology as
it implies a better between possibly two goods or a lesser bad. Pain and
pleasure are the measurements central to this theory and Bentham explains their
value is calculated according to: “1. Its intensity 2. Its duration 3. Its
certainty/uncertainty 4. Its propinquity or remoteness”. Additionally, the key
factor in making a choice is determining the consequences of an action.

With a
sufficient understanding of the fundamental principles of these two theories,
we can analyze any given moral dilemma and more or less assume the preferred
action of Kant and his theory versus the preferred action of Bentham/Mill. The
chosen dilemma is this: A doctor working with a patient who is HIV positive, is
told that once they the patient get their blood transfusion and medicine,
their intentions are to infect several people right away. Because of
doctor-patient confidentiality, the doctor cannot legally prevent this from
happening. However, the doctor has the idea of placing an untraceable amount of
poison into the patient’s medication that would kill them before they have a
chance of carrying out their plan. Should the doctor poison their patient in
order to prevent them from harming others?

If you consider
the core of Deontology, you could assume that Kant would oppose the idea of the
doctor poisoning his patient, even if it is to prevent an evil act. The
argument for this assumption is that Kant would view this decision as a
violation towards the patient’s autonomy. Since the doctor can’t know for sure
that the patient will carry out his plan, it is not an action that could be
universalized. However, you could also see it another way. For example, it
would not go against deontology for the doctor to try to reason with the
patient, the scenario seems to hastily assume that poisoning the patient would
be the only solution but there are other options the doctor could at the very
least attempt without violating the patient’s autonomy. Lastly, let’s again
assume that the doctor has exhausted his legal options of persuasion. If
breaking the doctor-patient confidentiality and poisoning the patient are both
illegal options, would it not be better to commit the former, lesser crime than
the latter, which could be considered murder? Can breaking the doctor-patient
confidentiality in order to save lives be universalized? I would argue yes, but
it becomes more complicated with the humanity formulation, as it would still
violate the patient’s autonomy, and in effect damage the integrity of an
institutional contract based on honesty and constancy. For that reason, I still
believe Kant would not advocate for any of these actions by the doctor.

On the other
hand, Bentham and Mill would more than likely agree with the doctor essentially
killing his patient in order to prevent harm of others. This argument relies a
lot more on specifics of this scenario. It is stated that the doctor would
place an “untraceable” amount of poison into the patient’s medicine, implying
that the doctor would not be caught and therefore not suffer severe
consequences (which would further propagate throughout his family). This detail
is important in weighing the amount of peoples’ happiness would be affected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The
River Access Dilemma

Utah rivers play an important role in
our community. Due to the scarcity of fresh water, it is a go to for fishing.
This scarcity and other claims has led to what is now a long running debate of private
property rights, and its’ not so transparent legal definition and boundaries.
On one hand, the public feels like no one person should be able to claim a
major flowing river as private property, and believe that the state should be
responsible for its regulations and maintenance. This would allow public access
to fully and fairly make use of the river, while ensuring both public and
private land owner safety alike. However, the people who own land on or near
the river have a very different opinion on the matter. To them, it is clear
that because they have lawfully earned, purchased, or inherited a piece of
land, they should have full control on who can access this property, even the
rivers that flow through their land. They may also feel that by giving the
public access will only result in littering of their property, trespassing is
also a concern.

Both sides of the argument feel passionately
that their rights are being violated, so much in fact, that this heated lawsuit
has gone to the Supreme Court of Utah in hopes for a definitive solution that
will bring closure to this undoubtedly extensive and exhaustive dispute.

On examining such a case, it may be beneficial to consider the
varying perspectives of different philosophers had they a chance to personally
weigh in on the matter with their insight and critical thinking. First, what
might John Locke have had to say? After all, he believed the very function of
government was to ensure and protect private property. For this reason, I find
it difficult to imagine Locke siding with anyone who opposed the rights of the
private land owner, and would surely come to the defense of Johnson.

Thomas Hobbes, on the other hand,
believed government had a much different role. One which placed the government
primarily responsible to ensure safety for civilians, and to establish moral
principles for them. Private property doesn’t seem to have any intrinsic value
to the Monarch-type ideal of Hobbes. In fact, you could argue that he would
even view private property as a threat to the king and monarchy, allowing
civilians to gain power and leverage to incite rebellions against the king
(seeing how terrible he saw human nature to be). Perhaps this is an extreme
example, notwithstanding the actual probabilities, I believe it justified in assuming
Hobbes would rally against the landowner, advocating for government intervention
that would render the Weber River a public utility for fishing and other uses.

Rawls would make it a bit more
interesting as I believe he had a more genuine and equality driven philosophy
on things. Initially, he might not look immediately to which side is right, but
rather which side (if any) is benefitting more than the other. By using the
principle of the original position, it does not take much to see that the balance
tips heavily on Johnson’s side, especially with the introduction of the HB 141 state
law back in 2010. For this reason, it is likely that Rawls would seek to even
out the scales and oppose the HB 141 law while seeking a possible compromise to
satisfy all affected.

Before examining the utilitarian
view on the matter, let’s analyze what exactly current laws comprise of and
what their limitations are in order to have a better understanding, and to see
if my reasoning still holds ground. According to the following government
website: https://wildlife.utah.gov/component/content/article/40-fishing/238-hb-141.html, there are limitations and
restrictions about public access of the rivers. I found the following
information important to include, “The
current law allows you to float on the surface of the water, even if you’re
floating over private property that is closed to trespass. It also allows you
to fish while floating. Your right to float only applies under the following
conditions:

?      Water volume.
The water must have sufficient width, depth and flow to float your vessel.

?      Stopping prohibited.
You and your vessel must move with the current and not anchor or stop.

?      Public water.
The water must flow in a natural channel, or it must collect in a natural lake,
pond or reservoir on a natural channel.

?      Excluded water.
The public easement to float does not apply to any of the following waters on
private property:

?    A
jurisdictional wetland (as defined in 33 C.F.R. 328.3)

?    An
impounded wetland, which means a shallow body of water formed or controlled by
a dike, berm or head gate

?    A
migratory bird production area (as defined in Utah Code Section 23-28-102)”

 

Alright, so this information surely
raises more questions, and on the surface, may seem even less a problem as
previously suggested; however, I’d like to get back to addressing this after
examining one last perspective. The utilitarian view may be one of the easier
philosophies to understand in this theoretical context. Bentham and Mill would
look at the argument and apply a methodical approach of reasoning. It’s simple,
the principle of utility favors the outcome that makes the greatest amount of
people happy. Although it’s important to acknowledge several variables and
scenarios, at a quick glance, I’d bet most people would say the greater
happiness comes by favoring the public, as landowners are unquestionably the
minority here.

Although I personally would be
against the HB 141 and the landowners in this case, I do not believe that
public access should always trump private property. In this case, it simply
seems extreme to put heavy restrictions on bodies of flowing water that span
far beyond the boundaries of private land. You could argue that the above cited
information states that the public can use those bodies of water even on
private property; however, a closer examination reveals trivial restrictions
that would surely only be taking advantage of in future lawsuits. You cannot
expect the public to have a perfect understanding of a convoluted law with its
subjective restrictions. Now, the reason I don’t believe public access should
always trump private property is simply because we live in a situational
society where absolutes do nothing but damage the balance of justice causing an
inevitable polarization. I believe this case is a great example of a justice
system given the chance to truly explore the best possible outcome for this dilemma.
Of course, there is a possibility for corruption and conflict of interest, but
it should be our duty to actively participate in these debates to ensure we did
everything we could instead of cynically pointing fingers.

Overall, our group agreed that there
are potential issues with the extreme on both sides. We believe there is a
compromise to be found that could satisfy the parties on both sides of the
dispute. In this case for example, it is not sensible to own part of a river, especially one that runs way beyond your privately-owned
property. However, the protection of private property is still important, and
is an essential part of our freedoms and economical purposes. Therefore, public
access should not always trump private property.

 

 

 

The Modern Vice

            Since the inception of commercial internet, social media
has reshaped how we communicate, how we learn, and just about everything else.
However, a powerful tool is accompanied by a range of implications. Alan Durning
and Jerome Segal, authors and researchers on consumption, have contributed valuable
insight on the negative effects of over-consumption of physical resources, but does
it similarly apply to intangible resources? I will argue that we have
significant control over many of these consequences, including making sure
social media doesn’t become a vice; also, what the costs are of anti-neutrality.

First,
I will go over the various aspects of social media and make a case of what Aristotle
and Segal might say (theoretically) in determining ways social media can turn
to vice. Then, I will make an argument directly linking our biased media usage
to public health and safety concerns. Finally, I will challenge the ethics of internet
use for economic, political, and personal leverage, and the implications of
selective exposure.

Social
media is a very powerful multi-purpose tool, and more importantly, it is an amplifier.
This is concerning however, especially when considering how social media has
become obsessive with popularity and fame. Additionally, it is no secret how much
social media focuses on the “external goods” and vanity in general. When those
things are amplified, we see how the new media can affect our quality of living.
Jerome Segal uses an Aristotelian approach to demonstrate how this might be
problematic when analyzing Aristotle’s thoughts on external goods in his
article Two Ways of Thinking about Money:
“Aristotle’s critique is not merely about certain specific economic
activities…It is an indictment of a general outlook and form of life. When
these become dominant in society, the object of criticism is then the entire
form of social life or civilization.” (pg. 522).

So
how does it affect our overall well-being? Well it should come to no surprise
if social media is an amplifier, then it will elevate pre-existing conditions
of anxiety and depression. But studies have also discovered that social media
use can be a direct cause of these psychological disorders (Social media use and anxiety in emerging
adults, Anna Vannucci). In
addition to this phenomenon is the threat of using information out of context
to damage reputation. Surely, this is a clear example of unethical use of the
new media.

Another
problem arises with having easy access to a seemingly endless fountain of
information. You may say this is an amazing accomplishment, and I would agree
for many reasons; however, this creates a credibility issue. If everyone can
write anything for anyone to see online, how do we know what can be trusted as
correct information? Even the hiring process has been affected by this dilemma,
Zhanna Bagdasarov reports in a recent article on a study performed by another
scholar that, “…Employers admitted to using information from social media sites
in hiring decisions… using social media as a basis for character checks, citing
protection from long-lasting damage due to old information…”

Besides
the effects on quality of life this new media imposes, I want to examine the
platform this fountain of information is presented on. You could argue quite
well against some of the points I have made this far if the internet was a
completely neutral entity, unfortunately that is not the case. In summary of
the complex, imaginary info tug-of-war, there are two largely manipulative
forces that ultimately determine what we even have access to, and what we
should get exposed to first. Corporations and businesses pay a fee to search
engines such as Google to have their websites advertised ahead of their
competition, and this is not intrinsically unethical; nevertheless, the
principle is easy to exploit. An example of this is the search engine bias,
specifically with none other than Google. Alexandre de Corniere and Greg Taylor
researched this issue in 2014 and documented the following: “A principal
concern of competition authorities is that Google, which owns many specialized
publishers (e.g., Google maps, YouTube, and Zagat), could display organic
results so as to favor these publishers, to the detriment of competitors and,
ultimately, consumers.” This is convincing evidence of the exact opposite of
neutrality and proves problematic.

The
other force which varies transparency depending on the country you live in is
of course, the government. Censorship is still a big problem in at least 40
countries as reported in another article by Adam Candeub, “The 2010 State
Department Human Rights Report explicitly states more than forty countries are
blocking, controlling, or monitoring internet traffic in a morally offensive
way.” It also goes on to make a bold claim that, “From this perspective,
information technologies simply empower governments to cling to power by
monitoring and controlling their citizens.” In the United States, we have
recent history to attest to the unethical use of social media and the internet
by government agencies and political parties. The former is more pertaining to
the breach of privacy of citizens, as the latter shares the controversy of
being able to pay to advertise biased information, and even influence political
elections.           

In
conclusion, I believe it is fair to say that this medium of abstract resources
which we have accustomed to being so dependent on, echoes a similar dilemma when
Alan Durning posed the question, “how much is enough?” Just as we should strive
to look for a balance in our consumption of physical resources, we should take
care of our psychological and social well-being as an individual
responsibility, but we should also fight for a more neutral network.

 

 

Sources:

1.      Alexandre
de, Cornière, and Taylor Greg. 2014. “Integration
and search engine bias.” The RAND Journal of Economics no. 3: 576.
JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost

2.      Candeub,
Adam. 2011. “Freedom to Connect and
International Internet Transparency, The article.” Elon Law Review
no. 2: 181. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

3.      Minch,
Michael; Christine Weigel. 2009. “Living
Ethics: An Introduction”

4.      Taylor,
Kathryn R. 2014. “ANYTHING YOU POST
ONLINE CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW”: CRIMINAL
LIABILITY AND FIRST AMENDMENT IMPLICATIONS OF SOCIAL MEDIA EXPRESSION.”
National Lawyers Guild Review 71, no. 2: 78-106. Legal Collection, EBSCOhost

5.      Vannucci,
Anna, Kaitlin M. Flannery, and Christine McCauley Ohannessian. 2017. “Social media use and anxiety in
emerging adults.” Journal of Affective Disorders 207, 163-166.
PsycINFO, EBSCOhost

6.      Varadarajan,
Tunku. 2017. “The Once and Future
Internet: The man trying to scrap ‘net neutrality’–government oversight of the
Internet–has a distinct vision of digital progress. He also has angry
protesters outside his house. A profile of FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.”
Hoover Digest no. 4: 37. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, EBSCOhost

7.      Westerwick,
Axel, Benjamin K. Johnson, and Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick. 2017. “Confirmation biases in selective
exposure to political online information: Source bias vs. content bias.”
Communication Monographs 84, no. 3: 343-364. Teacher Reference Center,
EBSCOhost

8.      Zhanna
Bagdasarov, April Martin, Rahul Chauhan & Shane Connelly (2017) “Aristotle, Kant, and …Facebook? A Look at
the Implications of Social Media on Ethics”, Ethics & Behavior, 27:7,
547-561,