Home / Utilitarianism and justice  
Image of Utilitarianism and justice

How do we know the right thing to do in our lives? In other words, what moral principles are at the foundation of our actions? Utilitarianism is the philosophy that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by the number of people who benefit from it relative to others who are hurt by it. It's a form of consequentialism (aka the ends justify the means). Values become something you can measure in an absolute mathematical sense. It's been described as "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" (a phrase that Ayn Rand described as "one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity"). It disregards who makes up that "greatest number." It is anti-individualistic as its focus is on the group. Does utilitarianism provide the right answers by always maximizing happiness/minimizing unhappiness to the greatest number of people? Consider the following examples from one of the most popular courses in Harvard's history: Justice.

The Morality of Murder


0:04 Funding for this program is provided by:

0:08 Additional funding provided by

0:33 This is a course about Justice and we begin with a story

0:37 suppose you're the driver of a trolley car,

0:40 and your trolley car is hurdling down the track at sixty miles an hour

0:44 and at the end of the track you notice five workers working on the track

0:49 you tried to stop but you can't

0:51 your brakes don't work

0:53 you feel desperate because you know

0:56 that if you crash into these five workers

0:59 they will all die

1:01 let's assume you know that for sure

1:05 and so you feel helpless

1:07 until you notice that there is

1:09 off to the right

1:11 a side track

1:13 at the end of that track

1:15 there's one worker

1:17 working on track

1:19 you're steering wheel works

1:21 so you can

1:23 turn the trolley car if you want to

1:26 onto this side track

1:28 killing the one

1:30 but sparing the five.

1:33 Here's our first question

1:36 what's the right thing to do?

1:38 What would you do?

1:40 Let's take a poll,

1:42 how many

1:45 would turn the trolley car onto the side track?

1:52 How many wouldn't?

1:53 How many would go straight ahead

1:58 keep your hands up, those of you who'd go straight ahead.

2:04 A handful of people would, the vast majority would turn

2:08 let's hear first

2:09 now we need to begin to investigate the reasons why you think

2:14 it's the right thing to do. Let's begin with those in the majority, who would turn

2:19 to go onto side track?

2:22 Why would you do it,

2:23 what would be your reason?

2:25 Who's willing to volunteer a reason?

2:30 Go ahead, stand up.

2:32 Because it can't be right to kill five people when you can only kill one person instead.

2:39 it wouldn't be right to kill five

2:42 if you could kill one person instead

2:47 that's a good reason

2:48 that's a good reason

2:52 who else?

2:53 does everybody agree with that

2:56 reason? go ahead.

3:01 Well I was thinking it was the same reason it was on

3:03 9/11 we regard the people who flew the plane

3:05 who flew the plane into the

3:08 Pennsylvania field as heroes

3:09 because they chose to kill the people on the plane

3:11 and not kill more people

3:14 in big buildings.

3:16 So the principle there was the same on 9/11

3:19 it's tragic circumstance,

3:21 but better to kill one so that five can live

3:25 is that the reason most of you have, those of you who would turn, yes?

3:30 Let's hear now

3:32 from

3:33 those in the minority

3:35 those who wouldn't turn.

3:40 Well I think that same type of mentality that justifies genocide and totalitarianism

3:45 in order to save one type of race you wipe out the other.

3:50 so what would you do in this case? You would

3:53 to avoid

3:55 the horrors of genocide

3:57 you would crash into the five and kill them?

4:03 Presumably yes.

4:07 okay who else?

4:09 That's a brave answer, thank you.

4:14 Let's consider another

4:16 trolley car case

4:20 and see

4:21 whether

4:24 those of you in the majority

4:27 want to adhere to the principle,

4:30 better that one should die so that five should live.

4:33 This time you're not the driver of the trolley car, you're an onlooker

4:38 standing on a bridge overlooking a trolley car track

4:42 and down the track comes a trolley car

4:45 at the end of the track are five workers

4:49 the brakes don't work

4:51 the trolley car is about to careen into the five and kill them

4:55 and now

4:57 you're not the driver

4:58 you really feel helpless

5:01 until you notice

5:03 standing next to you

5:06 leaning over

5:08 the bridge

5:09 is it very fat man.

5:17 And you could

5:20 give him a shove

5:22 he would fall over the bridge

5:24 onto the track

5:27 right in the way of

5:29 the trolley car

5:32 he would die

5:33 but he would spare the five.

5:38 Now, how many would push

5:41 the fat man over the bridge? Raise your hand.

5:48 How many wouldn't?

5:51 Most people wouldn't.

5:54 Here's the obvious question,

5:55 what became

5:56 of the principle

6:00 better to save five lives even if it means sacrificing one, what became of the principal

6:05 that almost everyone endorsed

6:07 in the first case

6:09 I need to hear from someone who was in the majority in both

6:12 cases is

6:13 how do you explain the difference between the two?

6:17 The second one I guess involves an active choice of

6:21 pushing a person

6:22 and down which

6:24 I guess that

6:25 that person himself would otherwise not have been involved in the situation at all

6:29 and so

6:31 to choose on his behalf I guess

6:33 to

6:36 involve him in something that he otherwise would have this escaped is

6:39 I guess more than

6:41 what you have in the first case where

6:43 the three parties, the driver and

6:45 the two sets of workers are

6:47 already I guess in this situation.

6:50 but the guy working, the one on the track off to the side

6:55 he didn't choose to sacrifice his life any more than the fat guy did, did he?

7:02 That's true, but he was on the tracks.

7:05 this guy was on the bridge.

7:10 Go ahead, you can come back if you want.

7:13 Alright, it's a hard question

7:15 but you did well you did very well it's a hard question.

7:19 who else

7:21 can

7:22 find a way of reconciling

7:26 the reaction of the majority in these two cases? Yes?

7:30 Well I guess

7:31 in the first case where

7:32 you have the one worker and the five

7:35 it's a choice between those two, and you have to

7:37 make a certain choice and people are going to die because of the trolley car

7:41 not necessarily because of your direct actions. The trolley car is a runway,

7:45 thing and you need to make in a split second choice

7:48 whereas pushing the fat man over is an actual act of murder on your part

7:52 you have control over that

7:54 whereas you may not have control over the trolley car.

7:57 So I think that it's a slightly different situation.

8:00 Alright who has a reply? Is that, who has a reply to that? no that was good, who has a way

8:04 who wants to reply?

8:06 Is that a way out of this?

8:09 I don't think that's a very good reason because you choose

8:12 either way you have to choose who dies because you either choose to turn and kill a person

8:16 which is an act of conscious

8:18 thought to turn,

8:19 or you choose to push the fat man

8:21 over which is also an active

8:23 conscious action so either way you're making a choice.

8:27 Do you want to reply?

8:29 Well I'm not really sure that that's the case, it just still seems kind of different, the act of actually

8:34 pushing someone over onto the tracks and killing them,

8:38 you are actually killing him yourself, you're pushing him with your own hands you're pushing and

8:42 that's different

8:43 than steering something that is going to cause death

8:47 into another...you know

8:48 it doesn't really sound right saying it now when I'm up here.

8:52 No that's good, what's your name?

8:54 Andrew.

8:55 Andrew and let me ask you this question Andrew,

8:59 suppose

9:02 standing on the bridge

9:03 next to the fat man

9:04 I didn't have to push him, suppose he was standing

9:07 over a trap door that I could open by turning a steering wheel like that

9:17 would you turn it?

9:18 For some reason that still just seems more

9:20 more wrong.

9:24 I mean maybe if you just accidentally like leaned into this steering wheel or something like that

9:30 or but,

9:31 or say that the car is

9:33 hurdling towards a switch that will drop the trap

9:37 then I could agree with that.

9:39 Fair enough, it still seems

9:42 wrong in a way that it doesn't seem wrong in the first case to turn, you say

9:45 An in another way, I mean in the first situation you're involved directly with the situation

9:50 in the second one you're an onlooker as well.

9:52 So you have the choice of becoming involved or not by pushing the fat man.

9:56 Let's forget for the moment about this case,

9:59 that's good,

10:01 but let's imagine a different case. This time your doctor in an emergency room

10:06 and six patients come to you

10:11 they've been in a terrible trolley car wreck

10:18 five of them sustained moderate injuries one is severely injured you could spend all day

10:23 caring for the one severely injured victim,

10:27 but in that time the five would die, or you could look after the five, restore them to health, but

10:32 during that time the one severely injured

10:35 person would die.

10:36 How many would save

10:37 the five

10:39 now as the doctor?

10:40 How many would save the one?

10:44 Very few people,

10:46 just a handful of people.

10:49 Same reason I assume,

10:51 one life versus five.

10:55 Now consider

10:57 another doctor case

10:59 this time you're a transplant surgeon

11:02 and you have five patients each in desperate need

11:06 of an organ transplant in order to survive

11:09 on needs a heart one a lung,

11:12 one a kidney,

11:13 one a liver

11:15 and the fifth

11:16 a pancreas.

11:20 And you have no organ donors

11:22 you are about to

11:24 see you them die

11:27 and then

11:28 it occurs to you

11:30 that in the next room

11:32 there's a healthy guy who came in for a checkup.

11:39 and he is

11:43 you like that

11:47 and he's taking a nap

11:53 you could go in very quietly

11:56 yank out the five organs, that person would die

12:00 but you can save the five.

12:03 How many would do it? Anyone?

12:10 How many? Put your hands up if you would do it.

12:18 Anyone in the balcony?

12:21 You would? Be careful don't lean over too much

12:26 How many wouldn't?

12:29 All right.

12:30 What do you say, speak up in the balcony, you who would

12:33 yank out the organs, why?

12:35 I'd actually like to explore slightly alternate

12:38 possibility of just taking the one

12:40 of the five he needs an organ who dies first

12:44 and using their four healthy organs to save the other four

12:50 That's a pretty good idea.

12:54 That's a great idea

12:57 except for the fact

13:00 that you just wrecked the philosophical point.

13:06 Let's step back

13:07 from these stories and these arguments

13:10 to notice a couple of things

13:12 about the way the arguments have began to unfold.

13:17 Certain

13:18 moral principles

13:20 have already begun to emerge

13:23 from the discussions we've had

13:25 and let's consider

13:27 what those moral principles

13:29 look like

13:31 the first moral principle that emerged from the discussion said

13:35 that the right thing to do the moral thing to do

13:39 depends on the consequences that will result

13:43 from your action

13:45 at the end of the day

13:47 better that five should live

13:49 even if one must die.

13:52 That's an example

13:53 of consequentialist

13:56 moral reasoning.

13:59 consequentialist moral reasoning locates morality in the consequences of an act. In the state of the

14:04 world that will result

14:06 from the thing you do

14:09 but then we went a little further, we considered those other cases

14:12 and people weren't so sure

14:15 about

14:17 consequentialist moral reasoning

14:20 when people hesitated

14:22 to push the fat man

14:24 over the bridge

14:25 or to yank out the organs of the innocent

14:28 patient

14:29 people gestured towards

14:32 reasons

14:34 having to do

14:35 with the intrinsic

14:37 quality of the act

14:39 itself.

14:40 Consequences be what they may.

14:42 People were reluctant

14:45 people thought it was just wrong

14:47 categorically wrong

14:49 to kill

14:50 a person

14:51 an innocent person

14:53 even for the sake

14:54 of saving

14:55 five lives, at least these people thought that

14:58 in the second

15:00 version of each story we reconsidered

15:05 so this points

15:06 a second

15:09 categorical

15:10 way

15:12 of thinking about

15:14 moral reasoning

15:16 categorical moral reasoning locates morality in certain absolute moral requirements in

15:22 certain categorical duties and rights

15:24 regardless of the consequences.

15:27 We're going to explore

15:29 in the days and weeks to come the contrast between

15:33 consequentialist and categorical moral principles.

15:36 The most influential

15:38 example of

15:40 consequential moral reasoning is utilitarianism, a doctrine invented by

15:45 Jeremy Bentham, the eighteenth century English political philosopher.

15:51 The most important

15:54 philosopher of categorical moral reasoning

15:56 is the

15:58 eighteenth century German philosopher Emmanuel Kant.

16:02 So we will look

16:03 at those two different modes of moral reasoning

16:07 assess them

16:08 and also consider others.

16:10 If you look at the syllabus, you'll notice that we read a number of great and famous books.

16:16 Books by Aristotle

16:18 John Locke

16:19 Emanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill,

16:22 and others.

16:24 You'll notice too from the syllabus that we don't only read these books,

16:28 we also all

16:30 take up

16:32 contemporary political and legal controversies that raise philosophical questions.

16:37 We will debate equality and inequality,

16:40 affirmative action,

16:41 free speech versus hate speech,

16:43 same sex marriage, military conscription,

16:47 a range of practical questions, why

16:50 not just to enliven these abstract and distant books

16:55 but to make clear to bring out what's at stake in our everyday lives including our political

17:01 lives,

17:03 for philosophy.

17:05 So we will read these books

17:07 and we will debate these

17:09 issues and we'll see how each informs and illuminates the other.

17:15 This may sound appealing enough

17:17 but here

17:19 I have to issue a warning,

17:22 and the warning is this

17:25 to read these books

17:28 in this way,

17:31 as an exercise in self-knowledge,

17:34 to read them in this way carry certain risks

17:38 risks that are both personal and political,

17:42 risks that every student of political philosophy have known.

17:47 These risks spring from that fact

17:50 that philosophy

17:52 teaches us

17:54 and unsettles us

17:56 by confronting us with what we already know.

18:01 There's an irony

18:03 the difficulty of this course consists in the fact that it teaches what you already know.

18:09 It works by taking

18:12 what we know from familiar unquestioned settings,

18:16 and making it strange.

18:20 That's how those examples worked

18:22 worked

18:23 the hypotheticals with which we began with their mix of playfulness and sobriety.

18:29 it's also how these philosophical books work. Philosophy

18:33 estranges us

18:35 from the familiar

18:37 not by supplying new information

18:40 but by inviting

18:41 and provoking

18:43 a new way of seeing

18:47 but, and here's the risk,

18:49 once

18:50 the familiar turns strange,

18:54 it's never quite the same again.

18:58 Self-knowledge

19:00 is like lost innocence,

19:03 however unsettling

19:04 you find it,

19:06 it can never

19:07 be unthought

19:09 or unknown

19:13 what makes this enterprise difficult

19:17 but also riveting,

19:19 is that

19:20 moral and political philosophy is a story

19:25 and you don't know where this story will lead but what you do know

19:29 is that the story

19:31 is about you.

19:34 Those are the personal risks,

19:37 now what of the political risks.

19:40 one way of introducing of course like this

19:43 would be to promise you

19:44 that by reading these books

19:46 and debating these issues

19:48 you will become a better more responsible citizen.

19:51 You will examine the presuppositions of public policy, you will hone your political

19:56 judgment

19:57 you'll become a more effective participant in public affairs

20:02 but this would be a partial and misleading promise

20:06 political philosophy for the most part hasn't worked that way.

20:11 You have to allow for the possibility

20:14 that political philosophy may make you a worse citizen

20:19 rather than a better one

20:21 or at least a worse citizen

20:23 before it makes you

20:25 a better one

20:27 and that's because philosophy

20:30 is a distancing

20:32 even debilitating

20:34 activity

20:36 And you see this

20:37 going back to Socrates

20:39 there's a dialogue, the Gorgias

20:42 in which one of Socrates’ friends

20:44 Calicles

20:45 tries to talk him out

20:47 of philosophizing.

20:49 calicles tells Socrates philosophy is a pretty toy

20:54 if one indulges in it with moderation at the right time of life

20:57 but if one pursues it further than one should it is absolute ruin.

21:03 Take my advice calicles says,

21:06 abandon argument

21:08 learn the accomplishments of active life, take

21:11 for your models not those people who spend their time on these petty quibbles,

21:16 but those who have a good livelihood and reputation

21:20 and many other blessings.

21:22 So Calicles is really saying to Socrates

21:26 quit philosophizing,

21:28 get real

21:30 go to business school

21:35 and calicles did have a point

21:38 he had a point

21:39 because philosophy distances us

21:42 from conventions from established assumptions

21:45 and from settled beliefs.

21:46 those are the risks,

21:48 personal and political

21:49 and in the face of these risks there is a characteristic evasion,

21:54 the name of the evasion is skepticism. It's the idea

21:57 well it goes something like this

21:58 we didn't resolve, once and for all,

22:03 either the cases or the principles we were arguing when we began

22:09 and if Aristotle

22:11 and Locke and Kant and Mill haven't solved these questions after all of these years

22:17 who are we to think

22:19 that we here in Sanders Theatre over the course a semester

22:23 can resolve them

22:26 and so maybe it's just a matter of

22:29 each person having his or her own principles and there's nothing more to be said about

22:33 it

22:34 no way of reasoning

22:36 that's the

22:37 evasion. The evasion of skepticism

22:39 to which I would offer the following

22:41 reply:

22:42 it's true

22:43 these questions have been debated for a very long time

22:47 but the very fact

22:49 that they have reoccurred and persisted

22:52 may suggest

22:54 that though they're impossible in one sense

22:57 their unavoidable in another

22:59 and the reason they're unavoidable

23:02 the reason they're inescapable is that we live some answer

23:06 to these questions every day.

23:10 So skepticism, just throwing up their hands and giving up on moral reflection,

23:16 is no solution

23:18 Emanuel Kant

23:19 described very well the problem with skepticism when he wrote

23:23 skepticism is a resting place for human reason

23:26 where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings

23:29 but it is no dwelling place for permanent settlement.

23:33 Simply to acquiesce in skepticism, Kant wrote,

23:35 can never suffice to overcome the restless of reason.

23:42 I've tried to suggest through theses stories and these arguments

23:47 some sense of the risks and temptations

23:49 of the perils and the possibilities I would simply conclude by saying

23:55 that the aim of this course

23:58 is to awaken

23:59 the restlessness of reason

24:02 and to see where it might lead

24:04 thank you very much.

24:15 Like, in a situation that desperate,

24:16 you have to do what you have to do to survive. You have to do what you have to do you? You've gotta do

24:21 What you

24:22 gotta do. pretty much,

24:23 If you've been going nineteen days without any food

24:25 someone has to take the sacrifice, someone has to make the sacrifice and people can survive. Alright that's good, what's your name? Marcus.

24:33 Marcus, what do you say to Marcus?

24:40 Last time

24:44 we started out last time

24:46 with some stores

24:48 with some moral dilemmas

24:51 about trolley cars

24:53 and about doctors

24:54 and healthy patients

24:56 vulnerable

24:57 to being victims of organ transplantation

25:00 we noticed two things

25:04 about the arguments we had

25:06 one had to do with the way we were arguing

25:10 it began with our judgments in particular cases

25:13 we tried to articulate the reasons or the principles

25:18 lying behind our judgments

25:22 and then confronted with a new case

25:25 we found ourselves re-examining those principles

25:30 revising each in the light of the other

25:34 and we noticed the built-in pressure to try to bring into alignment

25:38 our judgments about particular cases

25:41 and the principles we would endorse

25:43 on reflection

25:46 we also noticed something about the substance of the arguments

25:50 that emerged from the discussion.

25:55 We noticed that sometimes we were tempted to locate the morality of an act in the consequences

26:00 in the results, in the state of the world that it brought about.

26:06 We called is consequentialist

26:09 moral reason.

26:11 But we also noticed that

26:13 in some cases

26:16 we weren't swayed only

26:18 by the results

26:22 sometimes,

26:23 many of us felt,

26:25 that not just consequences but also the intrinsic quality or character of the act

26:31 matters morally.

26:35 Some people argued that there are certain things that are just categorically wrong

26:40 even if they bring about

26:42 a good result

26:44 even

26:45 if they save five people

26:47 at the cost of one life.

26:49 So we contrasted consequentialist

26:52 moral principles

26:54 with categorical ones.

26:58 Today

26:59 and in the next few days

27:00 we will begin to examine one of the most influential

27:06 versions of consequentialist

27:08 moral theory

27:10 and that's the philosophy of utilitarianism.

27:16 Jeremy Bentham,

27:17 the eighteenth century

27:19 English political philosopher

27:21 gave first

27:22 the first clear systematic expression

27:26 to the utilitarian

27:28 moral theory.

27:32 And Bentham's idea,

27:36 his essential idea

27:38 is a very simple one

27:42 with a lot of

27:44 morally

27:46 intuitive appeal.

27:48 Bentham's idea is

27:50 the following

27:51 the right thing to do

27:54 the just thing to do

27:57 it's to

27:58 maximize

28:01 utility.

28:02 What did he mean by utility?

28:06 He meant by utility the balance

28:11 of pleasure over pain,

28:14 happiness over suffering.

28:16 Here's how we arrived

28:18 at the principle

28:19 of maximizing utility.

28:22 He started out by observing

28:24 that all of us

28:26 all human beings

28:27 are governed by two sovereign masters,

28:31 pain and pleasure.

28:34 We human beings

28:37 like pleasure and dislike pain

28:42 and so we should base morality

28:45 whether we are thinking of what to do in our own lives

28:49 or whether

28:50 as legislators or citizens

28:52 we are thinking about what the law should be,

28:57 the right thing to do individually or collectively

29:02 is to maximize, act in a way that maximizes

29:05 the overall level

29:07 of happiness.

29:11 Bentham's utilitarianism is sometimes summed up with the slogan

29:15 the greatest good for the greatest number.

29:18 With this

29:20 basic principle of utility on hand,

29:22 let's begin to test it and to examine it

29:26 by turning to another case

29:28 another story but this time

29:30 not a hypothetical story,

29:32 a real-life story

29:34 the case of

29:35 the Queen versus Dudley and Stephens.

29:38 This was a nineteenth-century British law case

29:41 that's famous

29:44 and much debated in law schools.

29:47 Here's what happened in the case

29:50 I'll summarize the story

29:51 and then I want to hear

29:54 how you would rule

29:57 imagining that you are the jury.

30:04 A newspaper account of the time

30:06 described the background:

30:09 A sadder story of disaster at sea

30:11 was never told

30:12 than that of the survivors of the yacht

30:15 Mignonette.

30:16 The ship foundered in the south Atlantic

30:19 thirteen hundred miles from the cape

30:21 there were four in the crew,

30:24 Dudley was the captain

30:26 Stephens was the first mate

30:28 Brooks was a sailor,

30:30 all men of

30:31 excellent character,

30:32 or so the newspaper account

30:34 tells us.

30:35 The fourth crew member was the cabin boy,

30:38 Richard Parker

30:40 seventeen years old.

30:42 He was an orphan

30:44 he had no family

30:46 and he was on his first long voyage at sea.

30:51 He went, the news account tells us,

30:53 rather against the advice of his friends.

30:56 He went in the hopefulness of youthful ambition

31:00 thinking the journey would make a man of him.

31:03 Sadly it was not to be,

31:05 the facts of the case were not in dispute,

31:07 a wave hit the ship

31:08 and the Mignonette went down.

31:12 The four crew members escaped to a lifeboat

31:14 the only

31:16 food they had

31:18 were two

31:19 cans of preserved

31:20 turnips

31:21 no fresh water

31:23 for the first three days they ate nothing

31:26 on the fourth day that opened one of the cans of turnips

31:30 and ate it.

31:31 The next day they caught a turtle

31:34 together with the other can of turnips

31:36 the turtle

31:38 enabled them to subsist

31:40 for the next few days and then for eight days

31:43 they had nothing

31:44 no food no water.

31:47 Imagine yourself in a situation like that

31:50 what would you do?

31:52 Here's what they did

31:55 by now the cabin boy Parker is lying at the bottom of the lifeboat in a corner

32:00 because he had drunk sea water

32:03 against the advice of the others

32:05 and he had become ill

32:07 and he appeared to be dying

32:10 so on the nineteenth day Dudley, the captain, suggested

32:14 that they should all

32:17 have a lottery. That they should

32:18 all draw lots to see

32:19 who would die

32:20 to save the rest.

32:24 Brooks

32:25 refused

32:26 he didn't like the lottery idea

32:29 we don't know whether this

32:30 was because he didn't want to take that chance or because he believed in categorical moral

32:35 principles

32:36 but in any case

32:38 no lots were drawn.

32:42 The next day

32:43 there was still no ship in sight

32:45 so a Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze

32:48 and he motioned to Stephens

32:50 that the boy Parker had better be killed.

32:53 Dudley offered a prayer

32:55 he told a the boy his time had come

32:58 and he killed him with a pen knife

33:00 stabbing him in the jugular vein.

33:03 Brooks emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty.

33:09 For four days

33:11 the three of them fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy.

33:15 True story.

33:17 And then they were rescued.

33:19 Dudley describes their rescue

33:22 in his diary

33:24 with staggering euphemism, quote:

33:27 "on the twenty fourth day


as we were having our breakfast


a ship appeared at last."

33:38 The three survivors were picked up by a German ship. They were taken back to Falmouth in England

33:44 where they were arrested and tried

33:47 Brooks

33:47 turned state's witness

33:49 Dudley and Stephens went to trial. They didn't dispute the facts

33:54 they claimed

33:55 they had acted out of necessity

33:58 that was their defense

33:59 they argued in effect

34:01 better that one should die

34:03 so that three could survive

34:06 the prosecutor

34:08 wasn't swayed by that argument

34:10 he said murder is murder

34:12 and so the case went to trial. Now imagine you are the jury

34:16 and just to simplify the discussion

34:19 put aside the question of law,

34:21 and let's assume that

34:23 you as the jury

34:25 are charged with deciding

34:28 whether what they did was morally

34:31 permissible or not.

34:34 How many

34:36 would vote

34:39 not guilty, that what they did was morally permissible?

34:49 And how many would vote guilty

34:51 what they did was morally wrong?

34:54 A pretty sizable majority.

34:57 Now let's see what people's reasons are, and let me begin with those who are in the minority.

35:03 Let's hear first from the defense

35:07 of Dudley and Stephens.

35:10 Why would you morally exonerate them?

35:14 What are your reasons?

35:17 I think it's I think it is morally reprehensible

35:20 but I think that there's a distinction between what's morally reprehensible

35:24 what makes someone legally accountable

35:26 in other words the night as the judge said what's always moral isn't necessarily

35:30 against the law and while I don't think that necessity

35:34 justifies

35:36 theft or murder any illegal act,

35:38 at some point your degree of necessity does in fact

35:43 exonerate you form any guilt. ok.

35:45 other defenders, other voices for the defense?

35:50 Moral justifications for

35:53 what they did?

35:56 yes, thank you

35:58 I just feel like

35:59 in a situation that desperate you have to do what you have to do to survive.

36:03 You have to do what you have to do

36:04 ya, you gotta do what you gotta do, pretty much.

36:06 If you've been

36:07 going nineteen days without any food

36:09 you know someone just has to take the sacrifice has to make sacrifices and people can survive

36:14 and furthermore from that

36:16 let's say they survived and then they become productive members of society who go home and then start like

36:21 a million charity organizations and this and that and this and that, I mean they benefit everybody in the end so

36:26 I mean I don't know what they did afterwards, I mean they might have

36:28 gone on and killed more people

36:30 but whatever.

36:32 what? what if they were going home and turned out to be assassins?

36:35 What if they were going home and turned out to be assassins?

36:38 You would want to know who they assassinated.

36:42 That's true too, that's fair

36:45 I would wanna know who they assassinated.

36:49 alright that's good, what's your name? Marcus.

36:50 We've heard a defense

36:52 a couple voices for the defense

36:54 now we need to hear

36:55 from the prosecution

36:57 most people think

36:59 what they did was wrong, why?

37:05 One of the first things that I was thinking was, oh well if they haven't been eating for a really long time,

37:09 maybe

37:11 then

37:12 they're mentally affected

37:15 that could be used for the defense,

37:16 a possible argument that oh,

37:20 that they weren't in a proper state of mind, they were making

37:24 decisions that they otherwise wouldn't be making, and if that's an appealing argument

37:28 that you have to be in an altered mindset to do something like that it suggests that

37:33 people who find that argument convincing

37:36 do you think that they're acting immorally. But I want to know what you think you're defending

37:40 you k 0:37:41.249,0:37:45.549 you voted to convict right? yeah I don't think that they acted in morally

37:45 appropriate way. And why not? What do you say, Here's Marcus

37:49 he just defended them,

37:51 he said,

37:52 you heard what he said,

37:53 yes I did

37:55 yes

37:56 that you've got to do what you've got to do in a case like that.

38:00 What do you say to Marcus?

38:04 They didn't,

38:06 that there is no situation that would allow human beings to take

38:13 the idea of fate or the other people's lives into their own hands that we don't have

38:17 that kind of power.

38:19 Good, okay

38:21 thanks you, and what's your name?

38:24 Britt? okay.

38:24 who else?

38:26 What do you say? Stand up

38:28 I'm wondering if Dudley and Stephens had asked for Richard Parker's consent in, you know, dying,

38:35 if that would

38:37 would that exonerate them

38:41 from an act of murder, and if so is that still morally justifiable?

38:45 That's interesting, alright consent, now hang on, what's your name? Kathleen.

38:51 Kathleen says suppose so what would that scenario look like?

38:56 so in the story

38:56 Dudley is there, pen knife in hand,

39:00 but instead of the prayer

39:02 or before the prayer,

39:04 he says, Parker,

39:07 would you mind

39:11 we're desperately hungry,

39:14 as Marcus empathizes with

39:17 we're desperately hungry

39:19 you're not going to last long anyhow,

39:22 you can be a martyr,

39:23 would you be a martyr

39:25 how about it Parker?

39:29 Then, then

39:33 then what do you think, would be morally justified then? Suppose

39:37 Parker

39:38 in his semi-stupor

39:40 says okay

39:42 I don't think it'll be morally justifiable but I'm wondering. Even then, even then it wouldn't be? No

39:47 You don't think that even with consent

39:50 it would be morally justified.

39:52 Are there people who think

39:54 who want to take up Kathleen's

39:56 consent idea

39:57 and who think that that would make it morally justified? Raise your hand if it would

40:01 if you think it would.

40:05 That's very interesting

40:07 Why would consent

40:09 make a moral difference? Why would it?

40:15 Well I just think that if he was making his own original idea

40:18 and it was his idea to start with

40:20 then that would be the only situation in which I would

40:23 see it being appropriate in anyway 0:40:25.940,0:40:28.359 because that way you couldn't make the argument that

40:28 he was pressured you know it’s three

40:30 to one or whatever the ratio was,

40:32 and I think that

40:34 if he was making a decision to give his life then he took on the agency

40:38 to sacrifice himself which some people might see as admirable and other people

40:42 might disagree with that decision.

40:45 So if he came up with the idea

40:49 that's the only kind of consent we could have confidence in

40:52 morally, then it would be okay

40:55 otherwise

40:57 it would be kind of coerced consent

40:59 under the circumstances

41:01 you think.

41:05 Is there anyone who thinks

41:07 that the even the consent of Parker

41:10 would not justify

41:13 their killing him?

41:15 Who thinks that?

41:18 Yes, tell us why, stand up

41:19 I think that Parker

41:21 would be killed

41:22 with the hope that the other crew members would be rescued so

41:26 there's no definite reason that he should be killed

41:29 because you don't know

41:31 when they're going to get rescued so if you kill him you're killing him in vain

41:35 do you keep killing a crew member until you're rescued and then you're left with no one?

41:38 because someone's going to die eventually?

41:40 Well the moral logic of the situation seems to be that.

41:44 That they would

41:45 keep on picking off the weakest maybe, one by one,

41:50 until they were

41:51 rescued and in this case luckily when three at least were still alive.

41:57 Now if

41:58 if Parker did give his consent

42:01 would it be all right do you think or not?

42:04 No, it still wouldn't be right.

42:06 Tell us why wouldn't be all right.

42:08 First of all, cannibalism, I believe

42:10 is morally incorrect

42:13 so you shouldn’t be eating a human anyway.

42:14 So

42:17 cannibalism is morally objectionable outside

42:19 so then even in the scenario

42:22 of waiting until someone died

42:24 still it would be objectionable.

42:27 Yes, to me personally

42:27 I feel like of

42:29 it all depends on

42:31 one's personal morals, like we can't just, like this is just my opinion

42:35 of course other people are going to disagree.

42:39 Well let's see, let's hear what their disagreements are

42:41 and then we'll see

42:42 if they have reasons

42:44 that can persuade you or not.

42:46 Let's try that

42:48 Let's

42:50 now is there someone

42:53 who can explain, those of you who are tempted by consent

42:57 can you explain

42:59 why consent makes

43:02 such a moral difference,

43:03 what about the lottery idea

43:05 does that count as consent. Remember at the beginning

43:08 Dudley proposed a lottery

43:11 suppose that they had agreed

43:13 to a lottery

43:16 then

43:17 how many would then say

43:20 it was all right. Say there was a lottery,

43:23 cabin boy lost,

43:25 and the rest of the story unfolded. How many people would say it's morally permissible?

43:33 So the numbers are rising if we add a lottery, let's hear from one of you

43:37 for whom the lottery would make a moral difference

43:41 why would it?

43:43 I think the essential

43:44 element,

43:45 in my mind that makes it a crime is

43:47 the idea that they decided at some point that their lives were more important than his, and that

43:53 I mean that's kind of the basis for really any crime

43:56 right? It's like

43:57 my needs, my desire is a more important than yours and mine take precedent

44:01 and if they had done a lottery were everyone consented

44:04 that someone should die

44:06 and it's sort of like they're all sacrificing themselves,

44:09 to save the rest,

44:11 Then it would be all right?

44:12 A little grotesque but,

44:15 But morally permissible? Yes.

44:18 what's your name? Matt.

44:22 so, Matt for you

44:25 what bothers you is not

44:27 the cannibalism, but the lack of due process.

44:31 I guess you could say that

44:34 And can someone who agrees with Matt

44:38 say a little bit more

44:40 about why

44:41 a lottery

44:43 would make it, in your view,

44:47 morally permissible.

44:50 The way I understood it originally was that that was the whole issue is that the cabin boy was never

44:55 consulted

44:56 about whether or not it something was going to happen to him even though with the original

45:00 lottery

45:01 whether or not he would be a part of that it was just decided

45:04 that he was the one that was going to die. Yes that's what happened in the actual case

45:08 but if there were a lottery and they all agreed to the procedure

45:11 you think that would be okay?

45:13 Right, because everyone knows that there's gonna be a death

45:16 whereas

45:17 you know the cabin boy didn't know that

45:18 this discussion was even happening

45:21 there was no

45:21 you know forewarning

45:23 for him to know that hey, I may be the one that's dying. Okay, now suppose the everyone agrees

45:28 to the lottery they have the lottery the cabin boy loses any changes his mind.

45:35 You've already decided, it's like a verbal contract, you can't go back on that. You've decided the decision was made

45:40 you know if you know you're dying for the reason for at others to live,

45:45 you would, you know

45:45 if the someone else had died

45:47 you know that you would consume them, so

45:51 But then he could say I know, but I lost.

45:57 I just think that that's the whole moral issue is that there was no consulting of the cabin boy and that that's

46:01 what makes it the most horrible

46:04 is that he had no idea what was even going on, that if he had known what was going on

46:08 it would

46:10 be a bit more understandable.

46:13 Alright, good, now I want to hear

46:14 so there's some who think

46:17 it's morally permissible

46:18 but only about twenty percent,

46:24 led by Marcus,

46:26 then there are some who say

46:28 the real problem here

46:30 is the lack of consent

46:32 whether the lack of consent to a lottery to a fair procedure

46:37 or

46:38 Kathleen's idea,

46:39 lack of consent

46:40 at the moment

46:42 of death

46:45 and if we add consent

46:48 then

46:49 more people are willing to consider

46:51 the sacrifice morally justified.

46:54 I want to hear now finally

46:56 from those of you who think

46:58 even with consent

47:00 even with a lottery

47:01 even with

47:02 a final

47:04 murmur of consent from Parker

47:06 at the

47:08 very last moment

47:09 it would still

47:10 be wrong

47:12 and why would it be wrong

47:14 that's what I want to hear.

47:16 well the whole time

47:18 I've been leaning towards the categorical moral reasoning

47:22 and I think that

47:25 there's a possibility I'd be okay with the idea of the lottery and then loser

47:29 taking into their own hands to

47:31 kill themselves

47:33 so there wouldn't be an act of murder but I still think that

47:37 even that way it's coerced and also I don't think that there's any remorse like in

47:42 Dudley's diary

47:43 we're getting our breakfast

47:44 it seems as though he's just sort of like, oh,

47:47 you know that whole idea of not valuing someone else's life

47:51 so that makes me

47:53 feel like I have to take the categorical stance. You want to throw the book at him.

47:57 when he lacks remorse or a sense of having done anything wrong. Right.

48:02 Alright, good so are there any other

48:06 defenders who

48:08 who say it's just categorically wrong, with or without consent, yes stand up. Why?

48:13 I think undoubtedly the way our society is shaped, murder is murder

48:17 murder is murder and every way our society looks down at it in the same light

48:21 and I don't think it's any different in any case. Good now let me ask you a question,

48:24 there were three lives at stake

48:27 versus one,

48:30 the one, that the cabin boy, he had no family

48:33 he had no dependents,

48:34 these other three had families back home in England they had dependents

48:38 they had wives and children

48:41 think back to Bentham,

48:43 Bentham says we have to consider

48:44 the welfare, the utility, the happiness

48:48 of everybody. We have to add it all up

48:51 so it's not just numbers three against one

48:54 it's also all of those people at home

48:58 in fact the London newspaper at the time

49:00 and popular opinion sympathized with them

49:04 Dudley in Stephens

49:05 and the paper said if they weren't

49:07 motivated

49:08 by affection

49:09 and concern for their loved ones at home and dependents, surely they wouldn't have

49:13 done this. Yeah, and how is that any different from people

49:15 on the corner

49:17 trying to having the same desire to feed their family, I don't think it's any different. I think in any case

49:21 if I'm murdering you to advance my status, that's murder and I think that we should look at all

49:25 of that in the same light. Instead of criminalizing certain

49:28 activities

49:30 and making certain things seem more violent and savage

49:33 when in that same case it's all the same act and mentality

49:36 that goes into the murder, a necessity to feed their families.

49:40 Suppose there weren't three, supposed there were thirty,

49:43 three hundred,

49:44 one life to save three hundred

49:47 or in more time,

49:48 three thousand

49:49 or suppose the stakes were even bigger.

49:51 Suppose the stakes were even bigger

49:52 I think it's still the same deal.

49:54 Do you think Bentham was wrong to say the right thing to do

49:58 is to add

49:58 up the collected happiness, you think he's wrong about that?

50:02 I don't think he is wrong, but I think murder is murder in any case. Well then Bentham has to be wrong

50:06 if you're right he's wrong. okay then he's wrong.

50:09 Alright thank you, well done.

50:12 Alright, let's step back

50:14 from this discussion

50:16 and notice

50:19 how many objections have we heard to what they did.

50:23 we heard some defenses of what they did

50:26 the defense has had to do with

50:28 necessity

50:28 the dire circumstance and,

50:32 implicitly at least,

50:33 the idea that numbers matter

50:36 and not only numbers matter

50:37 but the wider effects matter

50:40 their families back home, their dependents

50:43 Parker was an orphan,

50:44 no one would miss him.

50:47 so if you

50:49 add up

50:50 if you tried to calculate

50:52 the balance

50:53 of happiness and suffering

50:56 you might have a case for

50:58 saying what they did was the right thing

51:02 then we heard at least three different types of objections,

51:09 we heard an objection that's said

51:11 what they did was categorically wrong,

51:14 right here at the end

51:15 categorically wrong.

51:17 Murder is murder it's always wrong

51:19 even if

51:20 it increases the overall happiness

51:23 of society

51:25 the categorical objection.

51:28 But we still need to investigate

51:30 why murder

51:32 is categorically wrong.

51:35 Is it because

51:38 even cabin boys have certain fundamental rights?

51:42 And if that's the reason

51:44 where do those rights come from if not from some idea

51:47 of the larger welfare or utility or happiness? Question number one.

51:53 Others said

51:56 a lottery would make a difference

51:58 a fair procedure,

52:00 Matt said.

52:05 And some people were swayed by that.

52:08 That's not a categorical objection exactly

52:12 it's saying

52:13 everybody has to be counted as an equal

52:16 even though, at the end of the day

52:18 one can be sacrificed

52:20 for the general welfare.

52:23 That leaves us with another question to investigate,

52:26 Why does agreement to certain procedure,

52:29 even a fair procedure,

52:31 justify whatever result flows

52:34 from the operation of that procedure?

52:38 Question number two.

52:39 and question number three

52:42 the basic idea of consent.

52:45 Kathleen got us on to this.

52:48 If the cabin boy had agreed himself

52:52 and not under duress

52:54 as was added

52:57 then it would be all right to take his life to save the rest.

53:01 Even more people signed on to that idea

53:04 but that raises

53:06 a third philosophical question

53:08 what is the moral work

53:11 that consent

53:12 does?

53:14 Why does an act of consent

53:16 make such a moral difference

53:19 that an act that would be wrong, taking a life, without consent

53:23 is morally

53:25 permissible

53:26 with consent?

53:29 To investigate those three questions

53:31 we're going to have to read some philosophers

53:34 and starting next time

53:35 we're going to read

53:36 Bentham,

53:37 and John Stuart Mill, utilitarian philosophers.

53:43 Don't miss the chance to interact online with other viewers of Justice

53:43 join the conversation,

53:49 take a pop quiz, watch lectures you've missed, and a lot more. Visit www.justiceharvard.org. It's the right thing to do.

54:36 Funding for the program is provided by

54:40 Additional funding provided by


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Dec 19, 2010 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=409

You need to be logged in to comment.
search only within braincrave

About braincrave


We all admire beauty, but the mind ultimately must be stimulated for maximum arousal. Longevity in relationships cannot occur without a meeting of the minds. And that is what Braincrave is: a dating venue where minds meet. Learn about the thoughts of your potential match on deeper topics... topics that spawn your own insights around what you think, the choices you make, and the actions you take.

We are a community of men and women who seek beauty and stimulation through our minds. We find ideas, education, and self-improvement sexy. We think intelligence is hot. But Braincrave is more than brains and I.Q. alone. We are curious. We have common sense. We value and offer wisdom. We experiment. We have great imaginations. We devour literacy. We are intellectually honest. We support and encourage each other to be better.

You might be lonely but you aren't alone.

Sep, 2017 update: Although Braincrave resulted in two confirmed marriages, the venture didn't meet financial targets. Rather than updating our outdated code base, we've removed all previous dating profiles and retained the articles that continue to generate interest. Moving to valME.io's platform supports dating profiles (which you are welcome to post) but won't allow typical date-matching functionality (e.g., location proximity, attribute similarity).

The Braincrave.com discussion group on Second Life was a twice-daily intellectual group discussions typically held at 12:00 PM SLT (PST) and 7:00 PM SLT. The discussions took place in Second Life group chat but are no longer formally scheduled or managed. The daily articles were used to encourage the discussions.

Latest Activity