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Ethics Paper

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Everyday we each face questions of what we ought to do. We sometimes ask ourselves,

"What if everyone did that?" Every time you decide to pick up a piece of trash because you want

the city to look nice, you are not doing it because of the aesthetic effect of one piece of trash, but

rather what the city would look like if no one picked up their trash.

Kant uses this everyday question in his system of morality as part of the categorical

imperative. For Kant, the morality of an action can be determined by the categorical imperative.

Kant would like to determine the morality of stealing, therefore Kant wants to examine the

morality of "I will steal anything I want to satisfy my desire for it". Then Kant rephrases the

statement to ask the question of what if everybody did it, "Everyone will steal anything they want

to satisfy their desire for it." Then Kant makes that statement a maxim, a law which must be

followed by everyone in Kant's test world. Kant examines the world and asks if you can

consistently will your maxim in a world in which that is a law? But if everyone steals anything

they desire, how will there be property rights since it is okay for anyone to take anything at any

time? There can't. Since there are no property rights, the maxim breaks down since stealing only

occurs when someone takes property from its rightful owner. Since there is a contradiction in the


conception of the maxim, you are prohibited from acting on that maxim.

Imagine Ice Man, a cold, rational person that does not find inner satisfaction in spreading

joy and cannot take delight in the satisfaction of others. Does Ice Man have a duty to help others

when they are in need? Ice Man is wealthy and not in need of help from others? Ice Man wants to

determine the morality of "I will not help others when they are in need of help." Therefore, what

if everyone did not help others when they are in need of help. Despite this being an unhappy

world, there is no contradiction in conception in this maxim unlike above. But does it pass Kant's

contradiction in willing test? Ice Man is defined as a rational being. As a rational being, Ice Man

knows that one day he too will be in need. Since he is a rational being, he will prefer that

someone would help him and as a rational being, cannot will that no one would help other when

they are in need. Since it fails the contradiction in willing test, everyone does have a duty to help

others when they are in need.

In the Act Utilitarian theory of morality, you should always do whatever will produce the

most utility in the circumstances. Under Bentham's principle of utility, Act Utilitarians act always

to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. An Act Utilitarian named Arthur is

faced with a serious question of morality. Should Arthur steal an iPod left by a student in the

library? Arthur knows that the student's iPod is insured for the original purchase price and the

student wants to get a new iPod. If Arthur stole the iPod now, he would satisfy his desire for a

new iPod and the student would be able to buy the brand new iPod they want. The only pain

caused by this theft would fall on the insurance company who would have accounted for theft in

their sale of insurance and whose pain would be less than the pleasure experienced by the two


new iPod owners. Even Apple would profit by a sale of an iPod they would not have sold

otherwise. Therefore, according Act Utilitarianism, it is moral for Arthur to steal the iPod since it

will cause no pain and much pleasure. In Act Utilitarianism, the effect of the action if everyone

always did it is ignored. The question of "What if everyone did that?" has no role in morality for

Act Utilitarianism.



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