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Posted: September 6th, 2023

“The Trolley Problem” (Page 3)

Using one case study from ‘Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?’ , compare the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism and deontology.

[It is sufficient to give the title and page number of the case study: you do not need to explain the scenarios in detail.]

Guidance notes.

Your essay must demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the theories selected. You do this by explaining, analysing and evaluating how they work and the arguments and evidence used to support and challenge them. You should use case studies (which may include thought experiments) to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the theories. In evaluating the theories you should try to develop a position as to what works and does not work both in the internal consistency of the theories and in the work of applying them to case studies.

Marking criteria.

• Does the essay meet the required standard for academic writing:

o Uses paragraphs, punctuation, good grammar and is spell-checked?

o References quotations and other material cited, and includes a bibliography?

• Is the essay well structured to take the reader through the arguments and examples in a clear and rational manner?

• Does the essay demonstrate an understanding of the theoretical positions?

• Does the essay include all of the relevant points?

• Does the essay analyse and evaluate the positions and the arguments used in support of them?

• Does the writing demonstrate a good knowledge of the set text?

Title: “The Trolley Problem” (Page 3)

In Michael Sandel’s book “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”, he presents the famous ethical dilemma known as “The Trolley Problem.” This case study serves as a useful tool to compare and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism and deontology. Utilitarianism, a consequentialist theory, argues that the morally right action is the one that maximizes overall happiness or utility. On the other hand, deontology, a non-consequentialist theory, posits that certain actions are inherently right or wrong, regardless of their consequences. By examining how these ethical frameworks approach “The Trolley Problem,” we can assess their internal consistency and applicability to real-world scenarios.

Utilitarianism’s Strengths and Weaknesses:
Utilitarianism offers several strengths when analyzing “The Trolley Problem.” As a consequentialist theory, it focuses on the overall outcome and seeks to maximize the greatest amount of happiness or utility for the greatest number of people. In this case, a utilitarian might argue that pulling the lever to divert the trolley and save five lives at the expense of one is the morally right action. By sacrificing one life to save five, the overall happiness and well-being are maximized.

However, utilitarianism also has its weaknesses. One major critique is the idea of treating individuals as mere means to an end. In this scenario, the utilitarian perspective suggests sacrificing one individual to save five, disregarding the intrinsic value of each life. This raises concerns about the dignity and rights of individuals, as well as the potential for exploitation of minority groups for the greater good. Additionally, the utilitarian approach relies heavily on predicting and quantifying happiness or utility, which can be subjective and challenging to measure accurately in practice.

Deontology’s Strengths and Weaknesses:
Deontology provides an alternative perspective on “The Trolley Problem.” As a non-consequentialist theory, deontology emphasizes the inherent nature of actions rather than their consequences. From a deontological standpoint, it is wrong to intentionally cause harm to others, regardless of the potential benefits. Thus, pulling the lever to divert the trolley and intentionally causing the death of one person is morally wrong.

One of the strengths of deontology is its emphasis on moral principles and duties. It provides a clear and consistent framework that upholds the intrinsic value and dignity of individuals. In this scenario, deontology protects the rights of the one person on the alternate track, considering them as ends in themselves rather than mere means to an end.

However, deontology also has weaknesses. It often lacks flexibility when facing complex moral dilemmas. Critics argue that a strict adherence to rules and duties may lead to morally undesirable outcomes. In the case of “The Trolley Problem,” deontology’s refusal to pull the lever could be seen as morally problematic since it allows the harm of five people when an alternative action is available. This rigidity can limit deontology’s practical applicability in situations where there is a need for trade-offs.

Evaluation and Conclusion:
Both utilitarianism and deontology present compelling arguments and face certain challenges when applied to “The Trolley Problem.” Utilitarianism’s strength lies in its focus on overall happiness and the potential to maximize utility. However, it faces criticism for sacrificing individual rights and the difficulty in accurately quantifying happiness. Deontology, on the other hand, upholds the intrinsic value of individuals and protects their rights, but it can be criticized for its rigidity and inflexibility in complex situations.

In evaluating these theories, it is important to recognize that ethical frameworks provide valuable insights but may not offer definitive answers in all circumstances. Different situations may call for the application of multiple ethical principles or a combination of theories. Therefore, understanding the strengths

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