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Explain How the Concept of Integrity Is a Challenge to Utilitarian Ethics, According to Williams

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Joonhee Park

December 15, 2016

PHIL-220: Moral Philosophy

Final Exam

  1. Explain how the concept of integrity is a challenge to utilitarian ethics, according to Williams. 

The theory of utilitarian ethics is the view that all actions are considered “morally good” if the actions maximize general well-being. The concept of integrity requires that a person act out of their own convictions and out of obligations that they deeply identify.

The concept of integrity is a challenge to utilitarian ethics because, as Williams argues, the theory makes no room for a person to give special weight to personal commitments, causes, passions, etc. In terms of morality, the theory essentially recognizes no personal sphere of activity. According to Williams, a person who has adopted utilitarianism would find themselves unable to live with integrity. This is because, based on utilitarianism, the decisions of a person are solely based on how useful it would be to society. However, with integrity, a decision is far more complex than that. For a decision to be based on the integrity of a person, there has to some aspect of personal conviction that plays a role in the decision-making. Integrity may cause someone to choose an “immoral” action, or based on utilitarianism, an action that causes harm to the well-being of the general population. Utilitarianism ultimately seeks to replace personal motivations, that people usually deeply identify with, with impartial utilitarian reasoning.

The example that Williams illustrates which best supports his argument involves George, a doctoral graduate in chemistry who is having difficulty finding a job. George has young children and also has poor health, limiting his job opportunities. As a result, George’s wife has to work to support the family. In addition, George is someone with a strong commitment to pacifism (a crucial aspect of this example). One day, a colleague tells him about a well-paid job in a laboratory doing work on biological and chemical welfare. If he does not take the job, it will probably go to another chemist. Should George take the job or not? According to utilitarian theory, George should take the job because it would contribute greatly to the well-being of his family as well as the general welfare. George’s pacifist beliefs do not matter and the utilitarian belief states that he must sacrifice his beliefs and simply deal with the anguish and alienation that may result from working in the laboratory. If George were to act out of integrity, which he would most likely do, he would do the opposite of what a utilitarian says and would not take the job, as it would violate his personal commitment to pacifism. Utilitarianism is unrealistic because it disregards personal commitments and convictions.

  1. Explain the difference between the liability model and the social connection model of justice. Be sure to use an example to illustrate the difference.

Most discussions and arguments on the subject of the responsibility of historic injustices assume the liability model of responsibility. This model ascribes harm and benefits to specific people. In other words, it identifies the specific victims and perpetrators of an injustice and ultimately finds fault in these people. In some extreme cases, they are held strictly liable because of their relationship to the cause of harm, even though it is not directly their fault (Young). The liability model is ultimately “backwards looking”, as it looks to blame for direct responsibility.

In cases where individual victims and perpetrators are still alive, and may still be suffering as a result of the injustice, this model is appropriate. In these cases, perpetrators can be identified, blamed, or faulted and made in some way to compensate their victims and/or society for their wrongs. An example where the application of this model would be appropriate is with the issue of comfort women in Japan during WWII. The actions of the Japanese soldiers were conscious decisions and was deemed as deeply wrong. Even to this day, the victims of this issue are still alive and suffering the consequences of the actions of the Japanese soldiers. Therefore, the liability model may be appropriate in issuing responsibility for the actions of the Japanese during WWII. However, even in these cases this model should be supplemented with the social connection model, an alternate model to responsibility.

The social connection model finds that all those who contribute by their actions to structural processes with some unjust outcomes share responsibility for the injustice. It ultimately places general responsibility, without individualizing it, and is essentially “forward looking”. Basically, this means that each person has an obligation to join with others who share the responsibility of the injustice in order to transform the structural processes to make their outcomes less unjust or discriminatory.

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