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A Comparison of Kantian and Utiliarian Ethical Approaches

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With a comparison of Kantian and Utiliarian ethical approaches, Hinman, in his text “Ethics, a Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory”, demonstrates the contemporary relevance of Aristotle’s ethics to today’s society through interpretation of real life events.

In the case of the Village of Le Chambon during the summer of 1942, villagers were warned by the Nazi regime that if they were to hide Jews, they would be punished brutally for getting in the way of the task to eradicate the Jewish population.

The villagers, in defiance of the Nazi ruling, hid many Jewish people resulting in thousands of lives being saved. When Hinman looks at the villagers of Le Chambon, he is “struck not only by what they did, but also by who they were… we are struck by what good people they were”(pg 269). The goodness that came from these people, although defying the laws set upon them by their government, was not stemmed from any calculation of consequences in the fashion of Kantian and Utilitarian beliefs, instead it came from the hearts of these people.

The Kantian Universality approach to this situation would have to take into consideration whether or not it would be ethically right for the village to defy the government on this occasion. It would not be ethically plausible as if every village chose to defy their government whenever there was an ethically grey situation, there would be complete anarchy; the government is in place for a reason. People must act in a way “that the maxim behind the act can be willed as universal law”. (pg 269)

As with the Utilitarian approach, the government is in place for a reason to provide the greatest utility for the greatest amount of people. If the town only housed, for example, twelve Jewish people, a fraction of the larger population, the right decision would be to not put the greater population at risk and to reveal the Jewish people to the proper authorities. According to Utilitarians, the “rightness or wrongness of actions depends on the consequences instead of the intentions” of an agent; if the agent commits an action that would impede the happiness of the greatest good (i.e. hiding a Jewish person to save them from a certain death, resulting in the whole town being prosecuted), the action would be bad, regardless of the fact that the agent’s intentions were good.

Kantian and Utilitarian approaches to ethically difficult situations, according to Hinman, tend to lose sight of the needs of individual people. Hinman believes that Kantian and Utilitarian approaches are too formal with the consequences as they debate the ultimate principles

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