The Will Trumps All.

by Sara Benson on February 9, 2017 - 4:16pm


Although utilitarianism would argue otherwise, according to ethical rationalism, it is morally wrong to obligate a person to do or say something, even if it is done for a greater good.  

Ethical rationalism, a form of deontology, explains that the action is what matters and not the outcome. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher explains that the will is the only thing that is unconditionally good. We cannot control outcomes, only actions, therefore the will trumps all. Utilitarianism and ethical rationalism have the same idea, each person is autonomous.

Utilitarianism makes the assumption that people are independent and self-ruling, and that they can anticipate all and any results. It works based on the summum bonum, which is the greatest good for humanity. “The needs of many out weight the needs of the few or the one.” - Spock. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory built on the idea that the outcome of a situation defeats the action its self. Take the following situation for example. World War II, Nazi Germany. An SS officer knocks on your front door and asks you if you have been hiding Jews in your basement. The outcome is extremely clear, but not all outcomes are. We know that if you lie, they and the Jews will be safe. If you tell the truth then the Jews will be taken to concentration camps or be killed, and so will you. Lets take another example. You are walking down the street and you find a wallet. You pick it up and bring it home.  Do you keep the wallet or attempt to return it? Inside the wallet there is a thousand dollars in cash, credit cards and multiple identification cards. You have been struggling to pay your rent. Have you changed your mind? Lets say the person who lost their wallet has 5 kids and needs to spend that money on groceries. Do you still feel the same way? We as human beings cannot predict the future, it is nearly impossible. We cannot rely on our predictions, thus the action is the only thing we can control. So even though it will result in the deaths of many, when that SS officer asks you their questions, you must answer honestly.

  Take recycling for example. Forcing a person to recycle could result in ending global warming. But it is not about the end result. It is simply wrong to force a person to do something regardless of the summum bonum. 

To conclude, it is morally wrong to obligate a person to do or say something, even if it will help the greater good. Obligating someone is taking away their free will. Reason is what differs human beings to animals, therefore we must follow its decree.


I'd firstly like to like to say that I really enjoyed this piece and the Spock quote was a great addition. Your use of real world examples truly helps clarify your main arguments. I think by adding a gendered lens we can identify some similar issues that are occurring today. The term feminism refers to "a belief in the political, economic, and social equality of all genders". However, feminists receive a lot of negative attention. The movement is often seen as an attack towards men and not as a movement towards the empowerment of women. There are many who hold positions of power such as political figures or celebrities that openly denounce feminism which only slows the process towards the equality of men and women. Your argument holds true for this as well, would it be justified if we forced those who don't identify as feminists to identify as such and act accordingly? Although the end result could spark an immense wave of change, it wouldn't be the honest way to achieve it. Instead we must use the avenue of education to help change the world. You piece truthfully states that it is ethically immoral to force someone to act a certain way, regardless of the outcome. But what we can do is educate those to help them see the situation in a different light. Taking your example, we can't force people to recycle. Although we can let people know the numerous environmental benefits that come from recycling and reducing our waste. In relation to genders, we can educate the public on the realities of the difficulties women face in today's society. Issues such as the gender pay gap and rape culture should be brought to light and be taught. This way we can take the necessary steps to improving our world the right way.

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