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Chapter: Professional Ethics in Engineering : Engineering Ethics

Act and Rule Utilitarian

The rights ethicists emphasize that any action that violates any moral right is considered as ethically unacceptable.



Theory of human rights ethics


ü   The rights ethicists emphasize that any action that violates any moral right is considered as ethically unacceptable.

ü   This theory holds that those actions are good that respect the rights of the individual.


ü   In other words, rights ethics holds that people have fundamental rights that other people have a duty to respect.


ü   Two versions of right ethics are:


1.     Locke‘s version of rights ethics, and

2.     Meldon‘s version of right ethics



Locke‟s version of rights ethics


ü   John locke (163-1704) a famous rights ethicist, argued that humans have human rights to life, liberty, and the property generated by one‘s labor.

ü   His views human rights either were considered as highly individualistic.


ü   In locke‘s view, rights are claims that prevent other people from interfering in one‘s life. These rights are referred as ‗liberty rights‘ or ‗negative rights‘ that place duties on other people not to interfere with one‘s life.


Melden‟s version of rights ethics


ü   Melden (1910-1991) considered human rights as intimately related to communities of people.


ü   According to Melden, moral rights require the capacity to show concern for other and to be accountable within a moral community.


ü   Melden also defined welfare rights as rights to community benefits needed living a minimum decent human life.


Similarities between duty ethics and rights ethics


ü        In fact, duty ethics and right ethics are like two different sides of the same coin.


ü   Both the theories focus and achieve the same end result. The end result is that individual persons must be respected, and actions are ethical that maintain this respect for the individual.


ü   As per duty ethics, people have duties, a primary one of which is to protect the rights of others.


ü   But according to right ethics, people have fundamental rights that others have duties to protect.


Difficulties in implementing duty and rights ethics theories

The two principal difficulties with the duty and rights ethics theories are:


ü   It is sometimes very difficult to prioritize the rights of individuals or groups. Because the basic rights of an individual or groups of individuals may conflict with the basic rights of another group.


ü   Since both the theories concern more about the good of an individual, therefore sometimes the overall good of society is not given much importance.


Tests for evaluating ethical theories


ü   Theory must be clear and logical. The concepts of theory should be formulated to enhance applicability.


ü   The theory should be consistent with its principles. The principles of the same theory should not contradict each other.

ü   The theory and its defense should rely only upon facts, truths, and correct information.


ü   The theory should be adequately complete so that to provide guidance for our required specific situations.


ü   The theory should be well- matched with moral convictions such as judgments, and intuitions about concrete situations.


What is meant by utility?


Utility can be defined as an overall balance between good and bad consequences of an action, taking into account the consequences for everyone affected.


Rule utilitarianism


ü   Rule utilitarianism differs from act utilitarianism in owning that moral rules are more important than an individual‘s action.


ü   Richard Brandt proposed this version of utilitarianism.


ü   According to Brandt, though sticking to general moral rules such as don‘t lie, don‘t steal, be honest, don‘t harm others, etc might not always maximize good in a particular situation, overall, sticking to moral rules will ultimately guide to the most good.


Act utilitarianism

ü   The act utilitarianism concept was developed by John Stuart Mill.(180-1873).


ü   The act utilitarianism focuses on individual actions rather than on general rules.


ü   It is understood that most of the common rules of morality such s don‘t lie, don‘t steal, be honest, don‘t harm others, keep promises etc are good guidelines to judge a human begin.


But according to Mill, a person‘s actions should be judged based on whether the greatest good was achieved in a given situation. He also emphasized that even the general rules should be broken, if necessary, to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people.


ü   Mill‟s view about „goodness‟

As we know, the standard of right action is maximizing goodness, according to Mill, the term ‗goodness‘ represents two things.


Intrinsic good: intrinsic good is something good in and of itself, or desirable for its own sake. He felt that happiness is the only intrinsic good.


Instrumental goods: instrumental goods are other good things that provide means for happiness.


ü   In Mill‘s view, the pleasures derived through intellectual inquiry, creative accomplishment, appreciation of beauty, friendship, and love are inherently better than the bodily pleasures derived from eating, sex, and exercise.

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