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Philosopy - Term Paper Example

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Mill claims that some actions done from purely selfish motives may be morally praiseworthy (such as saving a fellow creature from drowning solely in the hopes of getting paid for it). Paying particular attention to his discussion of motive and intent, explain why mill would…
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Download file to see previous pages Therefore it can be a good thing to lie because by telling “white” lies we may have the intention of saving others from hurt feelings or we may prevent a crime. In such a case the underlying motivation of the lie is not selfishness, as the intention was to save another’s feelings. If no such underlying selfless motives are present, the outcome of the action can still be positive, as in the example given in this question. This would be an example of act utilitarianism whereby the result of the act is good and therefore the act must be deemed to be good, irrespective of the underlying motivation.
Mill explains in “Utilitarianism” that “the Greatest Happiness Principle” holds that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, or wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. Following that principle, Mill believes that there is no difference in the moral value of an act to help others, or whether the fact that they have been helped is a side effect of an egoistic, self-motivated action. The outcome is the increase of general happiness: a person’s life has been saved, and the person who saved the life has arrived at a financial gain. The act therefore must be deemed moral as it has increased general happiness.
An instinctive reaction to this argument for me is that there is a moral obligation and duty to save a person’s life irrespective of any personal gain (Kant’s categorical imperative) and that therefore to save someone’s life purely for financial gain lessens the morality of the action.
Still there is a certain compelling elegance in Mill’s argument that, if solely considering the outcome of an action and not the motive that triggered the action, then one is perfectly justified in saying that a person who is lacking ethically sound motivation for his actions is nevertheless still capable of acting in a moral and ethical way.
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