Utilitarianism vs. Western Philosophy

Utilitarianism vs. Western Philosophy - Jordan Veal Sept....

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Jordan Veal Sept. 19, 2007 STS 302 sec. 603 Utilitarianism vs. Western philosophy: Two Different Philosophical View Points Applied to the Polio Epidemic Utilitarianism was a theory proposed by David Hume but formulated by Jeremy Bentham in 1848. To a Utilitarian, actions are only right if they increase an overall level of happiness, and wrong if the consequences of those actions increase the overall level of unhappiness. Additionally, each individual’s level of happiness or unhappiness should be considered equally. Although this seems to be a generally good way of looking at things, controversy is realized when the idea of animal experimentation is considered. According to Bentham, when considering animals, he says that “the question is not, Can they reason? nor can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” (Rachels, p. 96) At the point that Utilitarianism was proposed, the general Western philosophy at the time had been based on principles of Christianity. The Western philosopher generally believed that “It is said, variously, that animals are not rational, that they lack the ability to speak, or that they are simply not human-and all these are given as reasons why their interests are outside the sphere of moral concern.” (Rachels, p. 95) It had been proven that animals could feel pain, through extensive experiments on the nervous system, so then who should be considered when it came to the idea of animal experimentation? Although many medicinal breakthroughs happened due to animal experimentation, were the consequences of those medical breakthroughs a justification of the suffering caused to millions of animals, and some humans, along the way? The only way to determine this would be to figure out someway to measure the level of happiness that was created or destroyed due to animal experimentation, which would first require a measure of the suffering realized by all parties involved. What methods should then be used to measure this level of suffering? I will attempt to examine these questions both from a Utilitarian
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approach as well as an approach that would most likely have been taken by a Western philosopher. More specifically, I will be referring to the timeframe between 1916 and 1960, in which the polio virus was first realized as a problem and eventually nearly eradicated. Scientifically speaking, suffering could most likely be measured using
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This note was uploaded on 04/04/2008 for the course STS STS302 taught by Professor Green during the Spring '07 term at N.C. State.

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Utilitarianism vs. Western Philosophy - Jordan Veal Sept....

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