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Unethical Rights

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By ashlove2dance
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Assuming that fishing in the Grand Banks is not illegal, does a fisherman who continues to fish the Grand Banks even after learning that the cod stocks have become dangerously depleted act unethically? The fisherman’s occupation and livelihood depends on his ability to fish in the Grand Banks, but if the cod stocks have become seriously low, continuing to fish in the Grand Banks could lead to the debate on whether his actions are ethical. According to act utilitarianism, it would be unethical, as more disutility would arise from the fisherman fishing in the Grand Banks than utility. This essay will prove why this action is unethical from an act utilitarian’s perspective, and will argue this by looking at how the consequences of the fisherman’s actions will affect everyone involved. The fish, ecosystem, fisherman, and townspeople will all be effected negatively in the long run and suffer the consequences that would arise if the fisherman were to continue to fish in the Grand Banks.
Act utilitarianism distinguishes actions as right or wrong by the amount of good or bad consequences that develop after the action is performed. The theory bases the good and bad consequences “in terms of its ‘utility’ and disutility’,”(19). The utility can be described as something that has intrinsic value, highlighting what the utilitarian finds valuable, whereas disutility is considered to be whatever the utilitarian finds lacks intrinsic worth. Act utilitarianism can be described as, “an act [that] is right and only right if there is no other action I could have done instead which either (a) would have produced a greater balance of utility over disulity; or (b) would have produced a smaller balance of disutility over utility” (19). This definition provides information that supports the idea that an act utilitarian is in favour of doing the action that provides the most utility as opposed to disutility. Option (b) was added into the definition for cases, much like this fisherman example, when “whatever we do we seem to cause more disutility than utility – where we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” (19), as this essay will continue to expand on. Act utilitarianism reinforces the idea that we should attempt to accomplish the task that will provide the most benefits for everyone involved, and “make the best of a bad situation” (19).
Act utilitarianism would prove that the act of the fisherman continuing to fish in the Grand Banks for occupational purposes was unethical due to the bad consequences that would follow. The fisherman that captures the cod, whose stocks have become seriously depleted, not only hurts his own business in the long run, but also the lives of the fish, the survival of the ecosystem, the other fishermen in the area, and the townspeople who will eventually run out of fish to eat. Act utilitarianism focuses on the fact that everyone who is affected by the actions of the fisherman should be taken into account, and the consequences of this action on their lives should also be looked at in perspective. “AU is a commitment to equality and impartially with the happiness or welfare, i.e. utility, of all those, including ourselves, who might be affected by our actions,” (20), therefore the fisherman would have to not only look at the concerns of his fishing affecting his own lifestyle, but the fish, ecosystem, fellow fishermen, and the population he is feeding as well.
One may argue that it is not the fisherman’s obligation to worry about the outcome of the fish or the ecosystem, which he has no personal relation to, and that he should only worry about his own job, which is at stake, and the people waiting to receive their fish. The idea of special duties and special relationships appears as a serious obstacle in the act utilitarian’s mind frame as only thinking about his own occupational duties and the fates of the townspeople may allow the fisherman to be successful in the short run, in the long run, he will be impacted negatively. When cod becomes extinct due to excessive fishing, the fishermen will all be out of a job, and will have no more fish to sell to the people.
With looking at the number of people he is affecting, an act utilitarian must see how much utility and disutility arises from the actions he is pursuing. “AU is a monistic theory of obligation which posits one and only one obligation – to maximize utility. Future consequences are all that count. Past commitments and special relationships are irrelevant” (21). In this case, the fishermen must take into consideration the affect of his actions upon the fish population, the ecosystem he is putting at risk, the other fishermen, and the townspeople. If we think in long term, the act of the fisherman continuing to fish would create disutility regarding the cod stocks, who would eventually go extinct, therefore creating disutility; the ecosystem, which would be out off balance with the cod population’s disappearance, consequently generating disutility; the other fishermen, who would be out of work, producing disutility; and the townspeople, who would not have any fish left if the cod species became extinct in the Grand Banks which also crafts disutility. Also, an important person to keep in mind is the fisherman himself, whose occupation will also be in risk when the cod is no longer available for fishing purposes, proposing disutility in the future. This chain reaction helps establish the act utilitarians perspective upon the situation and launching the idea that it creates an abundance of disutility among the people affected. “According to utilitarians, all those affected by my actions should count equally” (19), which emphasizes the notion that everyone’s outcomes should be taken into consideration regarding the action of the fishermen. Therefore, after carefully assessing the consequences of the fishermen’s decision to continue to fish in the Grand Banks, we can come to the conclusion that it is not ethical as more disutility arises from the situation than utility.
It can be argued that the fishermen would benefit from continuing to fish in the Grand Banks, disregarding the depleted stocks of cod, but that option would only suffice in short term. Suppose the fisherman did continue to fish, the cod fish would eventually run out and become extinct, leaving the fishermen without an occupation. This would affect not only him, but his family, and the people relying on him for fish. It is hard to determine what other people classify as “utility” as opposed to “disutility”, since it is such a subjective answer, which may become a factor in this case. The fisherman might think it is in his best interest to fish until he can, and gain while he is still able, even though he is putting other people’s outcomes at risk, which makes act utilitarianism not a very practical theory. Although, act utilitarianism is consistent with much of our reasoning towards morals, the fisherman may come to realize that by fishing he is acting unethically and disregarding the fates of everyone involved.
In conclusion, act utilitarianism can be used to prove that by continuing to fish in the Grand Banks while the cod stocks are depleted, the fisherman is acting unethically. Although it is not illegal to do so, after analyzing whether this action will provide the majority of the party involved with utility or disutility, it was found that the disutility caused by the fisherman continuing to fish would be greater than its momentary utility. The cod species, ecosystem, as well as his fellow fishermen, and townspeople would be negatively impacted by his decisions, and his own career would fall through in the long run if he continued to act unethically. Thus, the fishermen would be deemed as acting unethically if he continued to fish in the Grand Banks for cod, as after analyzing the consequences it is shown that it would negatively impact those involved.

Works Cited

Boetzkes, E., and Waluchow, W., "Introduction: Utilitarianism." Philosophy, Law and Society. Broadview, 2000. 19-21.…...

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