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I need help on choosing an ethical theory

  1. Mar 2, 2004 #1

    First off let me state that this post will not delve into the realms of morality/ethics, I'm posting this because I need some assistance on a paper I have to write. I didn't really know where else to post this so here I go!

    Okay. So I have to write a report on DDT and malaria. I'm sure some of you must be aware of this. Environmentalists want to ban DDT because it poses a threat to the environment (kills birds/other wildlife, resides in fatty tissue -> could have potential long term threats to health, etc.) BUT...it happens to be very effective in killing the mosquitoes which carry malaria in many third world countries. Millions of people die each year (something like that) from malaria (mostly children I believe) and DDT sprayings highly reduce this number. So! What I have to do is find two ethical theories and apply them to this. I have one: I'll probably use John Stuart MIll's Utilitarianism theory to argue that the greatest good comes from spraying DDT and preventing all the deaths. Very nice, fits in well I think. BUT, on the other hand, I'm really not sure! What theory could I use to support the other side, that our environment is at risk and birds are dying, etc.? I'll also be needing a "named thinker" (as my teacher puts it) which is basically NOT simply a theory but some guy who writes up his interpretation of the theory. I can probably find that myself, but I need help figuring out which theory to use.

    Thanks a lot in advance.
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  3. Mar 2, 2004 #2


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    Well, for your other theory you could use Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act so that your behavior could be made a general rule for all people". The idea being that if you put some candidate behavior through that sieve, the bad ones will come up self-contradictory. For example stealing. If everybody stole all the time, then there could be no private property, which would make stealing moot.

    So imagine that everybody always values human lives above wildlife and nature and see how that comes out.
  4. Mar 2, 2004 #3
    Utilitarianism is certainly one approach. But as you cannot show that it's possible to know that spraying will be more 'utilitarian' than not spraying you cannot use it to argue for any particular course of action. This is a problem with all theories of behaviour based on ends and not means.
  5. Mar 2, 2004 #4
    Using DDT to kill mosquitos is like blowing up the planet earth to save humankind (a defence strategy shared by many nations). It is a drastic measure that will yeild results that totally contradict the desired outcome. I would suggest buying stock in flyswatters and citronelle since these deterants work very well. The DDT causes more wide-spread, long term harm than malaria.
  6. Mar 2, 2004 #5


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    Of course, you should also research the long term effectiveness of DDT on the spread of malaria, which is essentially zero.
  7. Mar 2, 2004 #6
    Woah woah woah. DDT causes more damage than malaria? So I thought, until I did the reading. Malaria kills A LOT of people in these countries. By using DDT, the death toll went from something like 2.5 MILLION to 2500. Something like that anyway, I'm not sure of the exact figures but I could show you my source if you're interested. And this proof kind of justifies my use of utilitarianism. Obviously 2500 lives is better than 2.5 million.

    Okay, Kant's Categorical Imperitive is a good one actually. I hadn't really thought about that. Excellent. Thank you.
  8. Mar 2, 2004 #7


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  9. Mar 2, 2004 #8
    The Precautionary Principle.

    Mary O'Brien.

    Making Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk Assessment

  10. Mar 5, 2004 #9
    Mary O'Brien is excellent. It's as though her theory was made from this whole issue.
    Kant is a worthless piece of crap. His goddamn things are impossible to interpret. I hope he dies. :wink:
  11. Mar 5, 2004 #10


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    You could also look at Plato and Hume for ethics.

    3 second version:

    Plato - Ethics is what we do because we can't get away with being naughty.
    Hume - Ethics is what we do because it feels good to help other people.
    I think Russel wrote some stuff on pragmatism that you might want to look into.
  12. Mar 5, 2004 #11
    Furthering Nates contribution:

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 5, 2004
  13. Mar 6, 2004 #12
    I stand corrected.

    It's not HER theory, sorry about that mistake.

    And finding things that directly relate mary o'brien to the precautionary principle is somewhat impossible. I am not ordering books for my presentation. I can't find a single damned thing! I found this ONE thing that she wrote, after like 30 minutes of searching, that has to do with her book. It's very good and all but it mentions nothing of the precautionary theory. Well, I lied, I found ANOTHER one, which was also nice, but had nothing to do with the precautionary theory! Sorry if I'm seeming angry or anything, I'm not, well maybe I am but not at any of you guys. It's this damned project that's driving me fricking crazy with these stupid theories and stuff...****!

    And you guys keep shooting all these old mothers at me. Plato?! I couldn't even see myself reading his stuff, I imagine it would be quite a lot like my good friend Kunt. These people and there massive vocabulary and ideas that stretch the limits of my comprehension. I'm a bloody chemist not a fricking philosopher!

    Again guys, I really don't want to give you the wrong impression. I appreciate your help, really. It's just that it's nearly 4 am, I have been searching for mary's blasted personal theories and I've got nothing. This is TWICE I have printed out two sources' information, brought it to work, studied it, highlighted it, only to realize it won't work with my essay. First it was kant and god was that a brutal struggle. Even the people who interpet his work give me a headache. The only way I was able to grasp the ideas was through the examples. Very sad. So I decided that kant was too difficult and thought, yeah, precautionary! I did a little reading and I really enjopyed it. It made sense, it was applicable, and it worked beautifully with my essay. Problem? I need a named thinker's theory! Mary O'brien, as far as my searching has proved, has in no way applied what she has said TO the precautionary principle. What a miserable ****! As far as I know, the precautionary principle was something that was arranged by a whole bunch of people. So again, I am royally screwed.

    This is my only problem, this one bloody named thinker. After this man, it's easy riding. I'll use Mill's utilitarianism for my counterargument, piece it together, write my conclusion and c'est fini! Then I'll print three copies: one for myself to read to the class, one for my teacher to review while I'm reading it, and one for me to DEFFICATE ON!

    Again, sorry if I'm seeming offensive...yadda yada. I just don't want to read follow up posts in reply to this post finding out that everyone hates me and regrets wasting their time responding to my post initially. I am grateful for all your efforts and contributions, it's just the details I'm getting very frustrated with. Thanks again!
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