What's The Right Thing To Do?
Thanks to modern medical technology we are enabling people to live longer yet many of those lives are compromised and the people whose lives have been prolonged require continual social and medical support.
This raises questions like how long should we keep people alive? In some countries voluntary euthanasia has been legalised giving people who still have their mental faculties intact can choose to move on yet all around the world there are a great many people being kept alive even though they have very little cognizance of life and that maintenance of their lives is more to do with the emotional attachments of family members.
Michael Sandel in the video below raises this issue and looks at the economic and social costs.
PUTTING A PRICE TAG ON LIFE
Today, companies and governments often use Jeremy Benthams utilitarian logic under the name of cost-benefit analysis. Sandel presents some contemporary cases in which cost-benefit analysis was used to put a dollar value on human life. The cases give rise to several objections to the utilitarian logic of seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. Should we always give more weight to the happiness of a majority, even if the majority is cruel or ignoble? Is it possible to sum up and compare all values using a common measure like money?
Michael Sandel introduces J.S. Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who attempts to defend utilitarianism against the objections raised by critics of the doctrine. Mill argues that seeking the greatest good for the greatest number is compatible with protecting individual rights, and that utilitarianism can make room for a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Mills idea is that the higher pleasure is always the pleasure preferred by a well-informed majority. Sandel tests this theory by playing video clips from three very different forms of entertainment: Shakespeares Hamlet, the reality show Fear Factor, and The Simpsons. Students debate which experience provides the higher pleasure, and whether Mills defence of utilitarianism is successful.