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Compare and contrast utilitarian and deontological reasoning.

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We can make the distinction clearer with the aid of a thought experiment.

Imagine that you are asked by someone to shoot one person. If you do not do as you are asked, the person asking you to shoot that person will shoot fifteen other people. What should you do? What is the morally correct action?

Now the utilitarian is concerned solely with the outcomes or the consequences of the action. The right action is the one from which we may derive the most utility. Thus, a simple act utilitarian would say that you ought to shoot that one person, since one person dead is a better outcome than fifteen people dead. This way of thinking has its origins in John Stuart Mill’s On Utilitarianism.

The deontologist, on the other hand, might argue that one has a perfect duty to others not to kill them and the right action is one that involves fulfilling one’s perfect duties. This is the language used by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason. The deontologist would claim that one ought to do has...

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