Utilitarianism and Kantianism

Choose which side of the argument you are on! To begin:

Select two ethical theories to review:
The Golden Rule
From our readings or current events, select two ethical dilemmas for analysis. These dilemmas should be topics that you have not yet analyzed in this class. When selecting the dilemmas, consider it based upon the overall or larger topic or issue, not any individual persons or factors specific to one isolated incidence.
Apply your selected ethical theories (2) to evaluate both of your selected ethical dilemmas (2). Essentially, this assignment will introduce and offer a literature review of the two ethical theories and the two ethical dilemmas from peer-reviewed sources. Each theory will then be critically applied to both ethical dilemmas. The application of these theories to the dilemmas should be debated from various perspectives and these perspectives should be compared and contrasted. Tables and charts may be used as needed to visually represent this application.

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Sample Answer


Ethical theories provide frameworks for understanding and evaluating moral dilemmas. In this essay, we will review two ethical theories, Utilitarianism and Kantianism, and apply them to two ethical dilemmas: the use of autonomous weapons and the ethical implications of genetic engineering.

Ethical Theories


Utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethical theory that emphasizes maximizing overall happiness or well-being. It asserts that actions should be judged based on their consequences and the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism considers the net benefits and harms resulting from an action to determine its moral worth.


Kantianism, developed by Immanuel Kant, is a deontological ethical theory that focuses on moral duty and principles. It argues that actions should be guided by universal moral laws derived from reason. Kantian ethics prioritize the inherent dignity and rights of individuals, emphasizing the importance of treating others as ends in themselves, rather than as means to an end.

Ethical Dilemmas

Use of Autonomous Weapons

The use of autonomous weapons raises significant ethical dilemmas. Autonomous weapons are capable of making decisions and engaging in lethal actions without human intervention. This raises concerns about accountability, proportionality, and the potential for unintended harm. The use of such weapons poses moral questions about the value of human life, the implications for international law, and the erosion of human agency in warfare.

Ethical Implications of Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering presents complex ethical dilemmas. This technology allows for the manipulation of genes, raising questions about the boundaries of human intervention in nature. Ethical concerns include issues related to informed consent, potential risks to individual and public health, the commodification of life, and the implications for social justice and inequality. The ethical implications of genetic engineering extend to areas such as designer babies, gene editing for enhancement purposes, and genetically modified organisms.

Application of Ethical Theories


Utilitarianism would evaluate the use of autonomous weapons by considering the overall consequences. It would weigh the potential benefits, such as reduced casualties and enhanced military efficiency, against the potential harms, such as civilian casualties and loss of human control. Utilitarianism might argue that if autonomous weapons can minimize overall suffering and promote peace, their use could be justified. However, careful consideration must be given to potential unintended consequences and long-term effects on human rights and international security.

When applied to genetic engineering, utilitarianism would assess the benefits and harms resulting from genetic interventions. It would consider factors such as improved healthcare outcomes, disease prevention, and increased agricultural productivity. However, utilitarianism must also address concerns about potential risks to individuals and society, unequal access to genetic interventions, and the erosion of genetic diversity. Balancing these considerations would be crucial in determining the overall utility of genetic engineering.


Kantian ethics would approach the use of autonomous weapons by focusing on the moral duty to respect human dignity and autonomy. From a Kantian perspective, using autonomous weapons would be problematic as it removes human agency and treats individuals merely as means to an end. The lack of human oversight and accountability violates the principles of moral responsibility and fairness.

Regarding genetic engineering, Kantian ethics would emphasize the importance of respecting human dignity and individual autonomy. This perspective would raise concerns about manipulating the genetic makeup of individuals without their informed consent or overriding their autonomy. Kantian ethics would prioritize the inherent value and autonomy of individuals over potential societal benefits or improvements.


Utilitarianism and Kantianism offer contrasting perspectives on ethical dilemmas such as the use of autonomous weapons and genetic engineering. While utilitarianism focuses on maximizing overall well-being, Kantian ethics prioritize principles like human dignity and autonomy. Applying these theories to complex ethical dilemmas allows for a deeper understanding of the multifaceted considerations involved in making moral judgments. By critically examining these dilemmas from various perspectives, we can engage in meaningful discussions about the ethical implications of emerging technologies and make informed decisions that balance individual rights with societal concerns.


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