The case regarding making a choice between accepting expensive gifts and allowing for the gift money to be donated to feed starving children is a practical example of moral conundrums solved through the application of moral theories. The utilitarian moral theory, just like other moral theories has the potential of helping to decide on which route of action to take (Vaughn 68). The utilitarian point of view notes that what defines a moral act is the level of happiness it brings. In making this choice, therefore, it will be essential to weigh the happiness the chosen action brings. Ideally, I should weigh the balance of good and evil that my chosen action brings (Vaughn 70).
The first consideration to make when making this choice is the number of people being affected by my decision. On one side, accepting the Louis Vuitton bag or the 60-inch television will; result to great individual happiness. On the other side, accepting the gift money to be donated to poor and starving children in Haiti has the potential of bringing happiness to many Haitians. The implication is that from the utilitarian point of view, donating the gift money would be the moral action since it would lead to greater happiness to all people involved.
The insistence of the utilitarian perspective on impartiality provides the first avenue through which an argument supporting buying the bag and the TV is made. Utilitarianism, like other consequentialist theories, only consider the consequences of an action as the determinant of morality (Vaughn 69). In this case, however, an argument can be made that more considerations should be made. For instance, considerations of whether I deserve the gift should be included when weighing the happiness resulting from my actions. There are various criteria that can be used to gauge whether a moral theory is effective in helping to guide actions. One criterion requires the theory to be consistent with the moral experiences society members have (Vaughn 74). In this case, insisting that gift money is forwarded to starving families in Haiti is not consistent with the moral experiences I have in the society. In the conventional setting, it is morally acceptable for a person to act in a manner which brings happiness to themselves and people who matter around them. Insisting on giving money to strangers is not consistent with societal standards. In addition, requiring the happiness of the strangers in Haiti to be held in the same regard with individual happiness makes it very demanding. To this end, the utilitarian perspective appears to be an inadequate theory in solving this ethical dilemma.
In evaluating whether an ethical theory is adequate in informing actions, a theory needs to be consistent with considered judgment (Vaughn 73). Considering this criterion, the utilitarian insistence of donating the gift money to starving children comes short. An important aspect that should be considered in making ethical decisions is fairness. Fairness to this end should be considered in regards to happiness to all parties involved. By buying either the TV or the bag, I would be happy. However, by insisting that all the money goes to help starving children, the fairness concept is ignored. The utilitarian theory points out that a moral action should lead to happiness to most people. Offering to donate the money to starving families would bear the greatest happiness, but ignore the principle of fairness. As pointed out by Vaughn , a theory needs to be consistent with considered judgment (71). The considered judgment in this end calls for individuals to be fair in their actions, and making a donation, in this case, would be unfair. Buying the bag, however, would be more consistent with considered judgment, given that it would take care of the individual interests. Another option would be splitting the gift money by donating $ 500 to the starving families since this would lead to more fairness.
Another argument that can be made in support of buying either the bag or the TV as opposed to making a donation to the starving families is the fact that utilitarianism is not adequate in solving this ethical problem. The third criterion in gauging the adequacy of a moral theory is whether the theory is useful in solving a problem (Vaughn 75). To this end, utilitarianism would support donation, which I deem to be an inefficient theory to solve this ethical problem. The usefulness of the utilitarian perspective here is challenged by the fact that the emphasis on donation leads to an assumption that the act of donation would actually result in happiness. When deciding on the appropriate action, it is difficult to make correct predictions on whether the actions would actually result in more good. Utilitarianism, like a majority of other consequentialist ethics, makes a prediction that actions would result in more good. In this case, I cannot be sure that my decision to donate will lead to actual happiness, meaning that I can only base my actions on probability. The implication here is that utilitarianism is not useful in resolving this ethical issue.
The utilitarian argument that the donation to starving families is the morally right action, in this case, can be challenged in regards to its internal consistency. According to Vaughn, an adequate moral theory intended to guide human action needs to be internally consistent (73). To this end, a theory needs to be consistent with considered judgment, with the ability to provide evidence that backs the arguments being made (Vaughn 73). In addition, a theory needs to be consistent in making trustworthy moral judgments. The problem with the utilitarian perspective, in this case, is that it is easy for bias to be applied on the side of the starving families in Haiti. It is easy to pity the families that are starving; ignoring the impact that donation would have to me. To this end, utilitarianism seems to be untrustworthy in informing moral action since it would imply that in situations where impoverished members of the society are involved, actions should be directed towards their favor. This is a case that cannot be applied universally, since in some situation, helping the poor communities may not result in the greatest good. Buying the bag or the TV would appear to be a morally acceptable action.
Ultimately, the utilitarian argument that the donation of the gift money results in more good that evil faces the challenge of coming up with an exact estimate of the happiness it would bring. Happiness is a factor that is difficult to calculate. The assumption that donation would lead to more happiness is difficult to substantiate. Moral theory adequacy requires for the theory to not only be consistent with considered judgment but also consistent with moral experiences (Vaughn 74). These are factors severely challenged when doubts regarding the measurement of the happiness actions are supposed to bring arise. To some extent, therefore, it can be argued that the difficulty in measuring the expected happiness of the starving Haitian children once a donation is made leaves room for buying of the gifts.
Vaughn, Lewis. Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary IssuesThird Edition. W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.