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Research ethics

About this book The book proposes a set of original contributions in research areas shared by planning theory, architectural research, design and ethical inquiry. Show all. In philosophy the most well-known and popular version of consequentialism is utilitarianism. In fact, utilitarianism itself can come in several different versions.

However, for the purposes of this discussion I shall confine myself to what Rawls , terms classical utilitarianism, which is the same as what J. Classical or act- utilitarianism holds that what is morally right is action that brings about i. And, in considering how best to act, a utilitarian would advise us to examine whether or not an action is likely to generate an increase in the happiness of the relevant person or people, taken as a whole, and if it does seem likely to yield this consequence, then a utilitarian would say that that action is morally right.

Arguably the first systematic statement of utilitarianism was made by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Bentham And for Bentham, the opposite of pleasure was pain, so that, as well as acting to maximise pleasure, we should also act to minimise pain — an aspiration termed by J.

It was this equation of happiness with simple pleasure, and with any kind of pleasure, with which another great classical utilitarian, John Stuart Mill, could not agree. Mill also applied his distinction to human pleasures, claiming that some human pleasures are superior to others. Thus Mill held that the experiences of music and poetry or at least good music and poetry were higher pleasures, or higher forms of happiness, than the pleasures to be gained from playing push-pin or — we might now add — the pleasures of watching reality television, pornographic films, etc. And equally, this ingenious machine would enable us to avoid any painful experience, such as physical pain, mental depression, loneliness, sexual frustration, etc.

Nozick 16 Ethics and Planning Research then asks us to consider whether, if we had the choice, we would want to be wired up to such a machine for the rest of our lives. For although, with this machine, we could live a life of unadulterated pleasure, and avoid any pain, in agreeing to be wired up to this machine we would forego our personal autonomy, and since this is central to our humanity Nozick reasons that most of us would wish to remain as thinking, autonomous human beings, even if remaining so continues to bring the pains, anxieties, and unhappiness that come with the human condition of being relatively autonomous.

Rather like Mill, then, Nozick thinks that, for human beings, it is a greater happiness to be an autonomous and sometimes dissatisfied human being, than to be a satisfied nonhuman animal or a contented but non-autonomous human being. But already I am running ahead of myself and getting into debates between different versions of utilitarian consequentialism.

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So let me return to the general moral stance of classical or act-utilitarianism as representative of ethical consequentialism. Under classical or act- utilitarianism, then, the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on whether they bring about greater happiness however this is defined for the person or persons affected by those actions.

So, if an action A1 brings about an increase in happiness call this H to the people call them P affected by A1, then A1 is a morally right action. But now, what about an action call it A2 that brings about an increase in happiness to P, but not so much happiness as A1; say, H-1 unit of happiness? From a utilitarian point of view such an act would still be morally desirable, but, because it produces less happiness than A1, it would be morally less desirable than action A1.

Likewise for other lesser happiness-producing actions, such as A3, A4, etc. From this, we can see why a utilitarian consequentialist should aim, when possible, to bring about the greatest possible degree of happiness; he should seek to maximise happiness. The foregoing evaluation of different degrees of happiness-producing actions also helps us to understand the utilitarian position in situations where no positive happiness-producing action at all is available. One could hardly call either option available to the trapped people something that will increase their happiness; indeed, happiness in any meaningful sense is simply not available to these people.

But, given that they are going to die anyway, they may at least minimise their unhappiness minimise their pain by killing themselves quickly rather than being caught by the enemy and undergoing gruesome torture before being killed. And so, on utilitarian grounds, this would be the best thing to do this might, for example, have been the situation of the 1st century Jews besieged on Masada by the Romans. And likewise if we are considering how best to act towards some other person or persons for whom, sadly, there is no realistic Consequentialism and the Ethics of Planning Research 17 possibility of positive happiness.

In short, utilitarianism aims to minimise pain or unhappiness if the option of increasing not to mention maximising happiness is unavailable.


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And straight away it is worth saying that there is an immediate appeal to the utilitarian position. Who, indeed, other than a psychopath or megalomaniac, would seriously contemplate trying to do something that makes some situation worse, or some other person or group of people unhappier? There is, then, a certain common-sense-ness about utilitarianism. Lichfield, Kettle and Whitbread ; Lichfield Amongst professional philosophers, too, utilitarianism is a widely favoured moral position. Indeed, W. Hudson claimed that utilitarianism is one of the two main rival positions in contemporary moral philosophy the other being, on his account, various forms of intuitionism.

The great classical utilitarian philosophers Bentham and Mill have already been mentioned, and with them stands the 19th century philosopher Henry Sidgwick , whose The Methods of Ethics has been described by a modern utilitarian, J. Amongst modern philosophers, in addition to Smart himself, R.

Hare the former professor of moral philosophy at Oxford and Philip Pettit have both put strong cases for utilitarianism see Hare ; Pettit ; Pettit ; also Sen and Williams However, in spite of its appeal, utilitarianism and, by extension, consequentialism more generally, have been criticised by non-consequentialist moral philosophers from both Kantian and virtue ethical points of view. Several of these criticisms, though important in themselves, do not bear directly on the ethics of scholarly work and research, which is the subject of this book.

In the remainder 18 Ethics and Planning Research of this section, therefore, I shall only briefly summarise the main criticisms of utilitarian consequentialism before turning, in the next section, to a more extended discussion of those criticisms that are more directly relevant to the ethics of planning research.

There are two criticisms of utilitarianism that we can deal with quickly because they are not strictly, or solely, external criticisms of utilitarianism, but arise as matters of concern and debate within utilitarianism. First, if, as a utilitarian, one is committed to doing whatever will further and where possible maximise the happiness or well-being, welfare, utility, etc. And, in any situation of moderate complexity, it is rational to do this as precisely as possible, carefully estimating, weighing, calculating and, if possible, quantifying the effects of alternative courses of action.

But needless to say, putting a weight to, and even moreso quantifying the value of, the felicific effects of actions is highly controversial, and thus subject to debate, disagreement and criticism. In fact, there are three areas of possible dispute. First, over the very identification of happiness or unhappiness-producing effects; second, over the weighting of the degree of happiness or unhappiness, or benefits and harms or costs , of individual effects of actions; and third, over the practice of aggregating or summing different happiness or unhappiness-producing effects of actions so as to arrive at some overall total of the happiness and unhappiness, or benefits and costs, of actions.

And as such, these problems, and any criticisms of attempts to deal with them, arise equally within and amongst proponents of utilitarian consequentialism as they do externally from non-consequentialist critics. Second, and a more relevant ethical criticism of any version of consequentialism, is the question of what end-state, and hence what conception of the good, is advanced as the criterion of consequentially right action. But again, there is inevitably controversy, disagreement, and thus criticism of proposals as to what this desired end-state should be, or over how this state should best be conceived and described.

Yet this, too, is not just an external criticism of either consequentialism in general or utilitarianism in particular, for such controversy and criticism can arise within consequentialism, between different consequentialists themselves. Consequentialism and the Ethics of Planning Research 19 An altogether more substantial external criticism of utilitarian consequentialism concerns the fairness, or justice of its possible outcomes.

Imagine the following case. There are two alternative plans for a city, C, involving a new transport link. Call the alternatives P1 and P2 plans 1 and 2. After a careful evaluation of the costs and benefits of each, it is clear that P1 will bring about more benefits i. Accordingly, a utilitarian consequentialist would choose P1 over P2. However, there is a detail about P1 that causes some people disquiet when considering this outcome.

Although P1 does, overall and by a considerable margin, bring about a greater sum of happiness for the citizens of C than P2, enacting P1 would mean making a significant minority of the citizens of C worse off with respect to the environment in which they currently live and, furthermore, these citizens already inhabit a relatively poor quality environment.

In other words, enacting P1 will make a group who are already environmentally disadvantaged even more disadvantaged. For example, enacting P1 might cause these disadvantaged citizens, who currently inhabit an ugly environment, also to suffer the traffic noise and pollution that will be generated by the new transport link.

By contrast, although P2 will generate a smaller amount of happiness for the citizens of C taken as a whole, it generates a more equitable distribution of benefits and costs happiness and unhappiness amongst the citizens of C and, in particular, it would not disadvantage the minority group that would be disadvantaged by P1. Because of this, some people would claim that, morally, P2 is preferable to P1, and specifically because it generates a fairer or more just distribution of environmental goods.

This criticism of consequentialism in terms of distributive justice has been voiced by the American philosopher John Rawls As he puts it: The striking feature of the utilitarian view of justice is that it does not matter, except indirectly, how the sum of satisfactions is distributed among individuals anymore than it matters, except indirectly, how one man distributes his satisfactions over time. The correct distribution in either case is that which yields the maximum fulfilment ibid. Although the foregoing critique in terms of distributive justice is arguably, at least from a Kantian ethical perspective, the most telling criticism of utilitarianism, it does not necessarily have a direct bearing on the ethics of research into environmental planning.

To be sure, we can imagine circumstances in which it could present a researcher into planning with an ethical dilemma. In these circumstances, our committed utilitarian researcher might be tempted to fudge his research findings so that they issued in the utilitarian outcome he favours rather than the supposedly more just outcome favoured by the government. However, if he were so tempted, then the real ethical dilemma for him would not be so much his disagreement with the more equitable distribution of environmental goods favoured by the government, but rather over the ethics of distorting his research findings so as to obtain the utilitarian outcome he favours.

In other words, his ethical problem would be over the question of honesty and truthfulness in the handling of research findings. This may indeed be an ethical challenge for a utilitarian, and it touches on another area in which ethical consequentialism has been criticised.