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Utilitarianism In The Defense Industry

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The defense industry is one of the largest recruiters of STEM graduates in the nation. Thousands of engineering students enter this industry and must justify the morality of their work. These engineers work on projects that affect themselves, the engineering profession, and the entire world population. This paper will look into some of the facts surrounding engineering in the defense industry, its intended and unintended consequences, and judge the work of these engineers by applying Egoism, Utilitarianism, and Kantian ethical theories.
The Department of Defense (DOD) was recently approved a budget of $582.7 billion for 2017. $112.1 billion of this budget was specifically to “develop and procure equipment, technology, and capabilities…” [1].
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The premise of this theory is that an act is right if and only if it produces the greatest possible average outcome for everyone. Egoism and Utilitarianism are similar in the fact that they both make judgements that are purely dependent on the consequences. The largest difference between the two theories is that egoism has no primary regard for how actions affect others, while utilitarianism is concerned with the overall outcome for all.
There are two main forms of this theory; rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism judges the rightness of an action by following a set of rules. These rules are set so that they provide the best possible outcome for everyone. For example, a rule utilitarian would say it’s always wrong to lie because, in general, telling the truth brings about the optimal consequences. A utilitarian applies these rules universally and without exception.
Act utilitarianism, on the other hand, judges each action individually and decides on its rightness by the resulting consequences. This approach can give situational leniency when needed as long as the action brings about the optimal results. As opposed to a rule utilitarian, an act utilitarian would say that lying is the right thing to do if it brings the best total outcome for those
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Often times there can be contradictions between maxiums or between how a maxium applies to an action. Another flaw is that this theory leaves no situational variance when judging right or wrong. These flaws make it difficult to complete a comprehensive judgement on a complex issue such as engineering in the defense industry.
One can make a few objective observations about this industry. Many technologies spurned from their original purposes provide a standard of living never achieved before. The high stakes of the defense industry drive innovation higher and faster than anything else in human history. These great achievements come at a great cost though. The introduction of new technology into the wars of the early 20th century caused loss of life on a scale never before seen. On the contrary, new technology has also transformed how we fight wars and steadily decreased casualties.
All of these theories have obvious drawbacks that keep them from producing an objective answer to the morality of defense engineering. They are only able to give a scaffolding that one must build judgement from. Each person’s judgment will be strife with personal biases that will put more weight on different sides of the issues and affect their moral
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