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PL201

We saw last week that Aristotle’s definition of eudaimonia (which we usually translate as “happiness”) is actually a rational activity connected with living virtuous lives and doing everything we do with excellence; but, our happiness can only be truly assessed at the end of our lives, if we can look back and honestly say we did the best we could, lived virtuously, made rational choices, and can say we have no regrets. In most cases, when we have regrets, it is about how we treated other people. On the other hand, John Stuart Mill defines happiness in the more traditional sense (we choose something that benefits people and makes them feel good or better in some way); but, for Mill, it is no longer about our own happiness, since we have to think equally about everyone who might be affected by our choices, and our happiness is no more important than the happiness of anyone else who might be affected by our decisions.

Here is the scenario:

When President Truman took over after FDR's death, he wanted to end WW2 as quickly as possible and stop the hundreds of thousands of future deaths that would be incurred on both sides if the war continued. One possible way to quickly stop the fighting was to drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, killing thousands of unarmed citizens. Granted, the families of those killed by the bombs would not be happy, but the happiness of the families (and soldiers) of those serving on both sides of the conflict would far exceed the pain caused if the war could be over in a matter of days after dropping the bomb. History shows that Truman was correct in his very clear Utilitarian reasoning, because the Japanese did in fact surrender only a few days after the second bomb was dropped. But, Truman always regretted his decision and even died regretting the fact that he had given the order to kill so many non-combatant Japanese people. He was not interested as much in the results (as a good Utilitarian would be) as the fact that what he did was a far cry from what he thought a truly virtuous person would choose to do in the same situation. In his mind, he opted for expediency instead of virtue.

So, imagine that you are an advocating angel in Truman’s trial for eternity.

• Pick one (1) of the three possible positions below and present your case with good evidence.

(1) As a Utilitarian angel and on the defense team, provide the justification for why Truman should be admitted to heaven, even though he feels guilty. Or,

(2) as an Aristotelian angel, same thing; history says he did the right thing, even though he had personal regrets; so, you have to prove that what he did was rational, virtuous, and exhibited excellence, despite his own misgivings. Not only are you going to have to convince the jury of your peers (classmates), but you will need to convince Truman himself. Or,

(3) as an Aristotelian angel for the prosecution, convince the jury that Truman’s violation of his understanding of virtue, rationality, and living excellently means that he should be condemned to hell—regardless of the positive consequences of his decision. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions! Be sure to use the tenets of which ever ethical theory you are defending in order to present your “case.”

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