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I know this may seem like a weird question but I have a philosophy class in which I need to determine what a Utilitarian, Virtue Theorist, Kantian Deontologist, and a consequentialist would do in a situation where they are all sitting on a beach and all of a sudden there is like 20 drowning children but all of them are wearing expensive shoes. Its basically just an ethical question about what each philosopher would decide to do with the given situation. I believe I have the Utilitarian and consequentialism perspectives down. But am still confused on what a Deontologist and Virtue Theorist would do.

  • kant would say that you shouldn't save them for reason of being their saver. i.e. it depends on your reasons. virtue theory would ask you whether being very fond of your shoes is more justified than being so of children – user25714 Jun 12 '17 at 20:38
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    Kant might also suggest that it undercuts your education to have us do your homework... – user9166 Jun 12 '17 at 21:51
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the questioner should be required to think more deeply about this and reframe it before asking, since it is straight out of their homework. – user9166 Jun 12 '17 at 22:14
  • I am struggling to see from the post what the expensive shoes have to do with the ethics here. – Conifold Jun 12 '17 at 23:04
  • Presumably the expensive shoe bit is meant to be vaguely related to the utilitarian position on a really crude reading of utilitarianism... – virmaior Jun 12 '17 at 23:29
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Let me slightly rephrase your question, for ease of writing:

What should you do if you see twenty drowning children and you are wearing expensive shoes?

Kantian Deontologist

"Why save them of course!"

I think Kant would have called this a no-brainer. Saving other people when there is no apparent risk to you (as in your person, not your belongings) is a moral mandate. To see this, consider the first form of the categorical imperative. Kant would argue that we cannot rationally desire the state of affairs where every person in danger is neglected. I won't dive further into the argument, since Kant and others in his school already have.

In short, you ought to sacrifice your fancy new shoes to save those children, and you know it.

Virtue Theorist

"We should cultivate in others the moral proclivity to rescue those in danger."

This one is actually sort of complicated, because virtue theory is generally not concerned with individual moral dilemmas. For them, moral behavior is a consequence of moral personality traits and moral experiences. Whereas the consequentialists will be concerned with the outcomes of a given moral choice, virtue theorists try to do their good before the dilemma occurs. Creating a society that bestows good morals, so that individuals in that society are able to make correct moral judgments of their volition, is the morally sound choice.

Now, I think you'll find that (most) virtue theorists do believe that saving the children is the correct choice; they're just not concerned with predetermining the response to every moral quandary. Teach a man to fish, and what not.

In short, we should be making sure that we are creating the kinds of people that want to save the kids. Then we won't have to deal with silly what-if scenarios.

Hope that helps!

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  • So in such a example like what Dwarf posted below, if by saving these children there was a high risk of yourself drowning would Kant say that you should not save the children? Or is that more of what a consequentialist would say? – John Jensen Jun 13 '17 at 1:55
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Use the Categorical Imperative to find out what duty demands by asking "Ought one(, meaning anyone,) save the children?" Anyone, any rational being, in this situation ought to do that.

Secondarily, one would have to read or interpret one's duty into the situation. Thus, ask, does the practical situation stop me from performing my duty? For instance if they were so far out in the water one couldn't get to them without great risk of drowning as well.

The duty tells you what action to aim at. And, also, how the legal system ought to regard your action or failure to act. It is a predelineation, as a guidance about the best behavior, which must be weighed against the practical reality.


An addition not mainly necessary or of intrest to the questioner in the form of a caveat emptor:

The British or global English tag Deontilogical is arbitrary and misleading. The result of abstracting a part of Kant from the philosophy of Kant in a totally senseless fashion in order to make it fit a textbook.

In any serious sense the tag "deontological" does not belong to Kant nor to his system of morality, yet, one is compelled to stick to this because the defective textbook says that. And the professors of philsophknow nothing but that textbook account.

One may appropriately call Kan'ts system a Teleological ethics. Of course, duty plays a role in his ethics, but so does it in Utilitarian ethics, and so does Kant also concern himself with many other issues. One could with as much, and as little, sense, call it a Categorical or a Rational ethics. It is neither, its essence is the reception of the moral telos of God. Ethics of Freedom would make somewhat more sense, or ethics of Autonomy. It is through autonomy tha tone is meant to KNOW the noumenal. Why not Ethics of the noumenal.

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