Utilitarian Ethical Analysis of an Engineering Disaster

free essayTitanic set sail on a five-day voyage and sank after colliding with an iceberg. This engineering disaster took away lives of more than 1,500 people. The ship was filled with water and eventually sank in less than three hours. Previously, Titanic was claimed to be unsinkable and was a state–of- the-art ocean liner of that time.

Case Study of the Disaster: What Happened and Why it Happened

Titanic was in the North Atlantic when she met her catastrophic end. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Titanic became the product of a cut-throat competition that prevailed in the shipbuilding industry of that time. The competition was between the White Star Line company, which launched Titanic, and Cunard Line, whose ships ranked among the most luxurious and technically advanced ones. Close scrutiny of why Titanic met its fate attributes the engineering disaster to the design that was perceived as being state-of-the-art. The ship had fifteen watertight compartments that were supposed to make it practically unsinkable.

However, shortcomings in the compartments allowed water to spill from one to the other. Titanic’s crew had received warnings of the ice drifting, but unfortunately, it was too late when the captain crew saw the iceberg. The ship was sailing at a high speed at that time and was unable to turn away quickly enough to avoid the collision (Stewart 29). Titanic was designed in such a way that it could stay afloat even when four of its watertight compartments were filled with water. When more than five compartments being already filled with water, it became apparent that the ship would sink and the crew decided to call for help through wireless radios and rocket flares. The iceberg eventually led to the historic tragedy of Titanic because it holed the ship’s hull and damaged the rivets. Also, there was a defect in the ship’s hull that also became a contributing factor to the ship’s demise. Later, it became evident that some pieces of the hull plate seemed to have shattered without bending as soon as the ship came into contact with the iceberg.

In addition, another factor that contributed to Titanic’s fate is the fact that she had only twenty lifeboats that could accommodate only half of the passengers. Also, the boats were ineffective as there was no adequate training in their use. As a result of the insufficient number of lifeboats, more than 1,500 people sank, while others froze to death in the waters of the North Atlantic. Moreover, the ship was not nimble enough to avoid the iceberg, which additionally contributed to her sinking (Bentham 42). Even before the ocean liner sank, it had broken into two pieces first while still on the water surface, which questions the quality of the materials used to construct the ship. The Titanic disaster caused widespread outrage due to lack of lifeboats as well as unequal treatment of passengers during the evacuation process. Those who dived into the water, due to slow evacuation, succumbed to hypothermia.

Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus

Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus is a methodology that was developed to estimate the pleasures and pains, which is applicable as confined to egoistic hedonism. In fact, Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus embraces utilitarianism by making it the simplest theory that can be useful in analysing a certain predicament (Bentham 11). Bentham’s ideology is based on the fact that well-being of humans is conditioned to experiencing two distinct emotions which are pain and pleasure. In an ideal scenario, human beings expect to experience pleasure as opposed to pain.

Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus can be used in determining what is ethical or unethical stating that overlooking the fundamental role of pleasure and pain can be tantamount to the process of confronting an ethical dilemma (Bentham 21). In addition, according to the proponents of disguised pleasures, as contained in Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus, the theory of utilitarianism cannot be affected refraining from cases when unethical acts bring pleasure. Ethical and unethical actions can be determined by weighing up the pains as well as pleasures that every act brings forth. Therefore, an action that produces more pleasure than pain will be morally right, and vise versa. It is also important to note that pain and pleasure in this respect will encompass what others feel about a particular action.

According to Bentham, weighing up the pleasure’s strength and how long it lasts denotes intensity and duration respectively (Bentham 22). Determining whether an action is ethical or not also depends on other factors such as its purity and how free it is from pain; remoteness of the derived pleasure and the extent to which the pleasure will be experienced by the third party.

Using Hedonic Calculus to Provide an Ethical Analysis of the Case

From the analytical perspective, some components of Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus are useful in analysing the engineering disaster that preceded Titanic’s sinking and the impact it had on those affected (Bentham 31). Some of them comprise of dependency, normative direction, objective, disguised pleasures and refutation misplaced. The concept of disguised pleasures gives an insight into how utilitarianism is applicable to the absence of acts which bring pleasure in the long run. Applying this concept to the dynamics of Titanic’s design reveals that those who were responsible for it did not engage in actions that would be detrimental to the ship or her passengers. Therefore, the catastrophe that followed was not foreseeable and caught people off guard.

According to the concept of normative direction, as contained in Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus, pleasure and pain have an impact on determining what ought to be done as well as what can be done (Bentham 17). It is equally vital to draw the line between the two because they imply prescriptions and predictions respectively. Therefore, even though the Titanic disaster materialized, the stakeholders took the necessary precautions to ensure that the implemented prescriptions and predictions guaranteed utmost efficacy.

Moreover, the nature of human conduct cannot be defined by transcendent ideas or abstract theories only. Dependency will also be useful in a critical analysis of the Titanic disaster. The concept is based on the fact that assessment whether an action is ethical or unethical can be performed considering the feeling evoked by it. An ethically upright action will evoke feelings of pleasure, while an unethical one will give feelings of pain and frustration. Applying the concept to the Titanic disaster implies that the act was supposed to evoke feelings of pleasure and joy. Similarly, the acts that led to the ship going down were ethical and were not intended to inflict harm.

Refutation misplaced is based on the analogy that pain has the power to make people refrain from performing noble acts, while pleasure compels someone to act nobly. Therefore, if Titanic’s engineers and designers had an intention to inflict pain to others, then they ought to have acknowledged the negative consequences. However, such a possibility can be ruled out because the pleasure of doing something always comes at the expense of other people’s pleasures. The objective concept is pertinent to utilitarianism even though its contents have been confined to a metaphorical language. It also incorporates eudemonism, which states that everyone is entitled to feel pleasure.

However, the pleasure guaranteed can be increased or decreased through legal doctrine depending on the degree at which individuals get their pleasures. The fact that Titanic was equipped with lifeboats and watertight compartments implies that the engineers ensured people’s happiness in case of a maritime disaster. The boats regulate the happiness developing confidence that they will save people’s lives even though they might undergo temporary pain. Thus, current pleasure was regulated in order to increase the future one. In addition, the crew that was in charge of Titanic noticed the iceberg when it was too late and they did their best to avoid the collision. In fact, the iceberg collided with the ship from the side, as later investigations discovered that it was brushed off, thus implying that the ship missed the safe distance by a narrow margin.

The Titanic disaster was a significant tragedy that led to the loss of lives regardless of the intentions of the ship’s creators. The tragedy is also an integral part of history and its pain is still felt to date. Thus, Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus can be used determining what is unethical and unethical and addressing the Titanic disaster within the utilitarianism doctrine.