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1. In 1970, Ford Motors began making the compact model called the Pinto. The model became a focus of a major scandal when it was alleged that the car’s design allowed its fuel tank to be easily damaged in a rear-end collision which sometimes resulted in deadly fires. Critics argued that the vehicle’s lack of a true rear bumper as well as any reinforcing structure between the rear panel and the tank meant that in certain collisions, the tank would be thrust forward into the differential, which had a number of protruding bolts that could puncture the tank. Ford allegedly was aware of this design flaw but refused to pay for a redesign. Instead, it was argued, Ford decided it would be cheaper to pay off possible lawsuits for resulting deaths. Mother Jones magazine obtained the cost-benefit analysis that it said Ford had used to compare the cost of an $11 repair against the monetary value of a human life, in what became known as the Ford Pinto memo. The characterization of Ford’s design decision as gross disregard for human lives in favor of profits led to significant lawsuits. While Ford was acquitted of criminal charges, it lost several million dollars and gained a reputation for manufacturing “the barbecue that seats four.” Was Ford’s reasoning in refusing to pay for a redesign an example of utilitarianism? Explain why or why not.

2. Here are three important moral factors that utilitarians have been accused of ignoring: intentions, character, individual rights. Pick one of these factors that you think you could be defended on utilitarian grounds—does it always maximize happiness, for example, to have good intentions?—sketch what the criticism might be, and give your short defense of utilitarian thinking.

 

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