Consequentialism and the Theory of Expected Utility in the Experiment of the Wright Brothers

Topics: Wright Brothers

According to Clifford, it is morally wrong to form beliefs that are not fully supported by evidence. Like Clifford, one can apply consequentialism to belief norms, where beliefs can be formed as long as they yield positive consequences. Although consequentialism is prominent in determining belief norms, it is important to acknowledge that religion and personal values also regulate belief norms. Some base their beliefs off of religious teachings or divine revelations, while others maintain their beliefs regardless of outcome.

Nevertheless, it is vital to make decisions based on substantiated beliefs if these decisions have serious consequences.

For instance, one should choose government officials based on their qualifications. One should not elect candidates who appeal to pathos or appear “likeable”. People who vote based on unsubstantiated beliefs put their nation’s future at risk. Clifford believes that if “dispassionate appraisal of the evidence” (Lecture 7, Slide 7) was the belief norm, such dangers would not exist.

It is difficult to formulate a general rule that encompasses every scenario, but when stability is required to preserve long-standing institutions, decisions must incorporate substantiated beliefs.

Since stability is vital to preserving the general welfare, it is wrong to jeopardize people’s well-being by allowing one’s beliefs to be influenced by desire.

However, creativity, innovation, and hope cannot exist if Clifford’s criteria are strictly followed. Inventions like the airplane would not exist if the Wright brothers relied solely on evidence. Simon Newcomb, a renowned scientist published articles about the impossibility of a man-made flying machine. Chief engineer for the U.

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S. Navy, George Melville also claimed that “There is no basis for the ardent hopes and positive statements made as to the safety and successful use of the dirigible balloon or flying machine…therefore, it would be a wrong, whether willful or unknowing, to lead the people and perhaps governments at this time to believe the contrary” (Kelly). When their airplane failed to launch, the Wright brothers refused to give up. They allowed hope to influence their beliefs, resulting in a discovery that transformed transportation and benefitted mankind. In this scenario, it is not wrong to be influenced by emotion.

One might argue that the Wright brothers persisted based on a small probability of success, rather than yielding to hopeful thinking. One can apply the Theory of Expected Utility to this situation. If the Wright brothers base their decision to continue on evidence, they must compare expected utility for their options. Expected utility is the predicted benefit of a decision, where each decision has several possible outcomes, and each outcome has its own probability of occurrence. The expected utility for the options are: E.U.Continuing=Psuccess(Utility success)-Pfailure (Utility Failure) E.U.Giving Up=1.00(Utility Conserved Resources)

P=Probability, where Psuccess is very small and PFailure is very large Utility=Benefit, where Utility Success and Utility Failure are very large Utility Conserved Resources = Benefit of Resources Conserved Upon Giving Up

According to the Theory of Expected Utility, the Wright brothers will choose the option that yields greater expected utility. Since the E.U.Giving Up Outweighs the E.U.Continuing, the Wright brothers would not continue unless they yielded to hope.


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Consequentialism and the Theory of Expected Utility in the Experiment of the Wright Brothers. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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