Utilitarianism and Ethical Egoism

Chapter 5 Case Study: The Ten Mile Creek Storage and Water Quality Project

In 2005 Skanska Inc. completed a $34 million dollar water storage and restoration project in Florida’s Ten Mile Creek basin. The project was a small but important part of the Everglades Restoration Project, funded by the National Park Service through the US Department of the Interior. Skanska describes the aim of the Ten Mile Creek project as follows:

The project seeks to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida. By capturing freshwater from Ten Mile Creek and storing it during the rainy season, the amount of freshwater and sediment entering waterways can be controlled. Construction consisted of a 6,000 acre-feet above ground reservoir; a pump station; a gated-water control structure for moderating the release of water back into the creek; a gated gravity control structure for draining the facility for maintenance purposes; and control structures between the deep water storage area and appurtenant structures. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits of the project, St. Lucie County will use part of the site as a nature preserve area to promote hiking, fishing, bird watching and other outdoor activities. (Skanska, February 2019)


From an engineering point of view, everything went well. The aim of the project was fulfilled and no engineer involved in the project did anything morally questionable. However, it is worth reflecting a bit on what the morally relevant consequences of this project might have been. Why was it important to restore the Ten Mile Creek Water basin? Were the positive consequences for the environment in the Ten Mile Creek area worth $34 million? For utilitarians and other consequentialists, positive consequences for the natural environment have no direct moral value. The natural environment is only important in so far as it affects the well-being of sentient beings. Although the money spent on the project certainly helped to promote hiking, fishing, and bird watching in the Ten Mile Creek area, utilitarians and other consequentialists would stress that we should compare these positive consequences with those of all alternative ways of spending the same amount of money.

Do you believe that that consequences of the Ten Mile Creek Project were at least as good of those of every alternative act? If not, does this show that it was morally wrong to restore the Ten Mile Creek basin? Or should we rather conclude that the utilitarian theory (and other forms of consequentialism) is too demanding?

Case study by Martin Peterson




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