Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2005

Document Type


First Advisor

Barbara Stock

Second Advisor

James E. Haynes

Third Advisor

Teresa Burke


The intention of this thesis is to explore whether or not the response of the United States of America to terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was morally right. It is my contention that the theory best suited to make such a decision is utilitarianism. Specifics as well as flaws of the theory will be explained as a filter through which to better understand and explore the events and the responses of the American government. Application of the theory to the United States government will lead to a determination as to whether or not our actions were morally right. The first chapter will explain utilitarianism and its basic foundation. It will go on to explain the form of utilitarianism I use, which is act/welfare utilitarianism, and show that it is the best theory to use for examining the war on terror. After explaining the ethical theory I will, in Chapter 2, review key incidents surrounding September 11th, 2001 and the war on terror. They are as follows: the formation and use of the Department of Homeland Security, the PATRIOT Act, the war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq. In Chapter 3, I apply the theory to the actions taken by the United States. I have found that the formation and use of the Department of Homeland Security was the right thing to do, the PATRIOT Act is wrong, the war in Afghanistan is the right action to take, and finally the War in Iraq is wrong. In Chapter 4 I point out three challenges for utilitarianism and resolve these challenges. These challenges are 1) Justice and Individual Rights, 2) Impartiality, and 3) Media Biases. In the final chapter, I conclude that our government’s actions were indeed morally right for the most part, with the exception of the PATRIOT Act and the war in Iraq.



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