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    Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism Essay

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    All throughout history many people have spent a great amount of time trying to figure out how to make decisions that will benefit all of society. There have been many philosophers who have attempted to create philosophies that might benefit society in this way. One philosopher by the name of Jeremy Bentham came up with the theory of utilitarianism and another philosopher named John Stuart Mill believed that society could benefit greatly from utilitarianism. Even though Mill believed that utilitarianism could help society, I believe that utilitarianism could cause more harm than good. I will argue against his theory by first explaining in depth what utilitarianism is and then explaining four flaws that can be found within this theory.

    Utilitarianism is the moral philosophy that focuses on the happiness of all the people in society instead of the happiness of each individual and this overall happiness of the entire society was thought to be the greatest good. According to the Utilitarian theory if there was an action that was morally right the consequences of the action should lead to happiness, which was the equivalent to pleasure, and if the action was morally wrong the consequences of the action would then lead to unhappiness which was the equivalent to pain.

    In his explanation of what utilitarianism is Mill established the forms of pleasure and pain when he says, “…this theory of morality is grounded namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as a means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain” (Pojman and Vaughn 958).

    Utilitarianism was also well-known by its objectivity and the fact that it was agent-neutral which meant that the happiness of everyone in society was thought to be the same and the theory was thought to be the Greatest Happiness Principle. Even though this theory sounds pretty good and it sounds like it could actually work there are quite a few flaws that prevent utilitarianism from helping society reach this ultimate goal of happiness for all.

    Utilitarianism holds a logic position that makes it applicable to daily life. It dictates the modern day society since its principles are applicable.

    Utilitarians attempted to come up with a way of settling for an objective way of improving the welfare of the people by equipping them with the necessary skills needed to distinguish things that are of benefit from those that are not. This theory is sometimes referred to as “the supreme happiness theory”. It provides an empirical method of calculating happiness. Goodness has the purpose of making one to feel satisfied.

    Although people are never sure of the consequences of an act, they should weigh their options and settle for those things that are likely to make them feel that they are high achievers. It is the good things in life that motivate people to continue undertaking tasks as well as taking risks. The theory considers the outcomes of an action and luckily most people judge the usability of an action by looking at the end result.

    The first flaw within this theory is the belief that everyone’s happiness is the same. It could not be possible for one theory to apply to everyone’s happiness when each person is different. Their needs and happiness would also be different and cannot be possible for someone to make a decision or for them to perform an action that would be able to make everyone in society happy because happiness is interpreted differently among each individual.

    In an article named, Nietzsche’s Critique of Utilitarianism, the author recognizes that Nietzsche made this same connection when he states, “Because Nietzsche considers utilitarianism a secular offspring of Christian morality, many of his global attacks on utilitarianism resemble his more familiar critique of Christian “slave morality”—the morality of the herd.

    In particular, Nietzsche contends that utilitarianism inherited Christianity’s commitment to the equal worth of each person, and perpetuated its erroneous assumption that a timeless, universal criterion for morality is tenable” (Anomaly 2). Here you see that Anomaly recognizes that Nietzsche sees that it would be a very big mistake to think that it is possible for everyone’s needs and happiness to be on the same level because every person in society is different and they cannot be held to the same standard.

    The second flaw with Utilitarianism is the potential conflict between economic gains and basic liberties of the people in society. While you are trying to make a decision and or taking an action which, you think would benefit society as a whole you end up doing something that while it does get economic gains it does not benefit everyone, and you potentially be risking the liberties of the people in society.

    In an article called, The Rawlsian Critique of Utilitarianism: A Luhmannian Interpretation, the author talks about this when he says, “Utilitarianism as a moral doctrine is counterbalanced primarily by the lexical ordering of these principles. Furthermore, ‘the principles of right, and so of justice, put limits on which satisfactions have value… Rather, their desires and aspirations are restricted from the outset by the principles of justice which specify the boundaries that men’s systems of ends must respect.

    We can express this by saying that in justice as fairness the concept of right is prior to that of the good’” (Valentinov 27). Here we see Valentinov talk about how there is no justice and fairness taken into account when you take a utilitarian approach when making a decision that is supposed to benefit society when it in fact does not benefit everyone like it is supposed to do.

    The third flaw that the utilitarian theory has is that it has the possibility of being unjust and discriminatory. The reason that for the utilitarian theory being unjust and discriminatory is because since it is focused on making decisions and taking actions that will be for the good of society, these actions may in fact be more in favor of certain people and therefore it is not justifiably able to help everyone in society.

    If there are  actions being taken and decisions being made that do not benefit and apply to everyone in society then it is quite contradictory to the utilitarian belief that it is for everyone’s happiness when it is not in fact aimed towards everyone’s happiness and benefit. In an article called, Ryder’s Painism and His Criticism of Utilitarianism, while trying to argue against this critique the author instead implements it further by using a quote from Ryder which says, “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override.

    For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not follow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many” (Leuven 412). Ryder recognizes that it is unjust to sacrifice a person’s justice just because it benefits a lot of other people in society. Utilitarianism cannot claim to have the best interest of everyone in mind if it is leaving out certain people because it is unjust and inconsistent with the idea that utilitarianism stems from.

    The fourth and final problem that you can see with this theory is that it is immoral. There is an example that is given in the utilitarian theory that states that there is a trolley cart going down a runway and it will either hit five people or just one single person. You need to decide which route the trolley cart takes and either save the one person and the five people on the other tack. The utilitarian theory would state that it is better to let the trolley cart hit the one person because the choice ultimately saves many other people and thus there is more good being done but it isn’t moral for a person to decide that the life of that one person is any less important than all the other people.

    In an article called, Switching Away from Utilitarianism: The Limited Role of Utility Calculations in Moral Judgment, the authors point out the immorality of utilitarianism when they say, “We found that the majority of people do not think it is acceptable to switch a trolley from a set of tracks where it will kill one person to a set of tracks where it will kill a different person.

    This result indicates a second deviation from utilitarianism: although people may say it is acceptable (though not required) to cause harm to bring about a greater benefit, they do not think it is even acceptable to cause harm to bring about an equal benefit” (Sheskin and Baumard 7). It is simply immoral for a theory to propose that it would for the greater good to sacrifice one life just to save five other lives because every person’s life matters and no person or theory should get to dictate that it doesn’t. These are just some of the examples that show that utilitarianism and the utilitarian theory are immoral and are of no benefit to society.


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