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Utilitarianism

Autor:   •  November 29, 2018  •  1,850 Words (8 Pages)  •  7 Views

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Going out one step further from the Jim case, is let us say Jim does kill the native. Jim then feels terrible about killing that one person even with the gratitude of the other nineteen being piled upon him. Does this then mean that utilitarians like killing, the one action that almost everyone views as bad, when the conditions favor it? How could a utilitarian ever condone killing, the ultimate immoral act? And with George, he would have to have no stock in his ideals, i.e he would have no moral integrity, if he were to take the job. If holding to your ideals is an important part of living a moral life, then utilitarianism would have to go against living a moral life if they think that it is okay to break your integrity.

The same way that Smart sees rule utilitarianism as having a fatal flaw, Williams sees the same thing in consequentialism as a whole. In order to be a utilitarian you have to be willing to compromise something about yourself to do the best for all. Williams’ cannot understand how something that is supposed to provide a basis for a good life has you simplify everything to a series of algorithms to drive your “good” behavior. By always choosing to act for the benefits of others, or to lessen the suffering of others, by unmaking yourself, you are not living a “good” life to Williams.

The examples above also illustrate that utilitarianism doesn’t have a true distinction between acting and not acting when you have the opportunity to act. Both action an inaction are weighted equally in the eyes of a utilitarian. If Jim chooses to not kill the one native he is just as, if not more, guilty of killing them than the colonel is. The colonel isn’t killing the natives as some kind of game. He has orders that he is following. Jim is given the opportunity to save all but one. Had Jim never known of the situation he couldn’t hold himself responsible, but since Jim has been given the option of saving them, if he did decide to just walk away all 20 deaths would be on his shoulders according to utilitarian views. If George let the overzealous scientist make a chemical weapon, any deaths resulting from those weapons would rest on George as surely as they do on the person who created the weapon.

Let us put it into the example that we have gone over in class about Fred. According to Smart, we should kill Fred, harvest his organs, and let the other three survive. The Doctor making the decision would be responsible for only one death as opposed to three if he kills Fred. But, also according to Smart, if the doctor doesn’t kill Fred he then becomes just as responsible, through inaction, for the three deaths as he would’ve been for, actively, killing Fred. Even the most well-known thought experiment of the two train track, where one has six adults and the other has a baby in a stroller. You can change which track the train goes on, at the cost of killing an innocent child or six people. This then leads back to how killing, an unequivocally immoral act, becomes a favorable course of action to take. And how could anything claiming to be moral guideline stick to that claim if they advocate for killing someone.

Again this goes back to what Williams was saying about how you can’t breakdown moral issues into a series of algorithms without, paradoxically, losing a big portion of its morality. In the abstractness of how the scenarios are presented it’s easy to look in from the outside and see what the people in all of the examples should do for the betterment of all. It is a lot harder to step into the shoes of the same people and tell them to kill someone, or tell them to compromise their own set of values for the betterment of everyone but themselves. Sure the fact they saved some lives might make up for the taking of one, but that taking of one life is impossible to quantify. There is no way to know how the person felt about doing the deed, or even not doing the deed since utilitarianism feels the same way about negative responsibility as it does to actual responsibility.

In all of Williams’ critique of utilitarianism, however, he never provides some kind of alternative viewpoint to it. Unlike Smart, in his critique of hedonistic consequentialism, where he offered up that not all states that bring you pleasure are necessarily good. Smart’s counterpoint was that the most god act was the one that brought the most utility to the people affected by the action, which is why he would believe that killing the one native is more moral because the well-being gained by the other 19 makes up for the total loss of well-being of the one.

In Williams’ defense, he never said he would offer an alternative view. He pretty much said that he was only going to critique utilitarianism, not offer a counter viewpoint in his first sentence of Utilitarianism: For and Agianst.

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