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Objections to Utilitarianism

Autor:   •  May 6, 2019  •  Essay  •  1,374 Words (6 Pages)  •  6 Views

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Objections to Utilitarianism

        Kill the fat guy, save the day. The idea seems vulgar enough, but to the utilitarian, it makes all the sense in the world. If a obese onlooker can stop a train with his unsightly weight in an effort to save five workers, he must be pushed over the ledge for the greater good; it’s simple calculus to a Benthamite. Utilitarianism is a moral theory generally considered to have been founded by Jeremy Bentham, a 19th century English philosopher and social reformer. It was cultivated around the idea of happiness and the greater good; it’s sole purpose being to spread it to all of humanity. The concept is based on the assumption that all humans instinctively seek happiness, and that it is the ultimate goal of the species to reach the highest level of euphoria. Therefore, according to the classic utilitarian, when an individual wishes to act in an ethically sound manner he or she should work to facilitate the largest amount of happiness for the community as well. This is known as the greatest happiness principle. If for some reason a person is not able to bring happiness to his or her’s space, then it is their duty as a citizen of this earth to do everything in their power to reduce the unhappiness that surrounds them.

Utilitarianism is somewhat of a high level mathematical theorem, looking at essentially the total units of happiness that a particular action allocates. For example, one night after work, one might be left with a choice; go to the bars with their friends to socialize, or help a sick neighbor with yard work. The neighbor might be in dire need of help, whilst his or her’s pals can enjoy themselves just fine without them. If one refers back to the previously mentioned calculus, it could be argued that doing the yard work would contribute ten units of happiness to the neighbor, whereas going out for drinks might only at six to the friend group. This is where the split amongst utilitarians begin, and flaws in both sides of the spectrum start to emerge. Some would argue that walking the dog would be the most beneficial due to the fact that the act within itself produces more happiness; the caveat to this argument is that it does so only for one person. Drinking with group might produce less happiness per person, but the situation itself yields more happiness units as a whole. And within this circumstance, yet another issue arises: the issue of happiness itself.

Bentham’s ideas rather plain in the categorizing of happiness. He argued that one should look at happiness as being based off of pleasure, while the other side of the coin denotes that unhappiness is derived from pain.. His ideals about happiness has led his specific branch of utilitarianism to be classed as hedonistic theory. Though this claim of pleasure and pain driving the human race is not necessarily untrue, Bentham fails to distinguish between different forms of pleasure. It stands to reason then, that, according to his theory, anything that alleviates pain and promotes happiness – be it doing cocaine or reading a quality book– is fundamentally good and should be accepted. Utilitarianism as a whole, regardless of what one who believes in it thinks happiness should be categorized as, leaves rights vulnerable (Sandel, 106). In fact, Sandel goes as far to say that, “ Bentham’s “greatest happiness” principle..does not give adequate weight to human dignity..and..it wrongly reduces everything of moral importance to a single scale of pleasure and pain” (Sandel, 48).

 Divides are further deepened when other philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, who claimed the utilitarian ideas, didn’t hold to this teaching. Mill’s mission was to distinguish between what he called “higher” and “lower” pleasures. J.S. Mill disagreed with the all-inclusive take on pleasure, feeling that there was a fundamental difference between the varying forms of pleasure available to people. His thought process was fairly straightforward, claiming there are a multitude of simple, more sensual pleasures in life, such as eating or drinking. Some pleasures are more cerebral nature, such as listening to classical music or reading poetry  (J.S.Mill, Utilitarianism). According to Mill, the latter pleasures are of a greater quality, therefore should be considered more important. He posited that someone who has had experience with both forms will naturally gravitate towards those of higher ranking. But regardless of this tweak in thinking, even his utilitarianism and those who still support it have more flaws to deal with, stemming from act utilitarianism.

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