Mill’s Utilitarianism

Mill’s Utilitarianism
When faced with a moral dilemma, utilitarianism identifies the appropriate considerations, but offers no realistic way to gather the necessary information to make the required calculations. This lack of information is a problem both in evaluating the welfare issues and in
evaluating the consequentialist issues which utilitarianism requires
be weighed when making moral decisions. Utilitarianism attempts to
solve both of these difficulties by appealing to experience; however,
no method of reconciling an individual decision with the rules of
experience is suggested, and no relative weights are assigned to the
various considerations. In deciding whether or not to torture a
terrorist who has planted a bomb in New York City, a utilitarian must
evaluate both the overall welfare of the people involved or effected
by the action taken, and the consequences of the action taken. To
calculate the welfare of the people involved in or effected by an
action, utilitarianism requires that all individuals be considered
equally. Quantitative utilitarians would weigh the pleasure and pain
which would be caused by the bomb exploding against the pleasure
and pain that would be caused by torturing the terrorist. Then, the
amounts would be summed and compared. The problem with this method is
that it is impossible to know beforehand how much pain would be caused
by the bomb exploding or how much pain would be caused by the torture.
Utilitarianism offers no practical way to make the interpersonal
comparison of utility necessary to compare the pains. In the case of
the bomb exploding, it at least seems highly probable that a greater
amount of pain would be caused, at least in the present, by the bomb
exploding. This probability suffices for a quantitative utilitarian,
but it does not account for the consequences, which create an entirely
different problem, which will be discussed below. The probability also
does not hold for Mill’s utilitarianism. Mill’s Utilitarianism insists
on qualitative utilitarianism, which requires that one consider not
only the amount of pain or pleasure, but also the quality of such pain
and pleasure. Mill suggests that to distinguish between different
pains and pleasures we should ask people who have experienced both
types which is more pleasurable or more painful. This solution does
not work for the question of torture compared to death in an
explosion. There is no one who has experienced both, therefore, there
is no one who can be consulted. Even if we agree that the pain caused
by the number of deaths in the explosion is greater than the pain of
the terrorist being tortured, this assessment only accounts for the
welfare half of the utilitarian’s considerations. Furthermore, one has
no way to measure how much more pain is caused by allowing the bomb to
explode than by torturing the terrorist. After settling the issues
surrounding the welfare, a utilitarian must also consider the
consequences of an action. In weighing the consequences, there are two
important considerations. The first, which is especially important to
objectivist Utilitarianism, is which people will be killed. The second
is the precedent which will be set by the action. Unfortunately for
the decision maker, the information necessary to make either of these
calculations is unavailable. There is no way to determine which people
will be killed and weigh whether their deaths would be good for
society. Utilitarianism requires that one compare the good that the
people would do for society with the harm they would do society if
they were not killed. For example, if a young Adolf Hitler were in the
building, it might do more good for society to allow the building to
explode. Unfortunately for an individual attempting to use
utilitarianism to make for decisions, there is no way to know
beforehand what a person will do. Furthermore, without even knowing
which building the bomb is in, there is no way to predict which people
will surely be in the building. A subjectivist utilitarian would
dismiss this consideration and would examine only what a rational
person would consider to be the consequence; however, even the
subjectivist utilitarian must face the question of precedent setting.
Utilitarianism considers justice and humane treatment to be good for
society as a whole and therefore instrumentally good as a means to
promoting happiness. Utilitarianism considers precedent to be
important, but does not offer any method of determining exceptions. It
is impossible to determine how much effect on precedent any given
isolated action will have. In the case of determining whether or not
to torture the terrorist, one must consider whether it is good for
society to allow torture to be used as a method of gaining
information. If it is bad, one must determine whether this action will
create a precedent. If it will create or contribute to the creation of
a precedent, one must compare the detrimental effects of this
precedent with the other consequences and welfare caused by the
action. Utilitarianism offers no method for comparison. The problem is
that a person faced with making the decision cannot get the
information. Even through experience, it is hard to judge how much
effect each action has on precedent. More specifically, it is hard to
determine whether an action is worthy of being an exception to a rule.
Utilitarianism offers no resolution to this problem. Utilitarianism
also considers the Theory of Desert to be instrumentally valuable to
the promotion of happiness. It is generally good for society to reward
people for doing right and to punish them for doing wrong. Using this
belief in the value of justice, a utilitarian would have more trouble
torturing the child of the terrorist than with torturing the
terrorist. The dilemma would be similar to that of precedent. A
utilitarian would ask how much it will harm society’s faith in the
punishment of evildoers and the protection of the innocent to torture
the child. The sum of the consequences would then be compared to the
sum of the welfare considerations to decides whether or not to torture
the terrorist and whether or not to torture the child of the
terrorist. In some way, these things must therefore all be comparable
and assigned weights; however, Utilitarianism offers no method of
comparison. There must be some percentage of consideration given to
the harmful precedent set compared to the amount of pain caused by the
deaths, compared to the pain the terrorist or the child being tortured
feels, compared to the harm society will be saved from by the deaths
of people in the explosion, compared to the good that society will be
deprived of by the deaths in the explosion. The overarching problem
with utilitarianism as a method for decision making is that not enough
of the necessary information is available and there is no scale on
which to weigh the various considerations. Basically, the subjective
utilitarian would probably consider that the deaths of many is worse
than the torture of one. Depending on how much weight is given to the
detrimental effects of the precedent which would be set by torturing
the terrorist, the utilitarian could consider this to outweigh the
greater pain caused by the explosion or not. Different people have
different moral consciences, which dictate different actions. These
differences will dictate where the person puts the most weight in the
utilitarian considerations, since utilitarianism does not specify.
Similarly, depending on how much weight is given to the detrimental
precedent of torturing innocent children, the utilitarian could
consider it to outweigh the pain caused by the explosion or not. In
the end, utilitarianism does not help in making the moral decision.
The information necessary to calculate all of the considerations
identified by utilitarianism is not available. Furthermore, what is
required is a method of comparing and weighing the considerations, and
this method is not defined by utilitarianism. In the end, the decision
maker is still left to make the decision based on internal moral
feelings of what is right and what is wrong which do not come from
utilitarianism.
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