Utilitarianism Utlitarianism What is Utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is a philosophical concept that holds an action to be held right if it tends to promote happiness for the greatest number of people. Utilitarians define the morally right actions as those actions that maximize some non-moral good or happiness and minimize some non-moral evil. Pleasure is an example of a non-moral good and pain is an example of a non- moral evil. A utilitarian will fous on the consequences of an act rather than on the intristic nature of the act or the motives of the agent. In short, utilitarians focus on ends rather than actions.
An example would be a person that litters, a utilitarian will argue that the act of littering is not intrinsicly bad but the litter that is caused will eventually cause harm and therefore it is bad. Utilitarianism is all about making the right choices that will consequently promote the greatest amount of happiness. The following four stories will explain utilitarianism in depth. Kai Nielsen wrote “A Defense for Utilitarianism” in which he describes his strong arguments that favor utilitarianism. He beliefs in maximizing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.
Nielsen strongly supports consequentalism. Consequentialism describes that an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone. There are two examples that Nielsesn uses to reinforce his arguments. The first story (Fat Man Story) deals with a fat man that needs to be killed in order to save the lives of the people stuck in the cave. A utilitarian will favor the decision of killing the fat man because the action will produce the greatest amont of happiness for the greatest amount of people.
In order for the utilitarian to take this approach he would weigh the happiness of the fat man with the happiness of all the people in the cave and obviously the hapiness of the people stuck in the cave outweighs the happiness of the single fat man. The second story deals with a megistrate that is pressured by the mob to condemn an innocent person in order to prevent the mob of murdering innocent people. The megistrate acts as a utilitarian by condeming an innocent person to save the lives of the many innocent people. The megistrate acts as a utilitarian but was his decision the right decision? Is utilitarinism always the right action to take? In the next passage I will describe oppositions made towards utilitarianism. Bernard Williams is the author of ” A Case against Utilitarianism”.
In this passage Williams is against utilitarianism because he beliefs that the actions that a person takes matter because decisions are reflected by integrity, responsibility, and morals. His argument states that utilitarianism is only concerned with the best outcome, and that utilitarianism does not consider and evaluate the actions that a person must take to achieve the outcome. Williams’s beliefs that a person must do what is morally correct. For example, in Nielsen’s mob story, Williams could argue that the megistrate did wrong in killing the innocent man because he is always going to be held responsible for the murder futhermore he has probably violated his values, integrity, and morals. Williams would argue that the megistrate should do what he thinks is morally right because he is the only one held responsible for his own actions.
In his story he includes the story of Jim. Jim is confronted with a hard situation; he must kill one Indian in order to save the whole tribe to be killed by another individual. In this situation a utilitarian would kill the Indian in order to save the whole tribe, but Jim decides not tro kill the Indian. Jim does not want to be held responsible for the murder, he want to maintain his integrity and moral beliefs. Ursula Le Guinn, the author of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, describes a utopic society whose happiness is based on the misery of a single individual. This individual (child) from birth is locked away in a basement, fed poorly, and completely neglected.
In this case if utilitarian theory were correct, then this would be a morally conceivable act. If the pleasure of the people from Omelas is experienced by taking advantage of a child exceeded the pain felt by the child, then the exploitation of the child would be a morally good thing to do. In this scenario utilitarianism did not work because the people of Omelas that saw the child suffering did not want to live there. The people left the town because they had integrity and because they conceived the act as being morally incorrect. Furthermore the people did not want to feel responsible for the acts that were commited towards the child. The seclution of the child can eventually cause greater harm because the people of Omelas will feel unhappiness through guiltness for the act commited to the child.
This story proves utilitarianism to be incorrect because people have integrity, values, and moral believes that are very hard to ingnore when making decisions. “The Survival Lottery” by John Harris describes a society in which one individual is randomly choosen to die by donating organs in order to save two persons. What is worse? Killing a human being in order to save two, or letting two human beings die and not killing an innocent man. It is very difficult to weigh the greatest happiness in this case. If you agree with Williams you will be totally against this case because killing an innocent man is wrong, but if you agree with Nielsen you can agree because you are bringing more happiness (two human beings) by killing only one person.
Harris mentions that if people were choosen randomly then people would not live totally happy because they would live with fear and unsecurity. Furthermore, the doctors should not interfere with the will of God. But what if two people can be saved by the elimination of one? (Utilitarian view) In conclusion it is very diificult to determine wheter the utilitarian theory can be justified. Should we just focus on the positive outcome or should we also focus on the actions that we take in order to accomplish the greatest good? Philosophy Essays.