Thursday, January 30, 2020

Utilitarianism - Morality Essay Example for Free

Utilitarianism Morality Essay Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory holding that moral actions are based on the maximization of overall happiness, defined as the Utility Principle. Mill and Benthams utilitarianism makes a plausible and convincing argument, though not everyone agrees with it. Bernard Williams writes Utilitarianism: For and Against the theory. In agreement with Williams, I have formed my own thought experiment to refute utilitarianism and will be taking an analytic approach to the utility principle. By these two, I will show that utilitarianism is an incoherent doctrine failing to consider the value of an individual and guilty of inappropriately attributing calculation to moral actions. Before I began, I would like define two popular forms of utilitarianism: Act-utilitarianism and Rule-Utilitarianism. Rule-Utilitarianism is a view held by philosopher John-Stuart Mill, which is the view that the utility principle is applied to a certain set of rules. For example, consider you are a leader of a new nation. In establishing this nation, you want to make sure your citizens are happy throughout time. Thus, the question becomes: what set of rules would you adopt to make this possible? Now, the problem with rule-utilitarianism is that it calls into question how effective it is to follow a particular rule in general. As we can see, rule-utilitarianism runs into some problems itself; unfortunately, the exploration of its problems does not fit the scope of the paper. I will spend the remainder of the paper critiquing Act-Utilitarianism: the view that what determines a moral action is the outcome, that is, the single action only. To bring out the force of my claim, I must admit, utilitarianism gets a few things right. Utilitarianism succeeds in: (1) Consideration of the pleasure and pain of individuals (2) Not allowing individuals to put their personal feelings or relationships ahead of others (3)Attempting to provide an objective and quantitative method for making moral decisions. It is important to consider the pleasure and pain of every individual in that it causes us to reflect our moral intuitions. It forces us to examine each person and ask: is what I am doing morally right? Further, not allowing personal feelings or relationships in decision making shows the importance of impartiality in decision making. By doing that, you are forced to look at the objective facts or situation, whereas a personal bias could cause a skewed decision making which may not be the best decision in hindsight. Finally, by applying a quantitative method for making moral decisions, Utilitarianism revives the general attitude towards ethics. It is too often, that in philosophy and in other disciplines, ethics is simply casted out as being just one’s personal feelings. With using mathematical calculation in decision making, utilitarianism fosters rational decision making in that it is impossible for you to put your own bias forth and creates an objective account of ethics. To illustrate the effectiveness of utilitarianism: Suppose your best friend and coworker, Erin, is broke and teals some money from your boss in order to buy food. Later, your boss finds out that he has a significant amount of money missing from his wallet. Knowing he certainly did not spend the money, he then realizes that the only plausible explanation of his missing money is theft. He then asks five of his employees (yourself included) if they had taken or heard some money missing. Naturally, the employees say no, though we know Erin took it. In his rage, he threatens to fire three of the employees at random if somebody does not confess. The three coworkers who did not take anything are fighting amongst themselves, blaming each other on stealing money, even though, they did not do it. You know Erin took it, though she begs you to keep quiet. In this situation, a utilitarian would hold the utility principle. Granted, there may be personal feelings involved; you know Erin is financially in trouble and she is your best friend, the personal connection would not play a role in your decision making. If you turn in Erin for the action she did, you have an 80% chance of keeping your job and those around you. Now, if you choose not to tell, you run the risk of possibly being fired for something you did not do, then at the minimum, 60% of the people will be fired, leaving only two. So, being a good utilitarian, you turn in your broke friend. Now, even though her intention was a noble one (trying to feed her hungry daughter), using utilitarian based decision-making, you have (a) not allowed your personal feelings to get involved even though you know she needs it and her intention was to feed herself, (b) have employed an objective decision using utilitarian calculus and (c) saved 4 peoples jobs and financial stability without running the risk of turning in the wrong person. Though, in so far as Utilitarianism is, at the surface level, a noble doctrine trying to account for every individual in making decisions, it is important to raise some objections against the doctrine in as being a coherent system of ethics. The Utility principle serves as a guideline in determining which actions are the most moral that which we should perform. According to Utilitarians, we are morally obligated to consider all potential consequences of an action and pick the one which has the best consequences. â€Å"Best,† as defined by the utility principle: Always produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people (Mill 78). From this principle, we can conclude that moral happiness is solely dependent on each person being given equal consideration. While that seems reasonable, when we look a little closer, we find a gaping hole. When we say â€Å"the greatest number,† what do we really mean? Do we mean the greatest amount of people happy? Do we mean the greatest average amount of people happy? Which one is it? To illustrate this confusion, consider five friends trying to decide which movie to go see; lets symbolize it as A and B. In addition, each person will represent one happiness point (HP). Suppose three of them already have their hearts set on seeing A. So, watching A will result in three people happy with two being upset, equaling 1 overall HP. The only other choice, B, will result in two happy campers and three upset moviegoers, resulting in a -1HP. Being good utilitarians, we decide to choose A, leaving us positive in happiness points. Suppose we discover that the three people wanting to watch A are still happily willing to see B; should B have been the better choice? If we see B, two will be ecstatic and the other three still happy. This, in effect, will raise the greatest number of people and the greatest amount of happiness, proving to be the better decision. With the overall total amount of happiness increased, it is time to see the movie. Suppose A is within walking distance, whereas B is not. If they see A, all five can go, plus their children, resulting in a greater increase of the overall amount of happiness. Sounds good, though things get messy in doing the math. The two people not wanting to see A represent a -2 in HP’s. So while the overall happiness is greater, the average happiness is now decreased. This is an EXAMPLE OF HOW THE AVERAGE HAPPINESS AND THE OVERALL HAPPINESS MAY DIFFER1. ACCORDING TO THE utilitarian principle, one must give each person equal consideration in determining happiness. As we can see, trying to calculate each potential consequence for an action can get confusing and tiresome. Moreover, not only does the utilitarian principle struggle when trying to calculate the best consequence of each action, but begs the question: what is the value of one’s life? Imagine a man who can not experience happiness. His moods switch from pain to apathy, due to a neurological deficiency. Also, he is isolated on an uninhabited island. While the man is clearly unhappy, he does not want to die. His reason: he would rather be alive then dead. Is it morally right to kill 1 Mathematical breakdown for further clarification: 10 people in total= 10 HP 2 People not wanting to see A= -2 HP 10-2= 8HP= 80% average happiness. Total amount of happiness is greater than before. Total average amount is decreased him? In considering the utility principle, his life has no happiness. Further, he cannot create any happiness for himself and there are no other people around to benefit from him; he only has the possibility of pain. Therefore, killing him would result in less aggregate pain for him. From this, the utilitarian would have to say that this is the right course of action. This seems counterintuitive. What that utilitarian is failing to ignore is the right to the man’s life. Even if his life has no value or happiness, he has still expressed his desire to live. In making the decision to kill him anyway, the utilitarian is placing no value on the man’s life; the utilitarian is playing God in saying that the morally right thing to do would be put him out of his misery. What I have shown is that utilitarianism strips a person from their integrity by employing this type of â€Å"moral math† in deciding the most morally just decision. To calculate the outcome of a situation that is derived from a principle defining morally correct actions as whichever situation has more people ignores the fact that as humans have a personal relation with the world. That is, that every person has a set of unique feelings toward others and the world we live in. These feelings help shape our moral compass and give us an identity which aids us in helping making moral decisions. Looking back at the man on the island, the utility principle was at the forefronttipping the proverbial scale towards the largest number and how they could benefit, while ignoring the moral value of the individual. In concluding, Utilitarianism is a noble theory at its crux, but its standard for determining morally right actions as defined by the utility principle forces a person to be acted upon rather than to act. References: Gendler, Tamar, Susanna Siegel, and Steven M. Cahn. â€Å"Selections From Utilitarianism† by John-Stuart Mill. The Elements of Philosophy: Readings from past and Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 498-511. Print J. J. C. Smart, Bernard Williams Utilitarianism: For and Against. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973. Print.

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