Given that all sound moral theories are multifaceted outlines for the best methods of action for humanity, we all have our opinions as to which of these theories are valid and which are not. Moreover, given that the innate nature of ethics is subjective, no matter what theory we choose to employ, there will always be an array of negative and positive aspects to them. Simply put, the most accepted definition of utilitarianism is that it is a theory that asserts the best actions are the ones that benefit the majority. On the other hand, another, less popular definition of this theory is that it is a moral framework that asserts that in the cases in which there are no immediate actions that will benefit the greater good, all actions are banned until the proper remedy can be reached. Either way, while this theory has certainly received its fair share of criticisms, I feel they are mostly undeserved. Of all the theories to choose from, in a perfect world, utilitarianism would serve as the foundation for the vast majority of actions being taken. Furthermore, the latter definition also asserts that even if there are actions that can be taken that may provide some short-term benefits, these actions must be avoided unless the long-term outcomes are in favor of the greater good. Although the notion of a utopia has long since been determined to be widely unrealistic, I am of the belief that utilitarianism is the theory that would bring us closest to it. That said, the following is a closer look at my thoughts on this theory and why it should be the prevailing moral theory of the world.
To peacefully exist in a society means to, in many ways, be interdependent. No matter how far we evolve in life or how rich and famous we become, we all need other people in order to survive and thrive. For example, no matter how rich a person may be, if he/she is unable to receive medical care when they need it, they will likely become sick and pass away, much like those who live in poverty. Moreover, even the people of the notoriously barbaric, isolated tribe on North Sentinel Island in Andamans depend upon the government, each other, and trusted vendors in order to remain a healthy and thriving society, despite living in virtual isolation. So, in other words, no man is an island. However, while the prevailing attitude seems to champion those who are self-centered and act in their own best interest, this is not the proper way to build a cohesive society. Indeed, by taking one look around the world, and certainly around the country, ‘cohesive’ is not the word I would ever use to describe American culture. Moreover, as we continue to behave in ways that are hurtful or even deadly to ourselves and others, we continue to spread divisiveness, not only at home but abroad as well. However, I propose the use of utilitarianism could be our ultimate solution.
On the other hand, the other definition of utilitarianism asserts that we should avoid acting in cases in which the long-term consequences and implications could be to our collective detriment. For instance, if two nations are at war, it would be wise to enact a ‘ceasefire’ rather than allowing other countries to get involved. On the one hand, no matter which side is winning the battle, there are typically countless lives lost on both sides of the equation. So, while it might be tempting for allied countries to join the battle in order to defend their relationship with a particular country as well as other interests, the ultimate result would just be more turmoil and bloodshed for all parties involved. Therefore, the best action would be to stop acting or to prevent the battle from continuing rather than seeking revenge, although that may be the option that provides the most immediate benefits.
Should we still be fighting all these wars, given the number of lives that continue to be lost all over the world? Should we continue our widespread dependence on oil despite the massive consequences to ourselves and the environment? Obviously not. However, we have been fighting wars for many decades (or centuries, depending on how you look at it). Furthermore, we continue to use oil as one of the top commodities, due to allowing the interest of a few control the actions of the masses, despite the ill-effect it continues to have on the environment. These actions have been to our own collective detriment. The ozone layer is depleting, climate change is real and active, and people are dying in wars across the globe every single day. Nevertheless, because of the perceived powerlessness of the masses, we continue to suffer in relative silence. To take is a step further, this is all fueled by capitalism, which is a very self-centered system that allows some to get rich at the cost of the livelihood of others.
While naysayers of this theory would assert that utilitarianism can, in certain instances, deny us a sense of justice, I would assert that this all depends on what one’s idea of justice entails. For instance, some argue that utilitarianism may favor the use of a sacrificial lamb if this means there will be some sort of benefit for the collective. However, these types of arguments seem to ignore the fact that the best short-term outcome is not the same as the greatest good. That is to say, even if using someone as a scapegoat of sacrificial lamb would be a method of avoiding all-out calamity, this is still not the best course of action for the collective. Although making such a move seems like the best action overall, in the long term, this would leave everyone subject to becoming a scapegoat or sacrificial lamb at some point. This is the opposite of what you would expect out of an ethical, well-functioning society.
Overall, in a perfect world, utilitarianism would be the most used theory. In order to ensure that we are looking out for our collective best interest, we need to use theories that make us consider the bigger picture. Utilitarianism is the perfect theory because it forces us to put our personal feelings and opinions aside in order to consider how our actions will ultimately impact humanity as a whole.