Happiness and Utilitarianism

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Dark Side of Utilitarianism According to Bentham, an English moral philosopher and legal reformer, the highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness, the overall balance of pleasure over pain. This principle explains the Utilitarianism doctrine that is mostly the solution of everyone in every century. Utilitarianism can bring the most benefit for people. In contrast, throughout the three stories “Justice” by John Stuart Mill, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and “The One who Walks Away From Omelas” by Ursula K.

Le Guinn, it is easy to see that utilitarianism mostly requires sacrifice that indirectly leads to dehumanization and repression of the individual voice. In the book “Justice”, the famous English Philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) mentions about Bentham’s Utilitarianism theory. Bentham believes that “the highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness, the overall balance of pleasure over pain” (Mill, 34). However, Mill wisely demonstrates several situations that are solved based on the utilitarianism theory which leads to sacrifice and dehumanization. One of Mill’s most effective examples is the lifeboat.

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The four English sailors and a cabin boy were stranded at sea in a small lifeboat in the South Atlantic after their ship has gone in a storm. The five people stayed bravely on the boat for 18 days without food and water, but then the four other sailors killed and ate the cabin boy who was being sick on the 19th day in order to survive. On the 24th day, they got rescued and were arrested. Applying the Utilitarianism theory, killing one person to save the other four people is the only option they have that can maximize the happiness with the least lost. On the other hand, the cabin boy was forced to sacrifice his life in this situation.

He did not choose to die neither the four sailors did not have his assent to kill him. He was forced to sacrifice his own life to save the sailors and was eaten cruelly. The sacrifice of the cabin boy also brings out the dehumanization and the regression of the individual in this situation. The four sailors selfishly repressed the boy’s option and together killed him. The boy, of course, was sick and not strong enough to fight back the majority. Furthermore, under any circumstance, the sailors dehumanized the cabin boy because they killed to eat him like an animal.

Utilitarianism seems very logical in order to maximize the happiness for everyone. Yet, human life is not appropriated to use in measuring the cost or benefit in some situation. Like in this example, utilitarianism leads negative sacrifice, dehumanization, and the repression of individual voice. It is very clear to see that the four sailors dehumanized the cabin boy because they are the majority. The story happens in just a very small amount of people. In the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, the minority is a group of clones that sacrifice their happiness while being dehumanized and repressed by the whole society.

The novel is about the whole groups of students who are isolated from society. These students don’t have parents; their friends are also their relatives because they all grow up together in the school named Hailsham. The three main characters in the story is Kathy, the narrator, and her two best friends Tommy and Ruth. Since, Tommy and Kathy start to like each other, Ruth steps in the relationship and date Tommy because she doesn’t want to be alone. However, the three kids keep building up a strong friendship as well as the true love of Tommy and Kathy. The students are known that they are clones when they are eighteen.

Their only purpose in life is to donate their vital organs for their “possible”. This can see as utilitarianism because this small group of clones will sacrifice their lives to save the majority of human in society. Although on clones can save some more human lives, this sacrifice is the same as dehumanization. People don’t treat them as human. People create and raise the clones until they are eighteen to take away their organs. In the story, the students have dreams too, but they don’t have the right to think about their future because they will die at a very young age.

Also, their bodies are not able to give birth, so the clones can never feel the happiness of the real family normally. The clones are dehumanized more obviously when they have to suffer year by year until they die. After each surgery, the clones will weaken gradually and die on the second or third donation. Some of them, such as Ruth in the story, are not strong enough to walk normally. Besides, the feeling of waiting to die is terrible to them as well. It is even worse when they sacrifice all of their lover and friends, who are the only one they love on the world.

Just like Kathy and Tommy, who fall in love when they are still in Hailsham School. After they reach 18 years old and leave the school, their friendship is broken and each one goes to a different place. Kathy, a clone carer, found Ruth in the hospital she works and become Ruth’s carer for her second donation. Ruth knows where Tommy is located and they decided to meet him. The love that stays deep inside the couples’ hearts blossoms right at the moment they meet each other after 10 years separated. The three are happy just for a short time, and then Ruth who dies after her third donation.

Kathy and Tommy suffer the great loss, that people see it as “sacrifice”. The sacrifice is worse at the part Kathy and Tommy try to do the deferral. In this way, they can stay together for a few more years. The dehumanization repeats again when the deferral terms does not really exists. The art items they did in childhood are just to prove that they also have the soul like humans. So Tommy has to die no matter how hard the couple tries throughout many years. After Tommy’s third donation, Kathy sacrifices her only love in her life. It is still not ended because Kathy receives a letter few months later to start her donation process.

So in the clones’ lives, they don’t have to sacrifice all their happiness and their lives. They get nothing but the happy childhood they have in Hailsham School. There are some people, such as the “Madam” in Hailsham School, who see this sacrifice as a great dehumanization, but they can’t do anything because they are just a minor part in entire society. All they can do is to protect and give the clones a happy childhood as much as they can. Therefore, people can see that the clones, and the Hailsham School, are the minor part. Their voices are repressed by the entire society.

Just like in the book “Justice”, although utilitarianism in this situation brings sacrifice, dehumanization and repression of the individual voice, it is still very logical to the majority. Similar to the two stories above, “The One Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guinn brings out the issue of Utilitarianism more obviously. The short story is about a perfect city called Omelas. People in the city are always happy because everything in the city is beautiful and perfect. There are no criminals as well as sadness in this city. However, under a beautiful building is a small basement.

The basement is old, rotten and dark. There is no window or any window for a little sun light goes through. Inside the basement is a small and poor child. The child may be ugly, like a monster, or has any infection, and it is not seen as human anymore. Its body is stinky, dirty, and has so many skin diseases and its health is in a worse condition because it lacks nutrition and never seen sun light before. The child just cries every day until it becomes so tired and is not able to cry anymore. Nobody knows or even care it is a boy or girl and how old it is. They just feed him once a day with a bowl of corn and oil.

Everyone understands that the entire city’s happiness is depending on the child’s misery. If the child has any happiness or gets rescued by anyone, the entire city will be ruined. Therefore, nobody cares about his happiness and lives happily upon his misery. Sometimes, they come to torture him by kicking, hitting, and shouting at him disgustingly. Few people after come to see the child, become quite a while, and then leave the city. This is an extremely sad story. Whenever people read the story, they all understand that the child is forced to sacrifice his entire life immorally for the Omelans.

The child has never felt or experienced the happiness in his life because he is captured in a dark room forever with no light, no sound, no toys, nor any object for him to enjoy himself. This is an extreme cruel way to dehumanize the little boy because he was treated worse than some animals. What he does all day is begging to let him out until the last breath. There are some people who leave the city because they cannot live this guilt every day. Although they wish to rescue the child away from the miserable life, they still can’t do anything because it is the opinion of the entire city.

One more time sacrifice in Utilitarianism becomes an immoral action. Furthermore, the repression of the individual voice also appears clearly in this story when the boy keeps begging to be free, but everybody ignores voice like nothing ever existed. These issue repeats in all three stories, but just in a different way and different level of how bad it is. The characters in the story Justice and Never Let Me Go sacrifice their life in a negative way too, but they are so much luckier than the child in the story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

The cabin in the book Justice has a happy life before he dies, and he gets on the boat because he wants to pursue his dream. The cabin boy dies immorally, but the death is quick instantly. In the novel Never Let Me Go, although humans dehumanize them when they don’t look and give sympathy for the clones, these creatures at least have a very beautiful childhood. They have memories, friends and loves before they die. Unlike the child in Omelas city, the childhood as well as the entire life of the boy is terrible. His memories are nothing but darkness, terror, and loneliness.

However, they all share the common point that their voices are repressed by the stronger ones. Utilitarianism theory seems logical because people in every century always try to maximize their happiness at any situation. However, there is nothing perfect without taking its costs. Therefore, Utilitarianism usually requires sacrifice, and the cost of maximize the most happiness for the greatest amount of people is the same as we put some people into the most tragic condition. It is like we use the power of the group to repress and dehumanize the weak one.

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Happiness and Utilitarianism. (2016, Nov 21). Retrieved from


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