Utilitarianism: Pros and Cons

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Antoine James September 29, 2010 Justice & Legal Theory Utilitarianism: Pros and Cons Random House Dictionary defines utilitarianism as “the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons. The father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Beneath believed that all human beings are motivated by minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure; therefore morality and justice should be determined on those same grounds. Utilitarianism teaches that maximizing pleasure, and minimizing pain can answer any moral question. This way of looking at justice has its high points where it works well, and its nadirs where the theory falls apart. Ill explore both sides below. On the surface, the basic theory behind utilitarianism seems very attractive. If all decisions are based on doing the greatest amount of good for the most people- isn’t that justice? Even Captain Kirk on Star Trek told Mr.. Spook that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Most of the time this is correct.

Environmental laws may lower the profits of an oil refinery, but the greater good is the clean air that the citizens that live around the refinery get o enjoy and the lower amount of pollution in the air for the general public. There are many examples of policy decisions, laws, and moral decisions that follow the same principle; doing the greatest amount of good for the most people. In many situations this philosophy is appropriate and effective in prognosticative. However, there are also situations where the utilitarian point of view is not the best way to settle a moral question. The major downside to utilitarianism is its lack of respect for individual rights. Sandal’s Throwing Christians to the Lions example sums up the individual rights criticism; while throwing a “small” number of Christians to be eaten by lions for the happiness of the crowd (and arguably could be extended ohјaridly) may be maximizing utility, it ignores the major moral question regarding “should we be killing in this fashion? ” That leads to the next major criticism of utilitarianism- the theory doesn’t prioritize pleasures and pains, therefore it doesn’t prioritize moral questions.

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The Dudley and Stephens cannibalism case shows some moral decisions are more complicated than simply doing the greatest good for the most people. It is hard to argue that killing and eating the sickly minor on board so they could live was the morally “right’ thing to do. John Stuart Mill tried to address the two main criticisms of utilitarianism in his theories. Mill’s central principle is that people should be free to do anything that does not harm anyone else. Mill was a strong believer in individual rights, and tried to reconcile his views with utilitarianism. Ender Mill’s view, utility must be used in the, “larger sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. ” His argument is that if e use utility to judge actions in the long run, and not on a case-by-case basis, he avoids some of the criticisms of utility Aryanism regarding individual rights. While Mill injects his strong views on individual rights into his theories of utilitarianism, it still may fall short in certain situations. If the majority is great enough, the utility balance may reach the point where the happiness created by restricting minority views outweighs the freedom of the minority.

I believe minority rights are still threatened by using utility to judge conduct or actions. The utilitarian method of balancing pleasure and pain, and maximizing pleasure for the most people is a theory that makes sense and promotes justice. Basic public policy decisions and policies benefit from this way Of thinking; in my opinion utilitarianism is most appropriate in this community sense. It is less appropriate when it is being applied to moral decisions between individuals and how people behave toward each other. In these cases I believe other theories of solving moral questions should be explored to promote justice.

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