Posted at 10.26.2018
In this article I am going to firstly explain the concept of utilitarianism. I am going to then discuss the problems it faces regarding both justice and supererogation before assessing whether the arguments for these objections are convincing and whether a utilitarian can give a reply.
Utilitarianism is a moral beliefs that relies on the basic principle of utility to determine the moral rightness or wrongness of an act token. It is therefore a consequentialist theory, since it relies fundamentally on the basic principle that the moral value of an act token is judged exclusively on that functions ability to increase utility. This utility can be described in many ways, for example knowledge or preference satisfaction, but also for the purpose of this essay I will define power as John Stuart Mill does:
"Actions are right in proportion as they have a tendency to promote happiness; incorrect as they have a tendency to produce the opposite of pleasure. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. "
A general explanation of utilitarianism might therefore go the following:
An work token A is morally right if and only if it produces the maximum amount of or more contentment for all those included than any available solution.
Bentham proposed a system of calculating the total value of your action's repercussions, which is recognized as the felicific calculus. This takes into account the intensity, period, likelihood etc. of the pleasures and discomfort which derive from our activities and utilitarians suggest that employing this system we are able to compare the morality of actions. They think that we ought always to find the action that produces the most overall electricity.
Some of the key objections made in respond to utilitarianism are based on the principles of justice and fairness. Some individuals keep that utilitarianism is incompatible with justice and this it can imply that in certain situations it is morally right for us to treat people unfairly and violate what we intuitively imagine to be their moral and civil privileges. These objections come up from the undeniable fact that utilitarians determine the rightness and wrongness of most actions by using what is known as the best Happiness Process (GHP). If an action satisfies this concept, then it produces the best happiness or power for the best amount of individuals.
This raises problems when it comes to justice and specifically, the protection under the law of the individual and democratic equality. The first justice-related objection I am going to consider is problem of the violation of rights, since, in a utilitarian culture, rights are just justified if they are essential to the maximisation of enjoyment. Therefore if a right is not necessary to the overall contentment of confirmed society, then a utilitarian society is not required to safeguard it.
An example of this might be to assume a minority group within the society who involved in a spiritual practise of any sexual aspect which offended the rest of the society. If this is a utilitarian culture, the GHP would determine that preventing the minority group from executing these practises will be the morally right move to make, because it would maximise the entire power of the population. This seems intuitively difficult since it appears to violate the minority's civil right to the flexibility of faith.
The second justice-related objection I am going consider relates to the nature of the GHP principle itself, and the idea that it's a purely collective process, only concerned with maximising the entire amount of utility.
An example of why this is problematic becomes apparent if we consider the take action of genocide. It could be the case that in confirmed society, the extermination of a certain minority (E. G 100 people) would generate an increase in happiness for the majority (E. G 1, 000, 000 people. ) Utilitarianism's GHP would determine that in cases like this, genocide was the morally right action to perform, because the outcome of the action would promote contentment in the bigger portion of the population. However our intuitions reveal that genocide is never something we 'ought' to do, yet in cases like this utilitarianism appears to tell us not just that we must take action, but that it is morally right.
A third justice-related objection I will consider relates to the idea of punishment. An example of this might be to imagine that there had been some murders in a town that were generally believed to have been dedicated with a homeless man. Following these murders there has been an outbreak of rioting in the city and the murders of other homeless people have happened. The sheriff has a homeless man in his custody that does not have any friends or family and is aware that by executing this man, the rioting and murders will stop. The sheriff however knows that this particular homeless man is innocent. In this case utilitarianism would determine that it is morally to convict and therefore do the innocent man, because it encourages the most enjoyment within the given community, and prevents the rioters from leading to any longer pain. However this again runs against our intuitions that it is incorrect to punish the innocent.
These objections do initially seem very convincing because they appeal to your moral intuitions. However a utilitarian might respond to these conditions by suggesting a variance on the classical version of utilitarianism: rule-utilitarianism. Rule-utilitarianism establishes the rightness and wrongness of your act by finding the best rules of do that if followed by nearly all a culture, would maximise the entire utility of that society. Rule-utilitarians may therefore claim that in the long run, the guidelines 'safeguarding the civil right to the liberty of religion', 'not committing genocide' and 'not punishing the innocent' would create more overall energy, when accompanied by all or the majority of a modern culture than not pursuing them on these specific events. Rule-utilitarianism might therefore suggest that to check out these rules would be the morally right move to make.
I will now move on to look at some objections to utilitarianism regarding supererogatory activities. The thing is that utilitarianism does not appear to allow for supererogatory acts. An take action is said to be supererogatory if and only when it satisfies the following conditions:
1) It really is morally optional
2) It is morally praiseworthy
3) It moves beyond the call of duty
Since utilitarianism requires that in virtually any situation we may find ourselves in, we live morally obligated to execute the work that results in the best possible consequences, it appears to leave no room for supererogation.
An exemplory case of this would be to assume a man faced with a decision of whether to perform into a burning building and save the five people captured within it himself, or to stay at a safe distance and call the crisis services. We are inclined to say that both actions are morally right since both try to preserve the power of the people captured inside the building, however utilitarianism would seem to be to suggest that the one action that is morally right and so morally obligatory in this example, is for the man to run in to the burning building himself, since that could maximise the power of all the people involved. It would seem then that utilitarianism leaves no room for doing more than obligation requires.
Some have stated however that utilitarianism can support the three conditions of supererogation; there may also be acts that are morally optional in case where there is several take action which would maximise energy, and some of these acts may also be morally praiseworthy. The normal example used to demonstrate this is that of Smith, who's given the choice to save lots of his own life or Jones' life, on the basis that energy will be maximised either way. If Smith will save Jones' life rather than his own, he's doing something that is both morally optional and morally praiseworthy. Smith's action of keeping Jones is also often thought to go beyond the call of work, since he's doing more for others than he's required to. However this idea of need seems unclear and it appears that supererogation should entail doing more of what there may be moral reason to do. In this case however, utilitarianism would deny that there is more moral reason for Smith to save Jones rather than himself, since both works would maximise tool.
Utilitarianism also appears to have the result of suggesting that many supererogatory works are wrong. The common example used to demonstrate this is the intuitively supererogatory take action of Smith taking Jones out for meal. If taking to Jones to the priciest restaurant around would maximise the overall utility of everyone engaged, then utilitarianism inevitably causes the recommendation that taking Jones to a reasonably listed restaurant would be morally incorrect.
Objections such as these have led some utilitarians to a deviation of the traditional theory: satisficing consequentialism. This theory establishes an action as morally right if it encourages a good enough outcome, however there are a few obvious issues with this theory. The main concern facing satisficing consequentialists is to make clear when an end result is sufficient; it isn't clear whether there can be an absolute level of goodness which we ought to abide by or whether levels of goodness are in accordance with every individual situation.
In conclusion it appears that although utilitarianism looks initially to be appropriate in focussing on the consequences of our activities, the rules which form the foundation of the idea are not without their problems.
The objections submit about the issues such justice and supererogation that I've considered are very convincing and even though different versions of utilitarianism have attemptedto, and often been successful in responding to those objections, there appears to be no unifying version of the theory which can react to them all. Satisficing consequentialism for example, may achieve success in giving an answer to objections regarding supererogation, but may not necessarily be sufficient in giving an answer to objections regarding justice. This is obviously problematic because it means we have been left with what is apparently an incomplete moral theory.
Since it appears that all the objections to utilitarianism that I've considered are rooted in the notion that the morality of your action is determined by its consequences, we may perhaps be better recommended to turn to a non-consequentialist theory of morality, such as deontology, for a theory of morality that will not suffer from the same objections.