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Utilitarianism

by Expert Tutor Maya | 18 Apr 2017

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which explains that the morality of an act is dependent on the amount of utility that an action can produce (Rachels & Rachels, 2006). Among the most notable Utilitarian advocates are John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. For Mill, utilitarianism is equivalent to the greatest happiness principle which entails that am action is right when it tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number (and tend to minimize the harm and suffering that an action can produce. On the other hand, Bentham suggests that the amount of pleasure or happiness can be calculated using his proposed hedonistic calculus which is drawn by calculating the difference between the pleasure and the pain.

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Nevertheless, Utilitarianism has also been subject for ethical debate which is primarily founded on the idea that the utilitarian principle tend to promote only the utility that an action can give even and disregarding the bad outcomes that it can inflict to others.

This paper is mainly directed on the issue that questions the moral upbringing of the Utilitarian principle.

Two Objections against Utilitarianism

One of the very celebrated opponents of the Utilitarian theory is Immanuel Kant’s Duty Theory. Unlike Utilitarianism, The Kantian Ethics suggests that the morality of an act should not be based on the amount of utility that an action can produce but on the very fact that an acting agent has done his duty unconditionally (Rachels & Rachels, 2006).

The most apparent criticism against the Utilitarian principle is that it only looks on the consequences that an action can inflict to the majority of the people. By this, we can deduce that Utilitarianism lacks concern on the part of the minority (Rachels & Rachels, 2006). Plus, it does not always the case that what is good for the majority is the right thing to do. In considering the human rights of the individuals, it is inappropriate to say that what is beneficial for the promotion of the rights of the minority should be overridden by what is beneficial for the promotion of the rights of the majority. Such idea would never be just and fair.

The second objection against the utilitarian principle is that it directly goes against what the Kantian’s second maxim suggests which suggests that one must never treat others only as means for his ends but always as the end (Rachels & Rachels, 2006). This entails that one should not sacrifice the rights of or what is necessary for another person just to give way for the greatest happiness that the greatest number of people can obtain.

However, Utilitarian advocates argued that such presuppositions or objections that are raised against the theory itself do not really touches the truest essence of the Utilitarian principle. The utilitarian principle’s concept of happiness and pleasure does not really suggest the suffering of the minority. The concept of happiness is not really equated with the pleasure or happiness that can be derived from selfish interests.

Finally, the Utilitarian Ethics recommends the utilitarian principle not really to provide a justifying principle for the majority but for chiefly to promote human flourishing and the alleviation of suffering of mankind. Thus, it is not true that the utilitarian principle disregards the welfare of the minority.

References:

  • Rachels, J. & Rachels S. (2006) The Elements of Moral Philosophy (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.
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