Can Utilitarianism Meet The Objections Of Its Critics?

1848 words - 7 pages

"Man does not strive after happiness;only the Englishman does."F. Nietzsche, "The Twilight of the Idols".Since its foundation by J. Bentham in the late 18th century and its further development by J.S. Mill, H. Sidgwick and several other philosophers, utilitarianism has been one of the most controversial moral theories.The theory's underlying idea is, that only such acts are right which produce and maximise happiness as their outcome, in other words, "... utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as the tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness".(1)Indeed, this principle seems to offer a simple and convenient way of how to act morally right. However, it gave rise to a number of objections brought forward by many philosophers, and, as I am now trying to show, I do not believe utilitarianism can meet them sufficiently.According to Bentham, the rightness of an action can be determined by simply measuring the amount of happiness it will produce. The more it produces, the better it is. This attracted, and still attracts, a lot of people for "all moral obscurity becomes a matter of technical limitations".(2)But, critics have argued, using this method of adding and comparing might make us to crude and primitive individuals, seeking only for easy attainable pleasures such as eating, drinking, and sex, which surely produce happiness. But how poor a life consisting only of that.T.L.S. Sprigge invented an example showing us to what unfavourable decision such a strictly quantitative method can lead. A Benthamite dictator has to decide whether to spend a huge amount of money on preventing a catastrophe destroying the world or on sending an immortal slug-like creature, able to experience low-level happiness, into space. Even if the catastrophe would be prevented, the world would only exist further ten thousand years. Therefore the dictator would take the second choice because "the [infinite] quantity of pleasure [experienced by the creature] ... will eventually outweigh all the pleasures enjoyed on this earth for ten thousand years."(3)Reacting to this objection, J.S. Mill claimed that not only the quantity of happiness counts but also the quality. He made a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Listening to Mozart, for instance, would then be regarded as a higher pleasure, whereas gambling would be a lower one. However, in my opinion, the real problem remains unsolved, namely that happiness is misplaced as the ultimate aim, since Mill adheres to the "utilitarian doctrine ... that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end."(4) But very often happiness is not regarded as the most important thing , because there are "many [other] things which people actually include in the content of a happy life, ... things which essentially involve other values, such as integrity, for instance, or...

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