Outline And Evaluate What You Consider To Be The Most Powerful Objection To Utilitarianism As A Moral Theory

1074 words - 4 pages

Consequentialist theorists propose that our only duty should be to do whatever has the best consequences. Utilitarianism, the most popular of consequentialist theories, was formulated by Jeremy Bentham (1789) and later refined by John Stuart Mill (1861). In general terms, classical utilitarianism states that we should do whatever maximises the balance of pleasure over pain for everyone affected by our action. This is a modern conception of morality. It does not rely on God to provide us with moral rules, but places morality in human nature, in which human beings are primarily motivated by desire and passion, in a consistent effort to avoid pain and misery. People desire happiness, therefore happiness is good, and therefore general happiness is a social good. So, by calling an act good and right would actually mean it promoted the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people (or "maximising act consequentialism). This could possibly mean acting in a manner that ran contrary to traditional morality, for example, assassinating a ruthless dictator, personally responsible for torturing thousands of his own people. We know it is morally wrong to kill another human being, but by doing so, it would save others from further anguish.A more difficult argument would be if utilitarianism were to demand that you sacrificed your own pleasure for the greater pleasure of others. If you were to immediately donate the entire winnings from a lottery jackpot to fund the development of resources for under privileged children. The simplest objection to utilitarianism might therefore be, "why should I always act to increase the total happiness of the world", which would not be entirely unreasonable. A second objection might conclude that general happiness as a social aim does not prove that happiness itself is good, as people can desire many bad things. This follows the Deontological view that there are acts which are bad in themselves, independent of any good they promote. People desire addictive drugs, but addictive drugs are not desirable.It is important to differentiate between Act and Rule Utilitarianism, as it is fairly easy to fault the idea that we simply do the act with the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism suggests that these consequences should be seen in broader terms than just pleasure and pain. It also recognises the usefulness of following strict rules. In regard of act utilitarianism, it would seem that each of us should abandon our own free time to do charity work, which would then yield the greater social benefit. With rule utilitarianism, a rule prohibiting leisure time cannot be socially beneficial, so we are not required to abandon leisure for charity. It asks what rules have the best consequences for people in society, bearing in mind the imperfections and limitations of the individual. This is a far harder moral theory to reject, as it is fairly synonymous with our own democratic society. It provides stability and predictability in...

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