The Fallacy Of Utilitarian Thinking Introduction To Ethics Essay

1365 words - 6 pages

The Fallacy of Utilitarian Thinking
Happiness is a categorically good concept. Despite the overwhelming number of factors that one must consider when attempting to identify a true universal goal, happiness is a very difficult notion to stand against. Regardless of culture or creed, one can hardly say that she would rather a life without happiness than one with it. When considering the inarguable ‘goodness’ of happiness as a human goal, it seems both simple and logical to create an ethical theory to which happiness is the ultimate end. This was certainly the thinking of John Stuart Mill, who proposed that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”[footnoteRef:1] Mill’s theory is a version of Utilitarianism, a set of principles which states that morally, we are obligated to act in a manner that produces the greatest amount of net happiness. Upon initial consideration, a moral doctrine that places happiness above all else seems fairly impenetrable; it is difficult to see how trying to bring about the most happiness could ever be an objectively bad course of action. That being said, it is important to keep two things in mind. Firstly, Utilitarianism, as is the case with most other prominent moral doctrines, does not operate on a case by case basis. If one is to pledge herself to Utilitarianism, then she must abide by it at all times. Secondly, whenever assessing a moral theory, it is important to take into account all possible frames of reference, and not be restricted to the perspective through which the theory is described to us. While these may seem like arbitrary considerations, they will play a significant role in our assessment of Utilitarianism as a comprehensive moral theory. By considering the inevitability of irrational predispositions, basic human attachment, and of contractual obligations in a normal society and by conceptualizing a community driven exclusively by utilitarian calculations, this essay will seek to conclude that Utilitarianism is a fundamentally flawed and ultimately implausible moral theory. [1: Smart, J.J.C., and Bernard Williams. Utilitarianism: For and Against. Cambridge University Press, 2008.]
Utilitarianism is not an individual doctrine. Fundamentally, it calls for the greatest amount of net happiness, rather than individual happiness. Supposedly, this is a good thing. It prevents people from acting selfishly and harming others in order to achieve their own happiness. However, this same aspect can be destructive when considered from a different frame of reference. Although unfortunate, the reality of the situation is that certain people have irrational and sometimes harmful preferences. The first problem with Utilitarianism is that when calculating and optimizing net happiness for a community, one must take into consideration and give equal weight to these people. Ideally, a community will have more rational people than irrational, so...

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