Principles of the Theory of Utilitarianism

John Stuart Mill was an Englishman philosopher of the nineteenth century. His theory of Utilitarianism argues that morally correct actions are those that result in the greatest happiness for all affected. Does the theory work on an everyday life practice? Philosopher Bernard Williams has some opposite evidence about this theory. In his Critique of Utilitarianism, he claims that utilitarianism is committed to a doctrine of negative responsibility. The same claim has the Trolley Problem. Are these real problems for theory or does the Utilitarian get the answer right even in these difficult cases?

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To begin, in the theory of Utilitarianism Greatest Happiness Principle means ” actions are right, insofar as they tend to produce happiness, wrong insofar as they tend to produce unhappiness. Mill defines happiness as pleasure and the lack of pain. He argues that pleasure can differ in quality and quantity, and that pleasures that are rooted in one’s higher pleasure should be weighted more heavily than lower pleasures. However, is this theory works on practice? Let’s say in country A lives more people than in country B. The country A decided to invade the country B. People from country A support this idea, and people from country B vice versa do not. According to Utilitarianism principles country A should attack country B. Nonetheless, a priori we all know that murder of people is wrong and country A should not do it. As we can see with an example above this theory is not perfect and sometimes cannot be used. Utilitarianism has opposites and needs to be rigged. Some of the opposites of Utilitarian was Bernard Williams, an English moral philosopher.

In his Critique of Utilitarianism he explains problems of Utilitarianism …if I am ever responsible for anything, then I must be just as much responsible for things that I allow or fail to prevent, as I am for things that I myself, in the more everyday restricted sense, bring about (Work Cited). The author shows two scenarios. The first one is Ph. D. in Chemistry and he has an offer of a job working with biological and chemical warfare. Jobs are rare, and George has a family to take care. Moreover, George’s wife has nothing about George working on these forms of warfare. From the one hand, if George does not take the job offer, his family will be unhappy because he does not work. From the other hand if he will accept the work 10,000 people will be killed by a chemical bomb. From the Utilitarian point of view, George should not take this job. However, if someone else will accept the job offer and may even improve the experiments of biological and chemical warfare. Therefore, we will have more unhappy people (10,000 + George’s family).

To clarify what Williams is talking about when he states that there is a problem of integrity between a man’s projects and his actions, we can note George’s case. Focusing on a man’s projects, the utilitarian asks us to forget about sincerity and to disassociate George from his feelings. In the second scenario, a man named Jim finds himself in front of a row of twenty Native Americans. Jim is the guest of the day, and as such he gets the privilege of killing one of the Indians. If Jim kills one of the Indians, he will save the others. However, if Jim will mercy this guy, all of the other Indians are going to be killed. The utilitarian will say that Jim has to kill one guy to save the most lives. However, if we digress to the problem of integrity, we find that there is a distinction between a man’s action. The utilitarian would disregard Jim’s emotions on the overall situation. If Jim were to shoot the man, then he would feel bad.

However, if Jim failed to shoot the man, Jim too should feel bad because he would indirectly be killing twenty Native Americans. In both cases it seems as though Jim would feel bad and that these feelings should not be acknowledged by the utilitarian. Overall, Williams declines the notions of utilitarianism because of its strong inclination to negative responsibility. In the case of Jim, we find that he feels sorrowful for either event that occurs. This shows that there is a problem defining integrity between a man’s projects and his actions. Although Jim takes no action, his emotions suggest otherwise. If a utilitarian wants to ignore integrity, then we are left with an unexplainable phenomenon which is occurring within Jim’s conscience. This is a problem for Williams. Next, in the Trolley Problem, the scenario says that there is a runaway trolley on the railway tracks. Ahead on the tracks, there are five people who got stuck and cannot get out. The trolley is headed straight for them. The decision-maker in the story work for the railroad as a dispatcher and track controller.

If he will pull the lever, the speeding train will switch to an alternate set of tracks on which a maintenance worker that is working in the tunnel into which in the tunnel into witch those tracks lead. There is a never-ending dilemma over which is the most ethical thing to do:nothing, and the trolley kills the five people. Or, pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill the maintenance worker. If we will follow the utilitarian rules we should save 5 people rather than the maintenance guy. However, the rule does not take into account other facts. Let’s say that this 5 guys who trapped to the railroad because they were escaping from jail and murdered few people on their way. At the same time, the maintenance worker is the best employer in the country and has 5 kids in his family. Including this fact Utilitarian rules have to change because now the greatest happiness principle on the worker’s side. The second part of the dilemma is a person is standing on a pedestrian overpass immediately above the location at which the motorist is stranded.

The person sees the oncoming train and wonders if there is anything you can possibly do to intervene. However, there is a large man standing next to the person on the overpass. His weight is enough to stop the speed train. A person can make a decision to save those 5 people by pushing off the fat guy on the rails. However, almost nobody will push the fat man over the side because it is an intentional act of killing. People will never make a decision that will not bring them happiness. The trolley dilemma allows us to think through the consequences of an action and consider whether its moral value is determined solely by its outcome. In conclusion, we can assume that Utilitarian is imperfect theory and cannot be used in every situation. On the example of the Trolley Problem and William’s Critique of Utilitarianism we see that Utilitarian rules cannot be used in every situation. For using the theory in George’s case and the first variation of the Trolley Problem do not have enough information to make the right decision which met the requirement of the greatest happiness principle. Jed’s case and the second variation of the trolley problem cannot work because the decision maker will never make a decision, not in their favor.

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Principles Of The Theory Of Utilitarianism. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved October 3, 2022 , from
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