Utilitarianism and its Philosophy

Utilitarianism philosophy is a consequentialist moral concept. An act is right or wrong from its results. John Stuart Mill was an important scholar in producing this idea of philosophy.

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This philosophy holds that any activity that results in the higher quantity of happiness in the world is the good act and and any action that results in pain or suffering is wrong. Utilitarian philosophy is the moral concept which acts as the guidance on how people should behave at specific times and was first presented by hedonist (pursuer of pleasure) named Jeremy Bentham who put forward the ?Principle of Utility’ which is the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Utilitarianism is an effort to provide an answer to the practical question What ought a person to do? The answer is that a person ought to act so as to produce the best consequences possible. The problem with philosophy is its bare-bones claim that ethics depends completely on calculations of results. Philosophers nowadays are described to simple formulae and simple explanations for complicated philosophical puzzles. Yet ethical decision making is seems to be one field that cannot be accounted for with a simple procedure. The current ethical decision making process depends on that patchwork of different theories and explanations that cannot be reduced to one simple topic.

Pope John Paul II, following his personalist philosophy, argued that a danger of utilitarianism is that it tends to make persons, just as much things, the object of use. Utilitarianism, he wrote, is a civilization of production and use, a civilization of things and not persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way in which things are used. In other words, utilitarianism dehumanizes people by excluding basic human rights and emotions. It is solely a calculus. Zombie films are a great example of this. One in particular, that everyone knows and loves, is The Walking Dead. When the world is thrust into a less than desirable and apocalyptic reality, people become increasingly utilitarian, not only to protect themselves, but the people around them. (The living people.) When the dead rise, the characters are forced to throw out their emotions and be more utilitarian for everyone’s sake. For specific example, Carol kills Karen and David to prevent the illness they had contracted from spreading throughout the prison. Another example is from Shaun of the dead. Shaun kills his mother after she had been bitten and came back from the dead. Utilitarian moral theory supports the choice of giving one to protect more. Some societies seem to value this functional choice, but there is a significant emotional component given the situation involves harming another human being.

Utilitarianism requires that emotion be cast aside in order to protect the greatest number of people, but are people actually capable of that? In the case that the dead rise like in shows and movies like The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead, it seems likely that this type of utilitarianism is born from emotion. It’s out of the love for the people you would want to protect, that you would sacrifice someone. If utilitarianism was truly emotionless then why bother killing anyone, unless you are looking out for number one, aka, yourself.

Another problem with Utilitarianism is the lack of justice. Psychology Today gives a prime example in saying, …imagine that you are a judge in a small town. Someone has committed a crime, and there has been some social unrest resulting in injuries, violent conflict, and some rioting. As the judge, you know that if you sentence an innocent man to death, the town will be calmed and peace restored. If you set him free, even more unrest will erupt, with more harm coming to the town and its people. Utilitarianism would call for betraying justice and sentencing the innocent man to death to bring peace to the public. Of course sentencing an innocent man to death is no better than murder, but if it would ease the minds of the many, the misery of the few is an easy price to pay. Utilitarianism requires people to act unjust in certain situations, which makes it fundamentally flawed. In this regard the theory of utilitarianism can support really heinous acts like rape, murder, etc. as long as the greatest number of people are happy. It can be a justification for almost anything.

Yet another problem lying within Utilitarianism is that we can not understand all the consequences of our actions. When we try to detect the various consequences, we will never be able to discover all the relevant effects and to conclude that the resulting happiness or unhappiness is overall. As English clergyman Thomas Gisborne said in The Principles of Moral Philosophy Investigated, As well might a fisherman infer, that his line, which has reached the bottom of the creek in which he exercises his trade, is therefore capable of fathoming the depths of the Atlantic. . . . He, who has had sufficient humility to become convinced. . . how few are the consequences which he can foresee, compared with those which are wrapped in obscurity, will be the most ready to confess his ignorance of the universal effects of his actions. No matter how much people may search it’s impossible to know all of the consequences of an action and whether it will bring overall happiness or unhappiness.

According to John Grote, the author of An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy, Man has improved as he has, because certain portions of his race have had in them the spirit of self-improvement, or, as I have called it, the ideal element; have been unsatisfied with what to them at the time has been the positive, the matter of fact, the immediately utilitarian; have risen above the cares of the day. . . For Grote, experiential appeals really only reinforce the status quo and do not include an ideal moral purpose to which we should aim. There is no room for anyone with a particular moral vision to reveal the deficiencies with our current moral norms and to set us on the path to moral reform. In Grote ‘s words, utilitarianism is based only on what is happening, not what should be. Morality must include moral improvement regulations, but we will never receive such guidelines by only referring to what happens.

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