John Rawls, “Classical Utilitarianism”
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that distributes benefits and burdens in a society based on the goal of maximizing utility, defined as the satisfaction of desire. John Rawls has developed a competing moral theory called Justice as Fairness, which yields significantly different insights into the proper structure of society than does Utilitarianism. This paper details three of Rawls's most convincing criticisms of Utilitarianism along with my comments as to the effectiveness of each argument. The criticisms include: • • How Utilitarianism views the distribution of resources in a society, How the distinction between persons is treated, and
Rawls argues in each case that Utilitarianism violates common-sense notions of justice. Distributive justice has to do with how the benefits and burdens of society are “spread” among its citizens. Consider the following simple distributions for a society as they bear on two groups that compose a society. Scheme 1 Group 1 Group 2 Utility = +500 Utility = +500 Total = +1000 Group 1 Group 2 Scheme 2 Utility = +1300 Utility = -200 Total = +1100
Let us suppose that distribution of utility in Scheme 1 is such that each member can live comfortably. However, members of groups below 0 are below the poverty level, struggle against disease, have poor education, poor job opportunities, and other social problems. Since utilitarianism is concerns with the total aggregate utility, it favors Scheme 2 over Scheme 1. However, this seems to ignore considers of fairness or justice – surely Scheme 1 is morally preferred to Scheme 2. Hence, utilitarianism is false. Here is Rawls’ argument: 1. According to utilitarianism, If distribution of benefits and burdens in one scheme has greater total aggregate utility than another scheme, then the former is better than the latter. 2. However, it is not the case that every scheme of distribution that has greater total aggregate utility is better than a less one –...
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