Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism

Topics: Time, Utilitarianism, Decision making Pages: 3 (904 words) Published: April 8, 2013
The prominant criticism of Utilitarianism is that it is extremely hard to predict the results of an action. The outcomes of all situations are hard to predict, so how can we possibly apply the rule of the greatest happiness for the greatest number if we do not know who will benefit most? It is also difficult to decide whether an outcome is morally good or bad. People have contrasting opinions on what they think is right or wrong and it depends on the individual who is making the decision. This causes problems because a thing that is good to one person may at the same time be bad to another, "One man's happiness is another man's pain." Without an absolute definition of happiness, it is hard to arrive at a 'right' decision. Another problem of Utilitarianism is the concept of time. Is long term or short term pleasure more valuable? For example, when deciding whether to take an ecstasy tablet at a club. Taking the pill may give you a lot of short-term pleasure, but in the long term, it may cause more harm than good. Not taking the tablet would involve fewer risks and would avoid potential pain. Even here, you cannot predict the results of your decision, as there is no way of telling the effect the ecstasy has on you until you have tried it. Not only is it hard to tell what will be the consequences in the "long run," but it is hard to define the time period of the "long run" to begin with. A particular problem with Utilitarianism stands out to me - that totally immoral acts can be justified if they are seen to benefit the greatest number of people. For example In the early 1800's in South America, slave labour took place because it was seen to produce the most amount of good for the most amount of people. Slavery was an efficient way for Southern farmers to produce goods at a cheap price and these goods brought a lot of pleasure to a great amount of people. On the other hand, the slaves suffered terribly and had to endure vast amounts of pain and torture. Nevertheless...
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