November 9, 2012
Justice by Michael J. Sandel
Throughout life our morals are questioned numerous times and it is completely up to decide what is morally correct and what is logically correct. From that step it is then up to us to decide which one matters most to us. Merriam-Webster defines utilitarianism as “a doctrine that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically: a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” As humans we tend to choose things that will make us happy whether that is a temporary satisfaction or a long-term happiness, we strive to please ourselves and others and avoid pain at all costs necessary. Justice invites us to examine our morals and examine the origins of these philosophies.
Michael J. Sandel does not believe that utilitarianism is an acceptable policy to live by. He believes that “utilitarianism fails to respect individual rights”. He also believes that “the utilitarian logic, if consistently applied, could sanction ways of treating persons that violate what we think of as fundamental norms of decency and respect” meaning that if this way of thinking was utilized by everyone punishment would be much more severe for minimal offenses. What Sandel fails to realize is that there are more views on utilitarianism. Velasquez offers a different view on utilitarianism posing the question that “if lying would produce the best consequences in a particular situation, we ought to lie”. I whole heartedly agree with this concept. Why tell the truth and hurt more people than necessary when instead you could simply lie and please yourself and the people around you. This makes more sense because less people are offended by bending the truth. Plus if you live by the motive of obtaining pleasure you wish to spread joy to others. Telling the truth promotes the good in everyone and therefore would not allow any advancement of one self. Velasquez also poses the idea that “The happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not... (one's) own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator”. This means that by all means you must be extremely biased in the favor of oneself no matter what kind of decision must be made.
In Justice Sandel uses the example of The City of Happiness to further explain why utilitarianism is not an acceptable philosophy. The City of Happiness is a short story by author Ursula K. Le Guin detailing a fictional city of Omelas. In Omelas everything appears to be perfect; the buildings beautiful, the people are all happy and wealthy, but this is only the exterior. In a basement in one of the buildings or one of the luxurious homes there lies a child. This child is neglected and deprived of all basic needs. It is at the suffering of one child that the entire city is able to prosper and survive. Sandel does not think that this is morally acceptable. He states “It would be wrong to violate the rights of the innocent child, even for the sake of happiness of the multitude”. To support his argument he even brings up the fact this is an objection to Bentham’s utilitarianism in terms of violating human rights. To sacrifice one person so that more people will be able to thrive is not bad. This should not be looked down upon. This child has known no other way and without a window to view the world he will never know anything else existed. Le Guin says that if the child is brought out into the sunlight and properly taken care of the entire city would come to an end. It is never worth risking certain doom for a city of people whether they know it or not. One could look at it as selfish to bring the child from his designated place and out into the world just for the moral satisfaction of helping one child. Helping that one child would end the lives of several other children and adults. You can’t be morally happy if you’re dead. I believe that as long as something does not weigh heavy on your conscience then it is okay to forget about it and move along.
Utilitarianism is truly about doing the greatest good for the greatest number. It means nothing if the majority of people are not pleased with a situation. The American government is based on this principle. All legislators strive to do what will please majority of their constituents and by doing so they increase the overall happiness. Businesses are also run on this concept, always looking to gain more profit and please the customers by all means necessary. It is simply human nature to strive to obtain inner happiness and it should not be any other way. If we all lived by the concepts Sandel suggests the world would not be a stable place and all things we know to be true now would no longer apply.
•Andre, Claire, and Manuel Velasquez. "Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics."Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Santa Clara University, n. d. Web. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. . •Heydt, Colin. "John Stuart Mill." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n. d. Web. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. . •Anderson, Kerby. "Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number." Probe Ministries. N.p., 2004. Web. Web. 9 Nov. 2012. .