Mill's Utilitarianism: Sacrifice the Innocent for the Common Good?
When faced with a moral dilemma, utilitarianism identifies the appropriate considerations, but offers no realistic way to gather the necessary information to make the required calculations. This lack of information is a problem both in evaluating the welfare issues and in evaluating the consequentialist issues which utilitarianism requires be weighed when making moral decisions. Utilitarianism attempts to solve both of these difficulties by appealing to experience; however, no method of reconciling an individual decision with the rules of experience is suggested, and no relative weights are assigned to the various considerations. In deciding whether or not to torture a terrorist who has planted a bomb in New York City, a utilitarian must evaluate both the overall welfare of the people involved or effected by the action taken, and the consequences of the action taken. To calculate the welfare of the people involved in or effected by an action, utilitarianism requires that all individuals be considered equally. Quantitative utilitarians would weigh the pleasure and pain which would be caused by the bomb exploding against the pleasure and pain that would be caused by torturing the terrorist. Then, the amounts would be summed and compared. The problem with this method is that it is impossible to know beforehand how much pain would be caused by the bomb exploding or how much pain would be caused by the torture. Utilitarianism offers no practical way to make the interpersonal comparison of utility necessary to compare the pains. In the case of the bomb exploding, it at least seems highly probable that a greater amount of pain would be caused, at least in the present, by the bomb exploding.
This probability suffices for a quantitative utilitarian, but it does not account for the consequences, which create an entirely different problem, which will be discussed below. The