Moral Philosophy Utilitarianism

Topics: Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham Pages: 5 (1642 words) Published: December 15, 2006
Utilitarianism says that the moral and ethical thing to do is that which provides the most happiness or the least unhappiness to society. Sitting in class listening to the lecture on the moral theory of Utilitarianism it first sounded like the best moral theory ever. However as the classes continued and we learned more and more about this theory my opinion quickly changed. In this paper I will defend the idea that Utilitarianism is a failed moral theory. As stated in James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy Utilitarianism is a very old moral theory. Dating back to the 1700's when it was first started by David Hume (Rachels, p.91). After Hume's introduction of this moral theory, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills better defined the idea (Rachels, p. 91). From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the definition of "Utilitarianism (from the Latin utilis, useful) is a theory of ethics based on quantitative maximization of some good for society or humanity. It is a form of consequentialism. This good is often happiness or pleasure, though some utilitarian theories might seek to maximize other consequences. Utilitarianism is sometimes summarized as, the greatest happiness for the greatest number." (

As stated in class, the Utilitarian moral theory states an action is right/moral/good if it brings about the greatest good/happiness to the greatest number of people or the least unhappiness to the fewest. You must always consider everyone affected by the decision, including animals because they feel pleasure and pain the same way people do. Then you must calculate which option will maximize happiness or minimize unhappiness for a majority of people. According to Rachels, Utilitarianism follows the Minimum Conception of Morality by meeting both criteria set forth. The first being rationality, utilitarian do give reasons which support their beliefs, such as we chose chocolate ice cream because there were 20 people who wanted that and only 5 people who wanted vanilla ice cream. Second is impartiality, which is definitely met by Utilitarianism because everyone's interests are looked at for each decision made. This moral theory is so impartial they believe that even animals have equal weight in the decision being made. Utilitarianism sometimes conflicts with justice and rights. Does that mean that if you convict one innocent man and in turn that saves 50 lives that you should do it? According to utilitarianism that is just what you should do. If convicting that one innocent man brings about the most happiness to the most people that is the only choice you have. However it hardly seems right as a caring human being to punish an innocent man to bring about more happiness to many others. What about that one man's happiness? A Utilitarian would say that he is just one man and if this would give happiness to 50 other people then he must be convicted regardless of his happiness. This is an example of how Utilitarianism is a Consequentialist moral theory. Meaning that the morality of and action depends on its consequences. Another problem with utilitarianism is that personal relations are not supposed to come in to play when making a decision. Utilitarianism requires that all individuals should be thought of as having equal moral weight. However if that one innocent man we are convicting to maximize the happiness of others, is our father, brother, uncle or grandfather, would we feel the same way? Utilitarianism says that we should treat him no differently. Nevertheless we all know that is an unreasonable request of Utilitarianism to ask that of us. To treat our own family and friends just like any other guy on the street is not a plausible request. No one that I know would have an innocent relative convicted even if all those other people would have increased happiness. We all feel differently towards friends and relatives that we do towards strangers, and...

References: Rachels, J., (2003). The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 4th edition. Boston: McGraw Hill. /~owl1 /guncontrol.htm+runaway+train+theory+utilitarianism&hl=en Example 5
Class Notes were used as well.
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