Utilitarianism Classical Utilitarianism
Classical Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy, which was developed in 19th century England by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick. The essential feature a utilitarian reside in, is the notion that an action is right if it produces the most amount of happiness well limiting suffering. Utilitarianism focuses solely on the consequences of the action, in an attempt to bring about the most happiness from each situation, well ensuring everybody’s happiness is equally considered.
A utilitarian decides each action, by calculating the overall utility (good) that will results against the overall disutility (bad) that will result from a particular action. The action with the highest total net utility will be chosen.
Within Utilitarianism there is a division between the conceptions of what is perceived as good; Hedonist Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism. Classical utilitarians believe in Hedonist, were pleasure or happiness is perceives as the only intrinsic good. In modern society most utilitarians believe that the concept of good refers to preferences, and that individual preference satisfaction should be maximized for example artistic creation.
There is a further division between utilitarians; Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. Rule Utilitarianism, holds that one should always follow rules that tend to promote the general welfare of humans for example a rule might be not to killing people. Act Utilitarianism holds that one should always act to promote the general welfare.
Utilitarianism is plausible firstly because general overall happiness is achieved for the greatest amount of people. Second, because of it simplicity it is easy to determine whether an action is moral or immoral. You simply have to calculate the total utility against the total disutility for each action, and chose the action that will result in the most happiness. Third, the majority of society uses Utilitarianism when they are confronted with daily decisions. For example in peak hour traffic the majority of drivers would let another driver change into their lane, because the other driver obviously needs to change lanes. The other driver is likely to gain more happiness from being let in than the potential unhappiness it will cause you by waiting a few extra second in traffic. Fourth, it is a simply way off living a moral life, were you do not necessary have to be religious to be moral in your decision-making.
The strongest objection against Utilitarianism is that it cannot accommodate for moral considerations such as individuals rights and justice. This is because Utilitarianism only considers the consequence of an action. This objection is highlighted in a case concerning an innocent man whose was wrongfully convicted of a crime. In 1974, England, Gerry Conlon was falsely imprisoned, for the bombing of a pub in the town of Guilford, which killed five people. This case raises the issue that the consequences of an action should not be the only things considered when deciding which action to take. If a utilitarian was to view this case critics would argue that a utilitarian would have to conclude that even with, bad consequences resulting from convicting an innocent man, their would overall be more good consequences derived from the peace of mind gained from the loved one of the deceased, as well as the community of Guilford. Critics of Utilitarianism would argue that greater consequences would result in convicting the innocent man, therefore Utilitarianism is unable to regard the importance of justice, this philosophy must therefore be wrong.
With the objection that Utilitarianism cannot accommodate for the importance of justice, a utilitarian would address this concern with the response that by choosing the action that results in the best consequences, justice will ultimately be protected. Justice will always be protected even if it is not a utilitarian ultimate purpose. In regards to Gerry Conlon case, a utilitarian would never choose to convict an innocent man of a crime he didn’t commit because, even if more happiness was achieved in the short run through this false conviction, in the long run more unhappiness is likely to result. In the long run the guilty man would be likely to bomb again or commit another crime, also if the liar was discovered then the situation would cause greater disutility than utility, and may result in the dispatch of the justice system, as-well as great upset for the deceased family members who thought the bomber had already been punished. Therefore even though Utilitarianism doesn’t accommodate the moral consideration of justice directly, greater utility will always be created from upholding the justice system.
The other aspect of the objection address criticism that Utilitarianism doesn’t accommodating individuals rights, therefore critics believe Utilitarianism must be wrong. A utilitarian would argue that just because rights are not directly considered in relation to the consequences of an action, they do in-fact have some impact on the chosen action. With majority of the population getting happiness out of doing the right thing, rights are often protected through Utilitarianism. For the small minority of people that don’t experience unhappiness from disregarding human rights, the existence of the police force ensures human right are protected from these members of society. With human rights being protected under law, people rights will be upheld under Utilitarianism because there will always be a larger amount of disutility from violating the law than from the personal gains of a human right offender. For example the CEO and CFO of Tyco a New Jersey-based company stole $150 million and inflated Tyco incomes by $500 million, in doing so they violated the rights of investors. After the police discovered this fraud, the justice system penalized both, with a sentence of 8-25 years in prison with the addition of $2.92 billion paid to Tyco Investors. Under Utilitarianism this case wouldn’t occur because the benefits of stealing this money would never outweigh the consequences that result from being caught for defrauding investors. Therefore even though rights are not considered in the consequence of an action, they have a strong connection with the chosen action.