Dr. Jonathan Strand
Nov 22nd, 2018
Utilitarianism and its Inherent Flaws
In this essay, I will argue the weaknesses of Classical Utilitarianism as a whole. In order to argue against Utilitarianism, one must first understand what that means exactly. To break it down into simple terms, Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory of ethics. This means that what determines an actions moral value is the consequence of the action rather than what motivated the action, or even the action itself. To further elaborate on this idea of consequentialism, Utilitarianism deciphers the moral value of an action's outcome based on how much ‘happiness' or ‘pleasure' it adds to the world. In essence, an action is morally right or wrong based on the extent to which it makes people feel good or feel bad. As well as being a consequentialist theory, Utilitarianism is also an egalitarian view. It is egalitarian in the fact that everyone's happiness or unhappiness is viewed equally. To do this, Utilitarians calculate the overall happiness level an action's outcome will be with the principle of utility. The happiness is added up, and then the unhappiness is subtracted, and whichever action will generate the most happiness or generate the least unhappiness is the action one ought to do. The three main objections to this ethical theory are the unforeseen consequences objection, the absurd consequences objection, and the justice objection
The first objection to Utilitarianism is the unforeseen consequences objection. The issue people who object in this manner have with Utilitarianism is that the ethical theory focuses on the outcome of an action to decide its moral value rather than the intent of the action. Why this approach to ethics is problematic is the fact that surely an action can be right, even if it has unforeseen bad consequences and vice versa. If one were to take this theory seriously, the only way one could decide if something was morally correct would be after the fact. In being a consequentialist theory of ethics, this theory does not offer any room for intent in calculating an action's ethical value. This means that for example, if someone were to send their friend's sick mother a bouquet of roses and well wishes to get better, without knowing their friend's mother is allergic to roses and due to this she got a rash, the Utilitarian would say that this action was immoral due to the outcome rather than the intent. It seems to clash with one’s intuitive response that this action was moral due to its intent. This view is troubling as no matter a person’s intent; if unforeseen consequences arise their moral character could be under scrutiny.
Another objection against Utilitarianism is the objection of absurd consequences. Due to its calculatory nature, issues can arise when one has to decide what action one ought to do if both options offer the same results. For example, if one was given a situation where one could either lie or tell...