Utilitarianism

Ethics 1101
11/07/03
Some people have argued that utilitarianism doesn’t account for the claims of justice and that it sometimes endorses unjust actions and makes people surrender their integrity and morals. Utilitarianism sometimes makes people do what they normally won’t do because of the situation that they are placed in. My essay will explore examples of what a person would do in certain cases according to the rules of utilitarianism and the critiques of these actions. I’m against utilitarianism and the critiques will be followed by my view point of the scenario.


To begin utilitarianism is defined as a moral theory which claims that the morally right action, is the action which will maximize utility. Utility is defined by John Stuart Mill (author of Utilitarianism) as happiness, and happiness is pleasure minus pain. The theory of utilitarianism is actually neutral about what utility means, except to the extent that utility is the measure of goodness of a situation (the units of measure are called “utiles”). The reason why a decision is hard to make in a certain scenario is that here are many conflicting factors. There is a conflict between the principle of utility (what you should do according to a utilitarianism) and the demands of justice (what you want to do because of your own morals).

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The first Case were going to look at is the Town Sheriff case. The situation unfolds like this ? Imagine that there is a town which has been the victim of a series of grizzly murders apparently by the same person. The townspeople are hysterical with fear, and some people has been accused by a number of influential townsfolk. The mayor comes in the office and admits that he is the one who has committed all the killings and then he drinks a vile of poison. The sheriff knows he cannot convince anyone that the mayor is the killer because he is a very respectful man. The sherif thinks quick and then decides to blame the town drunk since people would believe that and that the killings would cease. This is due to the fact that the people would think that the drunk is responsible for the murders and people will no longer live in fear. The riots in this town invariably result in several deaths of people who are totally innocent of rioting or anything else. The only way to avoid the riots is for the sheriff to hang the innocent drunk. What should the sheriff do? According to a Utilitarianism, they claim that it is obvious that the right thing to do is for the sheriff to hang the accused drunk, because although it is terrible for an innocent person to be executed it is much worse for several innocent people to die in riots as well as destroying much of the town and ruining many people’s lives. This in turn would bring out the more good then bad and will bring more happiness then sorrow because instead of a few people being murdered innocently only one person has to die (the innocent drunk)
A critique of this scenario would be William’s arguing that a utilitarianism cannot properly appeal to the psychological effects on an agent the sheriff feeling bad as factors in the decision. In one way or another, Utilitarianism alienates us from such fundamental moral emotions. To approach this problem we are going to break it up into three parts. In the first part we are going to suppose that the feeling of the sheriff is rational. If this feeling is rational, the agent is feeling bad in that he believes he has done the wrong thing (i.e., killing the innocent drunk). But according to a utilitarianism this cannot make sense, because if the agent correctly calculated the balance of outcomes, including any of his bad feelings, then he has not done anything wrong. Therefore, utilitarianism must take such a feeling as irrational. For a utilitarian, these irrational feelings cannot consistently have any great weight in a utilitarian calculation. In fact the U should not merely give small extra weight, in calculations of right and wrong, to feelings of this kind, but that he should give absolutely no weight to them at all. Basically saying that your own feelings count as nothing. So according to a utilitarian our feelings don’t count when it comes to the whole. But doesn’t the utilitarian count us all as equal (i.e., me =1, you =1, etc.) Clearly this is not the case once you look at the case, because the person feelings don’t count for anything. Right there the utilitarian point of view contradicts itself because not everyone counts as one seen in this case.


My opinion this situation is that a sheriff takes a vow before he becomes a sheriff and that vow is to protect the innocent. This is what he has to do unless he cannot become a sheriff. Lets take this into perspective, in order to become a sheriff you have to swear to protect the innocent but yet this sheriff will send an innocent man to death. Seems to me utilitarianism isn’t how we should come to conclusion and make decisions because it goes against the law and your morals. How could someone live with themselves after killing an innocent person?
The second case takes place in a hospital. Doctor in a very remote town who has six patients in his care one day. Five of these people are about to die (within a few hours), and one of them is perfectly healthy. The only way that the doctor can save any of these sick patients is to take organs from the healthy patient and perform a transplant. In fact, the doctor can save all five sick patients by using organs from the one healthy patient, who would unfortunately die because of the missing organs. Furthermore, if the doctor does perform the transplants, he is positive that no one will ever find out that it has been done. What should the doctor do? This is taking into consideration that the doctor is the best at these specific operations and that he can save these people and will not die and they will survive and live long lives. The Utilitarianism seems to claim that the right thing to do is to kill the one healthy patient in order to allow the other five to live, because although it is terrible for one person to die, it is much worse for five to die.A critique of this case calls for Williams notion of Negative Responsibility. If the is ever responsible for anything, then the doctor must be just as much responsible for things that he allows or fails to prevent, As the for things that the doctor himself, in the more everyday restricted sense bring about. These things must also enter his deliberations, as a responsible moral agent, on the same footing. If doctor X is responsible, then doctor X is as responsible for what he allows or fails to prevent as much as for what doctor X more obviously brings about. if doctor knows that he does X (swap the body parts), O1 will eventuate (5 people live and 4 people die) , and if I refrain from doing X, O2 (one person lives and 5 die) will happen, and that O2 is worse than O1, then I am responsible for O2 if I refrain voluntarily from doing X.” So according to this, if the doctor saves the 5 sick people with the organs from the one healthy person then he is a murderer who has saved 5 lives and if he doesn’t do the surgery then he is responsible for the death of those 5 sick people. So either way he is “a murderer.” This in it self shows that this doctor is clearly not a murder if he takes care of the good patient and lets the other 5 die, but utilitarianism says it is. It’s a lose ?? lose situation when looked at from a normal point of view. A utilitarian would be happy in seeing 5 people live and not really care about the one person who had to die. The doctor would be considered a murderer and this is ok to a utilitarian.


Utilitarianism has many flaws, its too demanding, it doesnt take into account love and loyalty, it conflicts with almost every view that you were brought up with and it also doesnt take into consideration who you are making happy. (I.e. Utilitarianism would rather 90 crooks be happy and 10 miserable saints as compared to 80 happy saints and 20 miserable crooks). This would cause the world to fall apart in my eyes. Another case that would make you think is that if my brother was drowning outside of my job at con ed I would have to stay inside to make sure the electricity would stay on to fuel millions of peoples happiness then to save my brother who is only one person. What would you do?
Bibliography
http://fas-philosophy.rutgers.edu/~swenson/IntroEthics/Utilitarianism%20HO2.htm
http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80130/part2/II_3BC.html

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