Mills Utilitarianism: Sacrifice The Innocent For The Common Good? When
"Has been a lifesaver so many times!"
- Catherine Rampell, student @ University of Washington
"Exactly the help I needed."
- Jennifer Hawes, student @ San Jose State
"The best place for brainstorming ideas."
- Michael Majchrowicz, student @ University of Kentucky
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 probability also does not hold for Mill's utilitarianism. Mill's Utilitarianism insists on qualitative utilitarianism, which requires that one consider not only the amount of pain or pleasure, but also the quality of such pain and pleasure. Mill suggests that to distinguish between different pains and pleasures we should ask people who have experienced both types which is more pleasurable or more painful. This solution does not work for the question of torture compared to death in an explosion. There is no one who has experienced both, therefore, there is no one who can be consulted. Even if we agree that the pain caused by the number of deaths in the explosion is greater than the pain of the terrorist being tortured, this assessment only accounts for the welfare half of the utilitarian's considerations. Furthermore, one has no way to measure how much more pain is caused by allowing the bomb to explode than by torturing the terrorist. After settling the issues surrounding the welfare, a utilitarian must also consider the consequences of an action. In weighing the consequences, there are two important considerations. The first, which is especially important to objectivist Utilitarianism, is which people will be killed. The second is the precedent which will be set by the action. Unfortunately for the decision maker, the information necessary to make either of these calculations is unavailable. There is no way to determine which people will be killed and weigh whether their deaths would be good for society. Utilitarianism requires that one compare the good that the people would do for society with the harm they would do society if they were not killed. For example, if a young Adolf Hitler were in the building, it might do more good for society to allow the building to explode. Unfortunately for an individual attempting to use utilitarianism to make for decisions, there is no way to know beforehand what a person will do. Furthermore, without even knowing which building the bomb is in, there is no way to predict which people will surely be in the building. A subjectivist utilitarian would dismiss this consideration and would examine only what a rational person would consider to be the consequence; however, even the subjectivist utilitarian must face the question of precedent setting. Utilitarianism considers justice and humane treatment to be good for society as a whole and therefore instrumentally good as a means to promoting
View Full Essay
Utilitarianism, Classical liberalism, Social philosophy, Philosophy of law, Consequentialism, Ethics, Torture, Justice, Two-level utilitarianism, Negative utilitarianism
More Free Essays Like This