Utilitarianism Essay, Research Paper
The main idea of utilitarianism, according to Adam Morton s book Philosophy in Practice is to follow the action that brings about the greatest amount of pleasure or the least amount of pain. This idea at first seems simple but when applied to some examples the edges blur. Millions of Americans love to watch football games, but lets say 200 people die a year playing this sport, and therefore the government wants to outlaw the sport all together. According to the concept above what would the utilitarian think? This is a type of example where it is uncertain to know what the utilitarian would do. Do millions of people s pleasure compare to the pain of the 200 football players families? In this situation it is hard to say which brings about the greatest amount of pleasure and which brings about the least amount of pain. This is not the only problem with utilitarianism. There are other situations that arise in which if you were to follow the utilitarian view you would be going against some of your own moral beliefs. For instance the example in Morton s book; your best friend is devoted to a woman that despises him and she is married anyway. But your friend believes that she does really love him and if he learned how she truly felt he would be heartbroken? He asks you to tell him how she really feels. Now thinking like a utilitarian you might be leaning towards either telling your friend that she really does love him or just evading the question, but what do your morals tell you to do? Personally I would be truthful to my friend and hope that in the end he would be better off knowing the truth.
There are good points to the utilitarian view though. Before knowing what the utilitarian would do, you must first think and consider the consequences, which most of us do not do all of the time. We all have said and done things that have hurt others without considering the consequences, but with utilitarianism we have to think about those consequences before we follow through with our actions. This is good because it allows us to think before we act, and therefore will be hurting less people. Another point is that sometimes we have to be unselfish and put others pleasure before ours if it will bring about more pleasure or less pain. It is usually a good thing to be unselfish but sometimes it ignores moral duties that we owe to ourselves. Should scientists, for instance, spend more time working on hypothesizes and experiments to cure diseases and less time with their kids, in order to bring about a greater amount of pleasure nationwide. Most of us would all agree that this is unfair to the scientists kids.
When you first think about utilitarianism you think many people must not use it. But actually many of its views are used everyday. The government is a big example of this. When the government receives extra money and it has to decide where it would be the most beneficial, it is using the idea of what brings about the greatest amount of pleasure to society. But sometimes the government gives this money to where it will please more people rather than where it is needed. This is a big difference. Just because society will be happier if the money is distributed to schools instead of to soup kitchens does not make it right. Another example is financial aid. Financial aid is given to whom ever it will benefit more and therefore will pleasure more. But once again there are problems with this. What one person believes will benefit more is not always whom it will please more. One family that did not receive financial aid might be struggling with college tuition and other things, while another family who received financial aid may be happy but there child does not even care much about school and is only going to please his or here parents. Another place where utilitarianism is used is in court. When people are sued for something, they have to decide whether it will financial hurt them less to just pay or will it cost them less to go to court and win. Sometimes the amount you are being sued for is significantly less than the amount it would cost to pay for a lawyer, never mind if you win or lose the case. These circumstances usually arise with recalled items. The company decides whether or not it will cost less to recall each item or less to go to court for each time. The presidential election is also a utilitarian situation. Each year the candidates form their program around that which will please the most amounts of people. They try to help more people and as a result are pleasuring more.
The biggest social problem we have with utilitarianism is based on money. In most of the situations above the thing that brings about the most pleasure is the money. I think this is a big problem we face. So many people out there believe that money will bring about more pleasure and less pain, but that is not always the case. There are many people out there that find happiness in other things. Many people take pleasure in helping others. A bum for example, would most likely be happier when a person walks up to them, smiles and apologizes that they don t have any money on hand, mostly treating them as a person. Rather than someone scowling at his or her stench, while dropping change in a cup. A smile can make someone s day and that has nothing to do with money.
As for whether or not these examples are moral, I believe that trying to benefit more people cannot necessarily be a bad thing. After all we are trying to make things better, but perhaps there are times when we need to worry more about what is needed than what is wanted. A quote posted on my eighth grade bulletin board rings through my ears, What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. How true this is! It is morally wrong to let people die on the street when we have the money to help them and we still decide to put it else where, yet I do not find it morally wrong to want to help more people.
What it all comes down to is that sometimes utilitarianism shows us how to think of others and put their pleasure before ours, but other times it takes away from what is morally right to ourselves and to others. At first the concept of utilitarianism seems simple, but when we really start to look at it and apply it to the consequences of our actions we realize the concept of that which brings about the greatest amount of pleasure or the least amount of pain is in reality too broad.