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Are Utilitarians Correct When They Say That It Is Morally Right To Maximise Utility?
Utilitarianism is the theory that only happiness is good, and the right act (or rule) is that act (or rule) that maximises happiness. There are three types of utilitarianism; act, rule and preference. Act is the theory that only happiness is good, and the right act is that act that maximises happiness, hedonist act utilitarianism understands happiness in terms of the balance of pleasure over pain. Rule is the theory that only happiness is good, and the right act is the act that complies with those rules which, if everybody followed, would lead to the greatest amount of happiness. Preference is the theory that we should maximise happiness, which is not in terms of people’s happiness but in terms of their satisfaction with people’s preferences. Utility is the property of an object or action in virtue of which it tends to produce happiness.
Firstly, I don’t agree that it is morally right to maximise utility because there are many issues with how the calculation works. There are many difficulties with calculating utility as it takes time to be fully evaluated and accurate for the right decision to be made in time. Furthermore, the utility calculus is a very impractical tool to use to calculate utility with, it seems very complicated to use in every decision you have to make, this is also that we assume we know the consequences and how they will affect people. Many utilitarians, however, will say that it helps to provide a clear decision which is practical in a situation where there is a small number of people who will be affected by the consequences. It is also only used as an approximation tool so it is used in the circumstances that what you guess is what is actually going to happen. Due to this being purely guessing it is not reliable at all, it only works for a small group of people too which we can argue wouldn’t it be better to measure utility in how happy it makes people, instead of how many people it makes happy. There are also many difficulties in calculating each of the seven variables, for example, would it be better to have longer-lasting dull pleasure or short intense pleasure. I believe that this is the strongest point as it poses the most threats against utilitarianism, but has weak points for it. This allows me to argue why it isn’t useful better because arguments such as “it helps provide a clear decision for a small number of people in a group” are weak as they say that you should only calculate what to do when there is a small group, it doesn’t point out what we should do to make the morally right action in a big group. The problems of calculation are never able to be justified so I believe that this is the strongest argument.
Secondly, it isn't morally right to maximise utility due to the fact that there is an issue with pleasure and pain. Nozick’s pleasure machine says that pleasure is not all we want as if we were plugged into a machine that could give us eternal fake happiness, we would not choose it as it isn’t the reality that people are searching for. People would rather have real happiness with some sadness, rather than fake happiness. On the other hand, Bentham would argue that pleasure and pain are our masters and that we will seek pleasure and avoid pain. Bentham would say that we will avoid situations where we have had negative reactions to pleasure as this does not bring us joy, therefore we won’t do it again. Another argument would be that to maximise utility would be to be democratic, as democracy allows people to do the things that make them happy and avoid the things that don’t, many would argue this is an important part of society. Equally to many people, it is common sense that we actively seek pleasure to try and maximize everyone’s happiness and minimise their pain. In opposition, this can bring about a repugnant conclusion where we would be more worried about the quality of pleasure which would be a world issue as people would be purely focused on only wanting extreme pleasure all the time. The best way to fight a repugnant conclusion would be to make everyone just a little bit happy rather than make everyone try and get pure happiness. Whilst I believe that whilst this is a good argument, it isn't the best as many of the points can still be argued against and worked around. I also believe that they can be argued against as they are views, unlike the problems with calculations, they aren’t factual but are in fact the philosopher’s own beliefs.
In addition, there is the problem of tyranny of the majority. Tyranny of the majority means that the minority view is completely ignored like it wasn’t there as they go for the most people to be happy, instead of the quality of happiness. This can be argued by saying that it only focuses on human well being so it promotes us to seek the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people so this promotes benevolence, the quality of being kind, towards others. Many people would argue that it ignores the rights of individuals and it treats people as a means to an end. This means that it doesn’t treat people with the respect that they need, but in fact, it uses the majority purely to end debate. This is a weaker argument as it only talks about the quality and quantity of discussion which can be argued against easily depending on your point of view. It is also weaker than any of my other points as they have stronger arguments against the arguments.
My last point is that there are many problems with equality. We are meant to follow utilitarianism by being impartial and making sure that everyone is equal and we shouldn’t consider anyone else’s happiness more than someone else’s but in reality, we are more likely to try and make our friends and family happier than strangers we don’t know. For example, if we need to shave either a family member or two people, most people are likely to save the family member. However, a good utilitarian would believe and argue that it is egalitarian nature to try and make actions fair and unprejudiced by refusing to take into account a person’s relation. Furthermore, it leads onto egalitarian theory where everyone’s pleasure is considered in addition to your own, this means that no individual is worth more than another. Nevertheless, people will choose the people they are going to be closer to rather than the people they don’t know as it will value both of their happiness more if they helped a family member rather than a stranger. I believe that this is my weakest argument as it is very conflicting and can be overthrown very easily, my first point is definitely the strongest as it has a good structure to it and it can’t be argued against.
In conclusion, I don’t agree that it is morally right to maximise utility as there are many issues with calculations and measuring pleasure so the outcome may not be quantifiable as you can never be accurate enough with it. The issues with only relying on consequences is also an issue where you will never be able to know the consequences that occur.