The Fundamental Idea Of Utilitarianism Essay

The Fundamental Idea Of Utilitarianism Essay

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If the consequential happiness of two options can be calculated, it is morally correct to choose the highest amount of happiness. This is the fundamental idea of utilitarianism. Breaking any decision into a math problem creates little room for error when making moral decisions. However, not all decisions are that straightforward. What if maximizing happiness requires you to cause harm to others? Do the ends justify the means, or do we have a moral obligation to not cause direct harm to others, regardless of the potential benefits?
Imagine a scenario where a terrorist has hidden a bomb that will kill approximately 1000 people. It is your job to locate the bomb in order to save 1000 innocent civilians. You have captured the terrorist, but you discover that the only way he will give up the bomb’s location is if you torture his innocent daughter. Is it morally correct to harm one innocent person in order to save a thousand, or do you hold yourself at a higher standard to not harm a single innocent person? Before we analyze this let’s clarify a few details. Since this is a moral question and not a legal one, we can disregard that torture is illegal. We can assume that you will not be judged on your actions after the incident, you are only making a choice affecting other people 's lives and not your own. It is also important to assume that you are 100% sure that torture is the only possible way to save everyone, and you are 100% sure it will work.
According to a utilitarian, such as John Stuart Mill, correctness is determined by the best overall consequences. (Turner) Let’s look at the first option, torturing the innocent daughter, through the lens of a utilitarian. The pro of this option is saving the lives of 1000 innocent people. Th...


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...e that do not. We can have a discussion on which is more likely to work, but in the end you can never be certain your choice is best. Perhaps both decisions are morally correct if the person deciding believes their choice has the best chance to maximize happiness. In this sense, intentions are the only thing that matters when it comes to any moral question. For this situation the only person with bad intentions is the terrorist, therefore he is the only one making a bad moral decision.
This does not mean that torture is a good decision. I would say that in the majority of cases the use of torture does not lead to good information. The victims of torture are almost always from another country or culture and are portrayed to be enemies, which can easily create a system of institutional racism. Outside of a metaphorical example, torture almost never maximizes happiness.

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