Essay on Utilitarianism

Essay on Utilitarianism

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Classical utilitarianism, the theory as described by 17th century philosopher John Stuart Mill, states that the only thing that matters is that are the happiness and unhappiness that is created as a consequence of an action; those actions are to be judged right or wrong solely by virtue of their consequences, everything else is irrelevant. The theory also states that each person’s happiness is equally important. According to Mill, the right actions are actions that produce the greatest possible balance of happiness over unhappiness. Although the theory of utilitarianism is widely accepted, it is not without some very critical and persuasive objections. I will examine and analyze the “doctrine of swine” and “lack of time” objections against utilitarianism along with Mill’s response to those statements.

Utilitarianism stresses the importance of the consequential happiness of an action. Nevertheless, the “doctrine of swine” objection to humanity states that since all that matters are pleasure and happiness, then our values are to be deemed unworthy of living. An example that illustrates this notion is the experience machine:

Let A be defined as: dictator issues edict forcing everyone onto machines that produces pleasurable experiences (the magnitude knobs set at maximum). U(A) = +1000
Let B be defined as: dictator does not issue edict. U(B) = +500

1. If utilitarianism is true, then the dictator is morally obliged to do A
2. It is not the case that the dictator is morally obliged to do A
3. Therefore, utilitarianism is false

Ordering everyone to be hooked up to the machine would certainly maximize utilities, but people’s lives would become no better than the life of a pig.

Premise one of the objection is true co...


... middle of paper ...


...carriage. He should not have to think twice about his course of action because his past experiences in life.

I also believe that the “lack of time” objection is false. According to utilitarianism, any action that fails to produce the greatest utility is morally wrong. Using the baby carriage example, if Jim were to stand and ponder on his alternatives, it would without a doubt produce less happiness as opposed to rescuing the baby. With that said, premise one becomes false because utilitarianism does not require us to think about our actions. Therefore, the lack of time objection is invalid and therefore unsound.

Even though the “doctrine of swine” and the “lack of time” argument all prove to be unsound, both objections exemplify the short-comings of utilitarianism. And although Mill attempts to reason with each argument, he is only successful in some cases.

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