Print Сite this

Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings

Utilitarianism is a branch of moral philosophy that promotes the idea that the means applied can be justified by the results obtained. The proponents of this theory believe that traditional moral values and codes are futile as they do not contribute to the improvement of human existence. Thus, they claim that moral actions make sense only if they result in the increased amount of amenities (Barrow 13).

Our experts can deliver a Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings essay
tailored to your instructions
for only $13.00 $11.05/page
308 qualified specialists online
Learn more

The paper at hand is going to investigate the controversy provoked by utilitarian philosophy juxtaposing its advantages and shortcomings. It will attempt to prove that despite being based on common sense, this theory has a considerable flaw at a deeper level as it ignores viewpoint and feelings of the outer party experiencing the results of the action performed within the framework of utilitarianism. The comparative analysis of the two approached exemplified by works of E. Kant and J.S. Mill as well as real-life examples will also be provided.

Pros of Utilitarianism

The commonly accepted advantages of utilitarianism include (Mulgan 23-24):

  • Comprehensible principles and clear guidelines for behavior. Basically, utilitarianism states that every action has a consequence, which is more significant than the action itself. This implies that the value of morality and ethics can be easily evaluated by the effect that they produce: e.g. following utilitarian principles, no driver will drink at the wheel as it can result in injury or death.
  • Emphasis on benefits obtained. Utilitarianism states that an action can be called ‘good’ only if the agent can benefit from it. Therefore, it disclaims actions that may cause unhappiness.
  • An attempt to create an ideal society. Since the theory encourages people to think of the consequences of all their actions, its ultimate objective is to create a society in which no one would suffer from errors of others.
  • The potential to become a uniting theory. Most philosophies do not treat people equally, which means that the rules applicable to one strata of the community are not applicable to any other. Unlike them, utilitarianism asserts that morality affects everyone in the same way, which gives it a potential to unite contradicting philosophic branches.

Cons of Utilitarianism

Despite its evident advantages, utilitarianism has considerable shortcomings (Kliemt 86-90):

  • It does not into account negative consequences. Utilitarian philosophy speaks of actions as good or bad analyzing them only from the perspective of the agent. However, it is clear that the satisfaction of a person is often achieved at the expense of someone else’s happiness: e.g. if you get a job, it means that other applicants have been turned away.
  • It is subjective and oversimplified. No one can identify where the borderline between the good and the evil can be drawn as no action can be totally bad. Thus, the theory oversimplifies morality.
  • It is time-consuming and practically unattainable. Considering the consequences of every action requires a lot of time and effort. Even so, predictions may fail to come true as emergency situations often cannot be forecasted.

Kant vs. Mill: Evaluation of Ethical Views

In order to provide a deeper insight into the theory of utilitarianism, it should be contrasted with the opposing theory – Kantianism. For this purpose, the central ideas of E. Kant and J.S. Mill will be juxtaposed in order to highlight flaws of utilitarian philosophy.

The major objections to Mill’s approach include the following ones (Bentham and Stuart Mill 10-34):

  • It promotes negative responsibility. Mill states that an individual is responsible for actions that he/she could have done but failed to do, including prevention of other people’s actions that led to unhappiness.
  • It is too much demanding. According to Mill, you need to give up your personal interests completely in order to be able to perform a moral action, which could contribute to the general good.
  • It deprives people of their autonomy. Moral responsibility is viewed out of the sphere of personal perception and evaluation. It means that the agent should not consider his/her own moral values and prioritize the action that would lead to the maximum increase of happiness. On the other hand, there are no standard moral rules that can assist in this choice.
  • It excludes the possibility of an error of judgment. Mill does not take into consideration that an individual is sometimes unable to decide what can bring him/her real pleasure and satisfaction. He states that it is important to differentiate between noble and basic pleasures but fails to provide guidelines to further actions that would exclude potential mistakes of choice. Therefore, it is unclear how to estimate the level of satisfaction in advance and choose the best possible option to achieve it.
  • It puts morals above feelings. Mill asserts that if you can commit an action that will save people’s lives, it is your moral obligation to do it. However, he does not take into account the circumstances involved. For instance, if you can stop a terroristic attack by inflicting physical tortures to the terrorist’s child, you do this for the happiness of other people, which is hardly imaginable in real life where feeling often win over obligations.
  • It neglects the possibility of conflicting needs. There is a possibility of a situation that would involve contradicting morals and place the agent in a dilemma. For example, if you are in a hurry to be on time for an important appointment and accidentally meet a person who is in a great need for help, you will have to decide which moral obligation to choose. The theory is so detached from reality that it fails to provide solution to such cases as both moral options increase someone’s happiness despite being mutually exclusive.

These arguments can be provided in favor of Kant’s point of view on morality (Kant et al. 35-49):

On-Time Delivery! Get your 100% customized paper
done in
as little as 3 hours
Let`s start
  • It is rational, objective, and impartial. Kant stresses the importance of consistence and objectiveness of moral choices. For him, there exist absolutes that must not be violated under any possible conditions, which implies that exceptions to the rules are impossible. This approach makes people equal in terms of their personal duties.
  • It emphasized the inner value of an individual. According to Kant, every human being is a unique creation with inherent dignity and worth. Thus, he does not consider morality to be an obligation or a burden – on the contrary, it is regarded as a virtue that is indispensible to being human.
  • It provides a moral justification of human rights. Kant states that having responsibilities implies receiving respective rights that should be confirmed by legislation. Therefore, having intrinsic value means being enabled to exercise certain freedoms.
  • It excludes relativism. Controversial cases are impossible within the given framework as the same moral rights are applicable for every society and individual. It facilitates moral choices by providing universal guidance.
  • It gives autonomy to develop your personal moral frameworks. If you do not go against basic moral rules (e.g. lying, breaking promises, etc.), you are free to apply any methods that can increase your happiness as long as your leading principle is reason.
  • It does not hang the blame on a person for making the wrong choice. Kant states that we cannot be perfectly sure of the effects of our choices, which means that even the best intentions can lead to deplorable consequences. Thus, a person cannot be accused of making the wrong choice as long as he/she was guided by moral principles.

If we compare the two theories, it becomes self-evident that Kant’s philosophy is much more practical and realistic whereas utilitarianism is utopian and detached from real-life situations. Its major flaw is the narrow perspective that it takes to address highly complex issues requiring multi-level analysis that involves much deeper consideration.

Analysis of Real-Life Cases

The world history and the present-day politics can provide a lot of instances of utilitarianism. In most cases, they are connected with ambiguous situations that spark public outcry. Among the most demonstrative, the following examples can be provided (Hayry 28-42):

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

As we know from history, atomic bombs were dropped on these two Japanese cities killing practically all people living in them and making the survivors suffer from slow agony. The situation may seem quite unambiguous for a layman as no morals can justify homicide of thousands of the civilian population. Most people believe that this action was completely futile and was committed exclusively for the sake of killing. Yet, it should be taken into consideration that the Japanese were actively developing their own atomic bomb. Therefore, if the USA had refrained from this action, it could have led to deaths of many more people as Japan was striving to obtain dominion over the whole world. As we can see, utilitarianism is capable of providing justification even for actions that seem totally inhumane.

Slavery

As we know from the experience of the United States, slavery took a lot of human lives and brought about suffering, violation of human dignity, discrimination, and other atrocities. However, utilitarian morality claims that this could be justified as long as it provided economic benefits to the rest of the population since it was much more profitable than wage labor.

Taxation system

The system of income tax collection can also be cited among the examples of utilitarianism. It relies on the following principle: the more you earn, the more you pay to the state and vice versa. It turns out that such a system does not bring any extra finances into the economy as the same amount is simply distributed unequally among tax-payers. Neither does it create any financial deficit. From the most logical point of view, it would be fair to make all citizens pay the same amount of income tax. Yet, utilitarian principles require that the good of the nation prevails over individual profit, which means that the rich have to contribute to well-being of the poor.

Conclusion

Although being seemingly clear, utilitarian philosophy has a lot of vague aspects that make it inconsistent and unconvincing. The two basic concepts – happiness and consequences – are rather controversial and relativistic. The of idea of placing moral values outside the agent for the sake of utility does not prove to be effective in all real-life situations, which means that the theory is applicable only in a very limited number of cases. Owing to its flaws, it does not stand comparison with more objective and well-developed frameworks.

Works Cited

Barrow, Robin. Utilitarianism: A Contemporary Statement. Routledge, 2015.

We’ll deliver a custom paper tailored to your requirements.
Cut 15% off your first order
Use discount

Bentham, Jeremy, and John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism and Other Essays. Penguin, 2007.

Hayry, Matti. Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics. Routledge, 2013.

Kant, Immanuel, Allen W. Wood, and Jerome B. Schneewind. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Yale University Press, 2006.

Kliemt, Hartmut. “Rawls’s Critique of Utilitarianism.” John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, vol. 3, no. 1, 2013, pp. 79-94.

Mulgan, Tim. Understanding Utilitarianism. Routledge, 2014.

Cite this paper

Select style

Reference

StudyCorgi. (2020, October 2). Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/utilitarian-philosophy-advantages-and-shortcomings/

Reference

StudyCorgi. (2020, October 2). Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings. https://studycorgi.com/utilitarian-philosophy-advantages-and-shortcomings/

Work Cited

"Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings." StudyCorgi, 2 Oct. 2020, studycorgi.com/utilitarian-philosophy-advantages-and-shortcomings/.

* Hyperlink the URL after pasting it to your document

1. StudyCorgi. "Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings." October 2, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/utilitarian-philosophy-advantages-and-shortcomings/.


Bibliography


StudyCorgi. "Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings." October 2, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/utilitarian-philosophy-advantages-and-shortcomings/.

References

StudyCorgi. 2020. "Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings." October 2, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/utilitarian-philosophy-advantages-and-shortcomings/.

References

StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Utilitarian Philosophy: Advantages and Shortcomings'. 2 October.

This paper was written and submitted to our database by a student to assist your with your own studies. You are free to use it to write your own assignment, however you must reference it properly.

If you are the original creator of this paper and no longer wish to have it published on StudyCorgi, request the removal.