Utilitarianism is a view or a theory about how we should evaluate a wide range of things that involves the choices that people are faced with. Things that can be evaluated are: laws, policies, actions, character traits and moral codes. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism because it rests on the idea that it is the consequences or the results of actions whether they are good, bad, right or wrong. Utilitarianism appears to be a simple theory; it consists of only one evaluative principle, do what produces the best consequence.
However, the theory is complicated because we as humans cannot understand that a single principle unless we know three things: what things are good and bad, whose good we should aim to maximize and last is whether actions are made right or wrong by the actual consequences.
There are some disadvantages to utilitarianism. The first one, we cannot predict the future, judging your actions based on the outcome, then there is no way to make an accurate judgment. The second one, who decides good and bad? Who is right, who is wrong, so much of morality is led up to judgment, issues will inevitably arise. The third one is missed opportunities. Many situations require quick decisions. This is nearly impossible to do as a utilitarian. Every decision must be calculated to determine who it will affect and in what way will it affect them. The fourth and final one is favoritism is natural. How can someone make a utilitarian decision if their own loved ones are on the line. This is not possible; your instincts will take over and you will make the decision that is in favor of those that you love.
A further weakness is the emphasis on pleasure or happiness. If I seek my own happiness it is impossible for me to seek general happiness and to do what I ought to do. The qualitative and quantitative approaches also pose a problem. It can really do is guess the units of pleasure. How do we measure one pleasure against another? Should we maximize the average happiness or the total happiness? People may suffer second or third hand or even immediate consequences of an action fulfilled the conditions of the principle. Utilitarianism can also advocate injustice, the innocent man framed for rape in order to calm a riot.
Euthanasia is classified into two categories active and passive. Active one is making one die or what we know as a killing. The other one passive occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals either do not do something necessary to keep the patient alive or they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive. There are different types of euthanasia, animals, non-voluntary, involuntary, voluntary, child.
The most common argument against act utilitarianism is that it gives the wrong answer to moral questions. The following cases are among the commonly cited examples:
• If a judge can prevent riots that will cause many deaths by only convicting an innocent person of a crime and imposing a very severe punishment on that person, act utilitarianism implies that the judge should convict and punish the innocent.
• If a doctor can save five people from death by killing one healthy person and using that person organs for life saving transplants, then act utilitarianism implies that the doctor should kill the one person in order to save the other five.
• If a person makes a promise but breaking the promise will allow that person to perform an action that creates just slightly more well-being than keeping the promise will, then act utilitarianism implies that the promise should be broken.
In each case act utilitarianism implies that a certain act is morally permissible or required. Each of these judgements that flow from act utilitarianism conflicts with widespread, deeply held moral beliefs. Act utilitarianism approves of actions that most people see as morally wrong.
There are three strong objections against Utilitarianism. The first one approves of actions that are clearly wrong, the second undermines trust among people, and the last is it is too demanding because it requires people to make excessive levels of sacrifice. Utilitarianism allows judges and prosecutors to convict innocent people to very harsh and negligent punishments when doing so will maximize utility. It allows doctors to kill healthy patients if by doing so they can use the organs from that person to save a multitude of people by using that one’s persons’ organs.
More good may be done by killing the healthy patient in an individual case, it is unlikely to cause more overall good than allowing that type of practice. A rule utilitarian evaluation will take account of the fact that benefits of medical treatment would be greatly diminished because the people no longer trust any type of doctor. People who are seeking medical attention or treatment, must have the highest level of trust in their doctor. If worried about the doctor’s intentions because he or she may use your organs to help other patients, then the patients would not allow doctors to anesthetize them for surgery because the result of lost consciousness would cause them to be completely vulnerable and no way of defending themselves.
The judge scenario is very similar. In order to have a criminal justice system that protects people from being harmed by others, we give the judges the authority to impose serious punishments on people who have been committed of a crime. The purpose is to provide overall security to people in their jurisdiction, but this requires that criminal justice officials have the authority to only impose arrest and imprison people who are guilty.
Rule utilitarian’s do not deny that there are not trustworthy, they claim that their moral code generally condemns violations of trust as wrongful acts. The problem with this is that they support moral views that has an effect of undermining trust and that sacrifices the good effects of a moral code that supports and encourages trustworthiness.
Rule utilitarian’s believe that their views are also immune to the criticism that act utilitarianism is to demand. Act utilitarian commitment to impartiality undermines the moral relevance of personal relations, rule utilitarian’s claim that their view is not open to criticism. The claim is that rule utilitarianism allows for partiality towards themselves and others with whom we share personal relationships. Similar division of labor arguments can be used to provide impartial justifications of other partialism rules and practices. For example, teachers, they pose special duties to students in their own classes and have no duty to educate all students. Public officials can be partial to people in the jurisdiction at which they work at, but not always.
Rule utilitarian’s can defend partiality, their commitment to maximizing overall utility also allows them to justify limits on the degree of partiality that is morally allowed. At a minimum rule utilitarian’s will support a rule that forbids parents to harm other people’s children in order to advance the interests of their own child. For example, it would be wrong for a parent to injure children who are running in a school race in order to increase the chances that their own children will win. While rule utilitarianism permits partiality toward some people, it can generate rules that limit the ways in which people act and it might even support a positive duty for well off people to aid strangers when they are in need and in the interests of people who might be willing to help.
Act utilitarian’s criticize rule utilitarian’s for irrationally supporting rule-based actions in cases where more good be done by violating the rule than obeying it. Act utilitarian’s see this as a rule worship. Act utilitarian’s recognize that they have values. Rules can provide a basis for acting when there is no time to deliberate. Rules can define a default position, a justification for doing some sort of action if there is no reason for not doing it. When people know that more good can be done by violation of the rules then the default position should be overridden.
Utilitarian’s believe that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the number of good things in this world and decrease the number of bad things such as unhappiness and pain. Utilitarian’s reject moral codes that consist of taboos and commands that are based on traditions, orders given by leaders or supernatural beings. Utilitarian’s think that what makes a morality be true is its positive contribution to humans.
Utilitarian’s sometimes cannot support the right answers to crucial moral problems. Three moral ideas are justice, rights, and desert. Moral ideas are often invoked in reasoning about morality, but neither rule or act utilitarianism acknowledge their importance. For example, punishment of innocent people, the best that rule utilitarian’s can do is say a rule permits this type of action, which would lead to worse results overall than a rule that permitted that type of behavior.
Utilitarian’s may first, begin with the view that they do not reject concept like justice, desert, and rights. They will claim that they accept and use these concepts but interpret them from the perspective of maximizing utility. When speaking of rights and justice, is to speak of rules of individual’s treatment that are very important and what makes them important is the way that they contribute to promote overall well-being. People who accept these concepts as basic still need to determine whether it is always wrong to treat people unfairly, violate their rights.
Utilitarianism theory justifies treating people unjustly. This is one of the biggest criticisms because that theory justifies treating people unjustly. This holds true only if it is always wrong and thus never morally justified to treat people in these ways. Utilitarian’s argue that moral common sense is less absolutist than their critics acknowledge. Punishment for example, while we hope that our system of criminal justice gives people fair trials and conscientiously attempts to separate the innocent from guilty. Their system is not perfect, people who are innocent are sometimes convicted, prosecuted, and punished for crimes they did not do.
Wrongful convictions pose a difficult challenge to critics of utilitarianism. When we know that the system of criminal justice punishes some people unjustly and in ways, they did not deserve to be treated that way, we as people are faced with a dilemma. We can shut down the system and not punish or we can maintain the system even though we know that it will result in some innocent people being unjustly punished in ways that they do not deserve. People will continue to support to punish people in spite the fact that it involves punishing the wrong people. Ending practice of punishment completely will inevitably cause some injustice. It is likely to result in worse outcomes or consequences because it will deprive the society of the central means of protects the people’s well beings, which are known as their rights.
Act utilitarianism stresses the specific context and the many individual features of the situations that pose moral problems. It presents a single method for dealing with these individual cases. Rule utilitarianism stresses the recurrent features of human life and the ways in which similar needs and problems arise over and over against. We need rules that deal with types or classes of actions, such as: killing, stealing, lying, cheating, taking care of our friends, punishing people for crimes. Both perspectives agree that the main determinant of what is right or wrong is the relationship between what we do or what form our moral code takes and the impact of our perspective on the level of people’s well-being.