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Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that encourages actions considered to bring happiness and wellbeing to a large group of people. Although there is a variety of definitions of utilitarianism, the primary concept behind all of them is to maximize utility, which in many cases, is described in terms of well-being or happiness (Weinstein, 2014). During the middle ages, many people believed that happiness could not be achieved on earth and that the concept of morality was only found in the word of God. When these views were challenged in the “Enlightenment,” people changed their opinions, and they believed that happiness could be achieved, and morality was viewed as a human-made concept. An active discussion on the link between virtue and happiness developed. An extraordinary view on morality emerged whereby ethical codes were perceived as a means of obtaining a happy life. When the utilitarianism theory is applied to an individual’s life, it may face some challenges. One of those challenges includes a person who cannot foretell what balance of effects on happiness will be. Another problem is that the theory believes that every behavior which is intended to benefit many people is moral. Not all morally upright actions can produce the greatest happiness to the most considerable number of people.
One example to explain the utilitarianism theory is: The utilitarianism theory should be applied only to general rules such as: rules which state that mothers should take good care of their ill children. Obeying such law will bring happiness to a significant number of people, such as family and the friends of the sick child. Following this kind of rule is morally upright despite the consequences of such actions. The utilitarianism rule is well suited for public policy. It also applies well to the sociological imagination. The Sociological Imagination is an outlook on life that tries to break away from the monotony of day to day life. Specifically, the sociological imagination involves an individual developing a deep understanding of how their biography is a result of historical process and occurs within a larger social context. (Merriam-Webster) When the principle is applied to public policy, it means that public institutions, social policy, and laws should take actions which would create happiness to a significant number of people. Many people are aware of the utilitarianism theory, but it is rarely put into practice because the principle has faced rejections from both moral and pragmatic grounds (Romano, 2014). People who oppose the utilitarianism theory on practical grounds state that the principle requires everybody to understand happiness so that we may be able to foresee the impacts of our behaviors on joy. The principle also requires us to have the ability to measure the resulting gains from happiness. Generally, the utilitarianism theory undertakes that our practices can impact satisfaction. I reject all these views of the utilitarianism theory on happiness. Happiness is an intangible concept that cannot be measured. Human beings can only guess some of the consequences of our behaviors on happiness. Some people believed that satisfaction in an absolute trait that cannot be influenced. I suggest that it is better to stick to the more substantial virtues such as equality and justice.
Moral objections state that utilitarianism theory defends some of the immoral acts such as dictatorship, mind-control, and manipulation. Other complaints say that happiness is a mere illusionary matter or pleasure which is not treasured of it. Happiness can also spoil individuals by promoting irresponsible consumerism, and it may make people less sensitive to the suffering of others. The shortcomings of the utilitarianism theory lie in the field of justice. The method requires people to violate some standards of fairness. For example, imagine a judge in a small town, and an unknown individual has committed a crime. An innocent man has been arrested, and there is social unrest because people believe that the righteous man is the criminal. The judge understands that if he sets the innocent man free, there will be more civil unrest, and many people may be injured, and if the man is jailed, the town will be at peace.
Innocent people should not be punished for the crimes they did not commit because it violates their rights, and it is unjust. However, the utilitarianism theory emphasizes on the net gain of happiness rather than justice. Something should not be done regardless of the amount of joy it will produce and the number of people it will make happy. Utilitarianism theory is dominant in the current political environment and moral questions. The consequences of an action should be considered before the action is taken. We must also take into consideration other morals such as human rights and what our judgments and decisions reveal about us because morality is more than the impacts of our behaviors.
There are many things that human beings are not allowed to do to other individuals despite their consequences; such bring happiness to a large number of people. For example, is a thief decides to steal money from rich people, then use the money to help poor people in society. Although many people will be happy because they will be able to meet their financial needs, but stealing is illegal, and legal action may be taken against the thief if they are found. The utilitarianism theory also has a weakness in differentiating the source of happiness because some people may be made happy by viewing beautiful scenery while others may get happiness from performing sadistic acts (Byskov, 2018). The utilitarianism theory focuses on happiness, and it believes that happiness if the most desirable value. Many scholars rejected this viewpoint because it does not make sense to emphasize single importance.
Utilitarianism believes that some moral values are too rigid. However, this rigidity is present because of trust which exists between individuals. For example, if judges, doctors, and policymakers’ decisions depend on what makes many people happy, then nobody will trust the judges, doctors, and politicians to make the right decisions. Furthermore, other values are better than happiness. In a practical society, it is hard to believe what other people say and do because they may be saying and doing something to keep a promise they made. Therefore, in such a society, it is hard to trust people because they lack consistency and predictability, which is necessary to maintain trust and social stability.
The utilitarian theory is also impartial and does not consider people’s interests equally. Application of the pragmatic approach would mean that whenever an individual wants to purchase an item for themselves or their friends, they will have to consider whether this purchase would bring happiness to a more significant number of people. Suppose many people will not be happy with the purchase, the person may be required to donate their money to help other people. This theory does not consider the individual’s needs and wants because he will not be allowed to purchase what he needs because many people will not benefit from the purchase. In society, people believe that they have to help others who are near and dear to them (Oakley, 2014). Therefore, many people would reject the belief that morality requires us to treat individuals who we love and care for the same way we treat strangers. Critics argue that the idea of using our money to help other people rather than helping ourselves is false. This belief is misleading because it does not recognize the moral legality of giving special treatment to ourselves and other individuals who we love and care about. Again, many people are always encouraged to act on behalf of themselves. Therefore, individuals will still care about morality, which helps them to treat strangers the same way they handle themselves rather than treating strangers more than the way they treat themselves.
Happiness is a sign of contentment, and it is assumed that an individual may become passive if they receive everything that they desire. Individuals that are contended may not have limitations, and they may do some actions which may hurt many people in society. Therefore, the happiness promoted by utilitarian theory may be dangerous to society.
The practical approach may be creating an organization made up of contended people who may not care about the suffering of others. The theory also justifies such morally rejectable actions such as mind-controlling, manipulation, and dictatorship in society to increase happiness. It also means that the rights of the minority groups can be violated for the most significant number of people to be happy. For example, the utilitarian theory suggests that slavery may be acceptable is it makes a more substantial number of people happy. Generally, there is no guarantee that seeking happiness for a more significant number of people may lead to morally acceptable results. The theory of utilitarianism should only be applied under some circumstances such when public policy maker makes a decision which may benefit many people.
Byskov, M. F. (2018). Utilitarianism and risk. Journal of Risk Research, (1-12.)
Oakley, J. (2014). Virtue ethics and utilitarianism. In The Handbook of Virtue Ethics
(pp. 72-83). Routledge.
Romano, O. (2014). Anti-utilitarianism. In Degrowth (pp. 49-52). Routledge.
Weinstein, D. (2014). Utilitarianism. The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, 3762-3765.
“Sociological.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sociological.