The act utilitarianism, I will be focusing on its


The thesis for my essay is to critically evaluate internal
and external affairs on utilitarianism using scholars from different times as
utilitarianism has changed gradually over time to adapt to their respective
social norms since Bentham and Mill. In my essay, I shall first give an
introduction to utilitarianism and present its attributes. Next, I shall
explore some of its general criticisms such as people’s bias towards friends
and family, and the concept on how only some and not all people gain happiness.
Following this, I will break down utilitarianism into act utilitarianism and rule
utilitarianism. In act utilitarianism, I will be focusing on its criticism of
it being immoral. I will relate its immorality with consequentialism. Then, I
shall be looking into Bentham’s ‘pushpin and poetry’ dilemma and Mill’s
‘Socrates and fool’ dilemma. After this, I will be exploring rule utilitarianism
and whether government utilitarian decisions would be best for its society. Lastly,
I shall look into the criticism on whether our decisions should be determined
emotionally or morally. Utilitarianism is a system of social and political
ideas the produces the greatest possible welfare. However, in its modern
reformulation by Hardin, utilitarianism is a moral theory that obtains the
greatest good within the society and is judged by the goodness of that outcome,
which measures the rightness of the action to the extent of the affected
outcome. Utilitarianism differentiates what is right and wrong. Utilitarian
doctrine searches for happiness. Although, in comparison to sound and sight, it
is something the human body cannot sense. There is no reason to why happiness
is wanted, except that each individual desire their own happiness. This makes
happiness a type of good and a criterion of morality. Each and every one of us
desire only pleasure and the absence of pain. The ingredients of happiness vary
across people, each being desirable. Utilitarianism follows three basic claims:
the first being that our individualistic happiness is ultimately the most
important and what really matters. We have a moral obligation to maximise the welfare
of others affected by our actions; like me giving donations to charities
surrounding me. Finally, the consequences of our actions will determine whether
we will maximise our happiness.


Utilitarianism follows the principles of egalitarianism. The
value of each individual’s welfare is the same. Hence utilitarianism treats
everyone equally. Utilitarians are impartialists because they also treat
everyone’s well-being equally. However, people within society tend to be bias
with events occurring within their inner circle such as friends and family
interests. Though utilitarianism does push people to expand our moral reach.
The system of utilitarianism treats every people of equal worth. Everyone is
accounted for only one, where each individual’s pain or pleasure is calculated
fairly using the greatest happiness calculus. Moore rejects the hedonistic
value of Classical Utilitarianism in the sense that the good achieved should
not be reduced to just pleasure. He believes the greatest good is defined in
terms of more private ideals such as friendship and aesthetic appreciation. Dworkin
argues that liberties must be given to the people as rights because without it,
there would be an unfair form of utilitarian arguments that will fail to treat people
as equals. Utilitarianism can be used as a good normative guide to public
affairs without necessarily being the best practical guide to private affairs. There
are some objections to the public aspect of utilitarianism. Critics have said
that utilitarianism can never be used in practice because it requires citizens
to engage in “impossible ‘interpersonal utility comparisons.'” (Goodin, 1997,
p. 78) It is a technique that uses information from other people who you have
connections with to be able to make the best possible decision. In this
context, we are put in situations where some people will gain welfare while the
others do not, and if we want to maximise utility, we need to be able to enter
people’s minds so that we can gather data of their pleasures and pain to
calculate the maximisation of utility, to which critics have deemed impossible.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now



Act utilitarianism focuses more towards individual actions.
It performs actions that create the most net utility possible. People assume
that morality is a subjective truth, but due to act utilitarianism, it proves
how morality can also have some objective truths by showing which beliefs are
true or false. Bentham created hedonic calculus to show what elements were used
to calculate happiness and pain. If you were and Accident and Emergency doctor
and you only had enough supplies to perform on one of two patients, one who is
experiencing severe pain and the other is only experiencing mild pain, you
would, based on the information at hand would operate on the former patient.
This hence, proves that we are able to gain objectively true answers. One main
argument against act utilitarianism is that it does not have moral answers. It
allows various immoral acts. Consequentialism is a known, utilitarian concept
for punishment. Consequentialism is a forward-looking theory for punishment
that is justified by the good it obtains. It does whatever means necessary to
obtain the best utilitarian result even having to make cold decisions.  It attempts to maximise our welfare. The
theory punishes people, even including innocent civilians in an attempt to
lower the crime rate through deterrence. Deterrence discourages criminals from
breaking the law by fear. People are severely punished without limit Using this
theory, it creates an incentive for everyone to obey the law; not because it is
their moral obligation, but rather it is individualistic. This system gives
people the wrong reason to obey the law because through this system, it does
not gain any moral value. Another issue with it is that even innocent people
are susceptible to being punished. Mirko Bagaric uses a ‘partners-in crime’ for
accepting punishing the innocent. Bagaric stated that when the community is in
a dire situation, it is acceptable of the “sacrifice of innocents for the sake
of the greater good.” strategy (cited in Bennett, 2004, p. 326) Utilitarianism
can be seen as a public philosophy. Public philosophy addresses public related
issues relating public policy. In earlier times, utilitarianism solved problems
for the public. Utilitarianism as a public philosophy will bound to have these
sorts of sacrifices. However, in many of the cases, the impact on social life
would produce a utilitarian payoff judging by the fact that punishing innocent
people does not become a public knowledge.



Another problem is with Bentham’s remarks on how playing
with a pushpin has an equal quality of pleasure to reading poetry, a viewpoint
of a hedonistic act utilitarian. (Smart, 2008, p.g. 13) It ignores the
difference between higher and lower qualities of pleasure. In response, it
allows us to calculate the quantity of pleasure without actually having
different values of quality. In Smart’s Utilitarianism,
for and against, “it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool
satisfied.” (Smart, 2008, p.g. 15) At that moment, Socrates is less pleasurable
compared to the fool, but Mill believes that Socrates would be happier than the
fool. He believes that with the revolutionary improvements towards society from
Socrates, he would be more useful in society. A quote from Smart:

Consider two
brothers. One may be of a docile and easy temperament: he may lead a supremely
contented and unambitious life. enjoying himself hugely. The other brother may
be ambitious, may stretch his talents to the full, may strive for scientific
success and academic honours, and may discover some invention or some remedy
for disease or improvement in agriculture which will enable innumerable men of
easy temperament to lead a contented life. whereas otherwise they would have
been thwarted by poverty, disease or hunger. Or he may make some advance in
pure science which will later have beneficial practical applications. Or,
again, he may write poetry which will solace the leisure hours and stimulate
the brains of practical men or scientists, thus indirectly leading to an
improvement in society. (Smart, 2008, p.g. 15)

The knowledge he has is what he has bestowed upon us shows
that he has extrinsic value. Even though, the brother would be in discontent,
his presence would bring more pleasure throughout the community. This is the
reason why someone who likes pushpin would later become bored of it, while
someone who reads poetry develops skills and certain life lessons. This may
show that our preference for poetry over pushpin is not intrinsic, but
extrinsic value. A problem with this is that because Mill insisted that
pleasures have different quality makes it hard to calculate. It is like
comparing cats with dogs; two different things. It does not allow summing up
the quantity of pleasure. A counter-argument would be that with training, it
would in fact be easy to distinguish the different values of mental and
physical pleasures. A person who can sing would provide a higher pleasure than
someone who belches as singing. Judgements like this are made all the time. Our
unique methods of reason enable us to evaluate higher pleasure.



Rule utilitarianism follows a set of moral principles that
restrict certain actions from being justified on the basis that the actions
conform to the moral principles. The moral principles are morally justified
when it creates the most utility possible. Rule utilitarianism maximizes
utility by following the set of rules. Take for example, drivers on the road.
By devising a set of rules for the drivers allow a safer passage for other
surrounding drivers. Accidents still do happen on the road, but if we do not
give specific instructions like ‘no drinking while driving’ or ‘stop at a red
light,’ there will surely be much more chaos. People are notoriously known for
our bad immoral judgements (e.g. slavery), so with rules to govern our general
way of living ensures a decrease in endangerment which leads to a greater
overall utility. An argument against this by Smart is the necessity of ‘rule
worshipping.’ Rule utilitarians are criticised for their support to rule-based
actions as they can achieve a higher utility value by violating rules rather
than obeying it. Well-being as an objective measurement creates a problem
whereby government may claim to know what is best for our community when
actually, their decisions create more unhappiness. Although, the government may
be able to maximise well-being by intervening on people who violates
individual’s human rights such as ethnic discrimination or sexist remarks. The
government may also gain utility from restricting people’s freedom such as bans
and prohibition of certain dangerous substances. Therefore, we can see that
using rules from rule utilitarianism, we can interpret them as human rights.
The right to freedom of religion could be observed as a rule which prevents
discrimination towards people’s religious liberty. However, with this solution
may cause a conflict between maximising well-being and respecting rights.



Utilitarianism demands the wrong things. Humans, like any
other known terrestrial beings are imperfect. We care too much on things like
personal attachments and loyalty to friends. From a utilitarian perspective, a
pound spent efficiently is immoral. It is the belief that we should not be
investing on personal things that you are emotionally connected with. MacAskill
believes (cited in Srinivasan) that donating to cost-inefficient charities is
wrong because the donation could have been used more effectively. If we are
faced with the choice of earning cash to donate to efficient charities or consoling
your best friend going through a break up, the utilitarian calculus calculates
us to do the former because it does the most good from whichever standpoint you
are looking at. However, performing both activities do generate happiness and
even if you choose to stick with your friend, we should not be looking at it
not because you have reached your quota for good deeds, but it is your friend
in need. Anyone can earn cash to donate to the efficient charities, but not
everyone has the access to console your friend. In addition, it is your life
and it morally matters. MacAskill (cited in Srinivasan) wrote that he chose not
to donate to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa after his visit. He had
made a personal connection with the women who were admitted there. He felt that
it would have been unfair to the other more efficient charities because of
emotional rather than moral reasons, a utilitarian basis from the 19th
century by Henry Sidgwick called ‘the point of view of the universe,’ where
your priority is to help the worst-off. However, the most noticeable word in
one of MacAskill’s passage, “it was arbitrary that I’d seen this particular
problem at close quarters,” (cited in Srinivasan) is ‘arbitrary’ which was
picked up by Srinivasan. Even though, it was an off chance that he ended up in
that hospital in that area, it is also an off chance that we were given the
family, friends, and neighbours. The word ‘arbitrary’ in the context has an
ethical persona. It establishes a platform for us to have a personal experience
by giving us social life. It is unfair to only give the worst-off funds while
the women MacAskill met who are also suffering are not given help. Though from
his utilitarian point of view, we are like Accident and Emergency doctors, where
we would priorities the most risked patients. This requires logical, impersonal
decisions instead of ethical decisions.



In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the
points on what I have stated. Firstly, I have mentioned that by treating
everyone equally, it allows everyone to expand their moral horizon. In act
utilitarianism, I have explained on why it is immoral by using consequentialism
as an example. It includes stating that it is used to gain the highest utility
whilst affecting even the most innocent ones. Next, I assessed Bentham’s issue
on how to very different activities result in the same quality of pleasures.
However, with constant value of quality gives us a calculation method to find
the quantity of pleasure. Mill’s issue relates to proving that a dissatisfied
person who contributes more to society brings higher utility compared to a
bright full. Rule utilitarianism shows that having rules may actually produce a
more positive welfare since it causes less accidents. Lastly, even though utilitarianism
always strives for us to reach the highest utility possible, it is still
morally acceptable to do good things within your emotional circle.