Because morality is based on the greatest pleasure the more people who benefit from an act, the more moral it is. This prevents a single person from only acting for his own benefit by requiring the consideration of his acts on others. It also allows difficult moral decisions to be made on a governmental level by considering the needs of the many. For example, it is policy in a hostage situation to refuse to give in to the captors. This is morally justified even if it endangers the lives of the hostages because the greater pain lies in encouraging future hostage situations by yielding to the captors.
Another positive aspect of utilitarianism is that there is a purpose to the morality. One acts morally because it causes pleasure and happiness, or prevents as much pain as possible. In fact pleasure and freedom from pain are the only ends desirable in and of themselves. This differs from the deontological concept of philosophy, where an act is not good because it causes pleasure, but only when it is done out of duty from universal maxims. This also creates problems of motivation that are avoided by Mills Utilitarianism.
According to Kant, saving a mans life for a reward or other personal gain is immoral because of the motivation, however Mill would find that this act is indeed moral because saving a life, no matter the intention, prevents the most pain and causes the most pleasure. Not only is there a purpose behind utilitarian morality, but there is also an inherent flexibility within utilitarianism. Because each act is examined for its moral worth, there is not the rigidity that is found within Kants universal maxims. With Kants deontological philosophy creates moral dilemmas when an act that would seem to be moral goes against a universal maxim.
For example, a universal maxim of Do not kill would need to be broken in a situation of self-defense. While Kant provides for this with a universalization rule, utilitarianisms individual examination of each act allows morality to be more specific and adaptable. While a murder would almost always be immoral, killing in defense of self would almost always be moral. A negative to utilitarianism is that, though adding to flexibility, the individual evaluation of an act takes time. To do this mental weighing of pleasure and pain before every act, or even every major act, is not only time consuming but many times self-defeating.
Situations that require an immediate action cannot wait while everyone ponders the morality of their potential actions. In fact, it could be posited that a person must ponder the morality of stopping to ponder the morality of the original action. That path leads to turtles all the way down. Mill does have a response to this however: the state of passive sensibility, and though originally an offshoot from it, may in time take root and detach itself from the parent stock; so much so, that in the case of an habitual purpose, instead of willing the thing because we desire it, we often desire it only because we will it.
Or simply, habit will allow us to make decisions without always having to ponder the consequences. However as many people are not typically faced with emergency situations, they wont be able to develop a habit for the very situations that require the most immediate attention. Perhaps a more serious problem with utilitarianism is that it can be used to justify acts that society would consider unjust. A common example is slavery: if 95% of the population can be made happy when the other 5% is enslaved is slavery not the greatest good?
Utilitarianism allows society to sacrifice the individual, or even the minority for the majority. If by speaking one lie, a person could save 4 lives than that lie would be a moral act; but if by killing one man, that same person could save 4 lives wouldnt utilitarianism find this too to be a moral act? Fortunately Mill has a response to the idea of removing an individuals rights for the good of the whole. . In chapter V of his essay he writes, To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of.
The reason for this, Mill states, is general utility. It is generally better to protect the rights of every man, because this will lead to the most happiness. However, it seems there is still a way to put society before the individual. Because the reason for protecting individual rights is general utility, if violating those rights will cause the least pain, as compared to pain for the whole society, it would be general utility to violate these rights. But perhaps it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice one for the good of all.
Utilitarianism has some strong arguments both for and against. And it also has another out because there is a distinction between two different types of utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism examines each action for its moral worth, but rule utilitarianism creates general values of moral worth. Does rule utilitarianism help answer some of the negatives of utilitarianism? It definitely solves the issue of time. With rule utilitarianism a person no longer must consider his every single move. There are general guidelines that cover the everyday situations.
That downside is that there cant be good guidelines for extraordinary situations, so the issue of time being required when there is the least time to spare is still present. Rule utilitarianism also protects the rights of the individual. Taking into account general utility allows a general rule to be made guarding every persons rights. This isnt to say the rule couldnt be broken, but it would require extraordinary circumstances that made the general utility violate the rule. Overall, utilitarianism is a viable option as a system of morality. http://www. utilitarianism. com/mill1. htm- online text of Mills Utilitarianism.