Traditionally, utilitarianism principle holds that any action is ethically right if and only if the total outcomes of the same act are more than the outcomes produced by any other action an agent could have done in its place. According to utilitarianism only one action is right in the final analysis: the action whose net benefits are much more when compared to the ultimate benefits of other alternative possibilities. Both the foreseeable future and the immediate costs and benefits provided by each alternative to each individual need to be taken into consideration together with other indirect consequences. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the problem of measurement as one of the traditional problems of utilitarianism.
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An individual must determine what alternative policies or actions are there for him at any occasion, for every alternative action an individual must estimate both the direct and indirect costs as well as benefits produced by the action on every affected individual by the act on the foreseeable future. Any alternative that gives the biggest sum total of utility need to be chosen as the ethically correct course of action (Paul and Dycus 38).
The advantage of utilitarianism is its ability to explain that having some certain types of actions (lying, killing and cheating) are generally wrong in a moral perspective whereas others are ethically right (telling the truth). Traditionally, utilitarians would deny that any form of action is always right or wrong. The utilitarian perspective has been used widely in economics especially in economic techniques such as cost benefit efficiency and analysis.
One main set of problems with utilitarianism is centered on the difficulties met in an attempt to measure utility. If we cannot manage to have basic knowledge on which kind of activities will give us the greatest amount of utility, then it will be hard to apply the utilitarian principle.
Anything considered valuable is part of the instrumental things because they pave way for other good things. On the other hand intrinsic goods are those that are desirable and independent of other benefits they can produce. Money for instance is an instrumental good while health is an intrinsic good.
To effectively compare two actions, there must be some common measure of outcomes. How can one for instance measure child labor? To begin with, it must be noted that the information on the incidence of child labor are very reliable to a point where the exact comparison between the two sources of information is not possible (Weiner 155). According to Bentham, not all individuals are similar when it comes to the issue of capacity to enjoy pain and pleasures. Strength, firmness of mind, health, education lineage, climate, occupation, income, sex among many other things affect individual’s sensibility to register and experience pleasures of pain. Actually, Bentham found out that social utility measurement was approximate at its best. It is useless to talk of adding quantities which afterwards after the addition will be distinct as they were before. It is a fact that one man’s happiness will not be another man’s happiness and a benefit to an individual will not be reflected in a totally different individual. One might pretend to add 20 oranges to 20 lemonsâ€¦.this addibility of different forms of happiness may appear false when rigorously considered (Rima 66).
Because there was no way to measure happiness or social welfare exactly, some attempt was needed by expediency on the approximate measurement of the net balance. Mill just like Bentham found out that then unifying principle of public policy was the proportion of the good to the number. This means that there should be the greatest good for the greatest number. Mill was very concerned on the exact nature of the general rule in particular with what utilitarianism include in terms of pleasure and pain (Stuart 210).
It is very hard to rely on utilitarianism as the only method of making a decision because of the need to assign values to benefits and negative consequences of our actions and compare with the positive and negative consequences that might come up as a result of other actions. It is often impossible or very difficult to measure and compare the values of some costs and benefits. How can we for instance go about assigning a value to art or life? And how can one compare the value of life with that of life, time or human dignity? In addition, can we be ever certain on all of the outcomes of our actions? Our ability to predict and measure harms and benefits as a result of certain moral rule or cause of action is dubious to say the least (Habibi 98).
May be the biggest challenge with utilitarianism is that it does not consider justice. Like in the case of doctor/innocent man, such course of action can produce great benefits for the society but the truth is that the action is unjust. When a doctor decides to compromise the life of one healthy who has some organs which can save the lives of five of unhealthy patients, the act appears to be unjust but the benefit is greater. After all one life has been used bring back five other lives that would have otherwise been lost. Utilitarianism argues that it is better to lose one life and save five other lives.
Mill found it hard to define whom to include in the Maximand although he managed to answer it on pragmatic perspectives. Also, Mill found it hard to define an individual not to mention social happiness. In his strongest reactions to Bentham, Mill managed to differentiate between an individual’s good and happiness. The biggest happiness of the biggest number is to become our invariable guide, and the greatest happiness of living men is not of men to come; for if there is posterity, who can be our guide? Who has the capacity to prejudge our future of men living by that time and how frequent would their biggest form of happiness consist in regard to their biggest errors? (Lacey 210).
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Utilitarian goal was then reformulated by Mill and in the process rejected what he perceived to be a narrow and excessive definition of utility by Bentham. On his emphasis on spiritual nature, Mill managed to argue that any gain of material nature is not the final goal for any society. A broader notion of “improvement” and moral tone were then integrated into utilitarian goal. He maintained that utility is part of the ultimate basis for moral obligations. These dimensions had a lot of implications on the economic policy which according to Mill in the minimum terms was to suit and at best improve the public’s moral character. Mill however on various occasions questioned the effectiveness of institutional changes that did not intend to bring a moral improvement and eventually not achieve lasting effects (Bay 39).
Mill insisted that in utilitarianism the same amounts of happiness are equally needed whether felt by different individuals or the same individual. Mill Championed for equality and impartiality freed both popularly and the enlightened as not corollary individuals of utilitarianism but part of the very meaning of utilitarianism: a principle that is seen to be lacking actions and rationale signification, unless an individual’s happiness supposed same in status is counted for precisely as much as someone else’s. However, every one has equal claim to all means to happiness.
The greatest happiness perception remained problematic nevertheless, because the amount of was not directly measurable as Mills put it “supposed equal in degree”. The anterior principle of Utilitarianism it is permitted is that the arithmetic rule is applicable to the value of happiness just like all other quantities which can be measured. Mill argued that the only measure of quantity comprised of the verdict of individuals who had encountered different quantities of pleasurable sensations. Infact on a serious point, Mill argued that pleasures differed in type and amounts; but unable to give a clear-cut means of either ranking types of pleasures or measuring total pleasure (Lueck and Allen 66).
If our decisions based on morals are to take into account issue of justice, then utilitarianism apparently cannot be the only guiding principle in our decision making process. However, it can play a significant role in the process. Utilitarianism principle invites us to take into account the immediate as well as the long term outcomes of our actions. Provided it’s insistence on summing harms and benefits of different people, utilitarianism needs us to project our vision beyond our personal interest to avoid favoritism on people affected by our actions.
On the issue of perverse pleasures, Mill managed to come up with a very strong conception of ethical values on the basis of consequences of a particular action. He defined in a clear manner the kind of consequences that would count in determining whether the action is right or wrong as pleasure and pain. All living things are trying to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Because the main aim of ethics is to come with the best world, the purpose is to maximize the total pleasure available in the world and minimize the any pain as much as possible.
The creed which accepts as the basis of morals, greatest happiness principle or utility, holds that actions are proportionally right because they tend to promote happiness and proportionally wrong when the result is sadness. By happiness is purported pleasure with no pain; by sadness is intended pain and lack of pleasure (wood 100).
Initially, it sounded perverse or even trivial to some individuals who believe that pleasure is usually connected to an immoral act. Mill considered pain and pleasure in their most basic stages. For instance hunger is an evil because it causes pain. Mill also pointed out that preventable death is a way of denying one pleasure hence forms part of an evil. The main moral point that Mill is trying to present is that there is need to judge the ethical value of our actions on the general consequences it has for individuals in terms of pain and pleasure. The greatest principle of happiness holds that the less pain and the more the pleasure an action causes, the better it is in moral perspective. We should therefore seek to participate in those activities and be part of policies that lead to greatest happiness.
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