Utilitarianism is a moral theory devised to help the individual make the proper moral decisions in life. This is sometimes called “The Greatest Happiness Principle.” Utilitarianism defines happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. It states that actions are right in percentage as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. It has been awhile since I took this class, but it is my understanding in utilitarian decision making the person making the decision needs to stop and look at what his decision will do to himself and all those involved. Each person is assigned a determined point value by the individual making the decision and the pluses and minuses are weighed on an imaginary scale. If happiness prevails then the decision is morally right, if unhappiness overrules then the decision is morally wrong. Is this moral theory a valid one in making the correct moral decision? This has been the fence that divides many of the moral philosophers throughout time. In the various different moral theories I must say this is the one I tend to lean on most of the time. Although I feel this is the best option it still has a few flaws.

Lets use the example of suicide to show how utilitarianism is perfect yet flawed at the same time. There is a man named Joe who is down on his luck. He has lost his job swimming in debt and has been dealing with a crippling depression. Joe has a wife, three beautiful children, an extensive family, and a large network of friends. Joe has decided he can no longer live because he is so depressed it hurts. He sits back and decides he is going to weigh this out utilitarian style. He brings to his mind everyone he can think of in his life, as well as himself. In looking at himself he scores happiness as being very high to himself because he would no longer be in pain. He then adds up all those who would be in pain from his decision to kill himself and comes to the conclusion that living promotes the highest percentage of happiness. His decision is to live.

Same example as above except this time Joe assigns a higher point value on his happiness then he does to his loved ones. Perhaps he assigns his decision to kill himself as a fifty while he assigns those who love him as only a half a point each. Perhaps even he is so deep in his depression he assigns happiness points to those who love him because he feels they would be better off without him. He adds all these up and comes to the conclusion that suicide will create the greatest amount of happiness.

Here you have two exactly the same examples, yet they produce two completely different results. Utilitarianism gives no concrete moral directive. There is no real moral guideline, just what is the impulse of the moment. One of the proponents of utilitarianism is Immanuel Kant. Kant proposes that making a moral decision should go much deeper than just the pursuit of happiness and pleasures. Kant says the foundation of morality should be based on a principle that we consistently want to see adopted on a universal basis. Kant would ask Joe “would it be morally right for your wife to kill herself?” Joes answer would surly be no, therefore we must view suicide as universally bad, resulting in the choice to live. I am not a huge fan of Kantianism, because acting on principle without the regard for the consequences does not always seem right.

To illustrate these two separate moral doctrines I would like to use the following example. Lets say a child comes running in your garage in a frenzied panic asking to hide, because he is being chased by a crazed kidnapper. You decide it is best to hide him in your home. Moments later this kidnapper knocks at your door looking for this boy. He directly asks you if this frightened boy is hiding out in your house. The utilitarian would quickly assess the situation and realize the only one to experience happiness here would be the kidnapper, everyone else would experience pain if the kidnapper would take the boy. The greater happiness guides us to lie, as to save the boy. The Kantian would answer yes to this question because lying is viewed as universally wrong, therefore you must not lie to him no matter what the consequences.

The conundrum and rigid guidelines of Kantianism does not allow one to think beyond just the concept that lying is morally wrong. The Kantian needs to look at what the result would be if he didn’t lie. The crazed kidnapper would surly harm and possibly murder the boy. If the Kantian views lying as morally wrong, then they surly would view murder as morally incorrect, but this theory leaves very little room for this type of thinking. I think with these two different schools of thought could probably learn a thing or two from each other. Perhaps the answer lies in combining these two moral theories. Most of us can agree that lying is morally wrong. We can surly hold onto these morals but we should also have the free will to weigh out all the options especially when the result would be murder. I know very little about these different schools of thought but I wonder what would come from the goal of combing these two. Perhaps I should do some research and write a few papers on “Utlilkantism.”

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Comments
  1. dana says:

    love it ❤

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