This paper is going todescribe the arguments against Utilitarianism and the defenses of it, providedby Rachels.
To start off, I will discuss what Utilitarianism is, the principlesof it, what is investigated when determining if an action is morally right orwrong, and the main difference between Act Utilitarianism and RuleUtilitarianism. Then I will explain some of the reasons brought up to try toconvince people that Act Utilitarianism is erroneous. After this, I willpresent the defense of Act Utilitarianism by producing examples that cancounter the reasons raised.
Utilitarianism is atheory that focuses on happiness. An action is considered morally right if itcauses the most amount of happiness in the world. The whole theory ofUtilitarianism can be outlined into three basic laws. The first principlestates that the results of a behavior determine whether it is morally right ormorally wrong. Secondly, when looking at the result of these actions, the onlything a Utilitarian will analyze is how much happiness or unhappiness wasgenerated. Lastly, it is important to note that no one’s happiness is worthmore than another person’s happiness (Rachels p. 92).
Some Utilitarians didn’tlike that a person could behave in a controversial way as long as it createdmore happiness than unhappiness which is why they formed an updated version ofthis theory. This new version was called Rule Utilitarianism. To begin,Utilitarians would decide which rules are best based on their views which meantthat the rules would have to help people thrive and live better. Based on thisversion of Utilitarianism, behaviors are considered morally right if theyconform to the rules and morally wrong if they are not similar to the rules(Rachels p. 103). Therefore, Rule Utilitarianism and Act Utilitarianism aredifferent since Act Utilitarianism judges the consequences of each individualbehavior to see if it is morally right or wrong, whereas Rule Utilitarianismcompares a behavior to the laws of society to determine whether it is morallyright or wrong. Act Utilitarianism wasnot accepted by all and there were many arguments made against it in order toprove the faultiness of it.
First, this type of Utilitarianism contradicts theidea of justice in society. For example, assume that an African American malesexually assaulted a Caucasian female and it caused widespread protests and, asa form of retaliation, other Caucasians harmed other African Americans (Rachelsp. 95). In order to stop this destruction and harm, the criminal has to bearrested. A Utilitarian could lie and say they were in the vicinity of thecrime in order to choose an African American to be the perpetrator and thiswould stop the violence. According to Act Utilitarianism, this action ofbearing false witness would be considered morally right since the bloodshed andlawlessness would stop and this good outweighs the fact that the innocent mancould be executed which is bad. It is wrong, though, to lie and cause a man tobe put to death. Justice states that all people should be treated fairly and,clearly, the innocent man is not being dealt with fairly since a person islying about seeing him commit a crime that he did not do (Rachels p.
96).Act Utilitarianism canalso come into conflict with basic human rights. A legitimate example from ourcountry’s history comes from 1963 with Yorkv.
Story. Ms. York went to the police department in Chino because she wasassaulted. The officer then stated that he had to take pictures of her asevidence. He also took photos of her in improper positions which would not beuseful as evidence since the bruises could not be seen in these types ofphotographs. Eventually, the officer took these indecent photos and startedshowing them to his co-workers (Rachels p. 96).
Then, some of his co-workerscreated additional photos of Ms. York by and showed them to even moreco-workers. According to some Utilitarians, more happiness was created by thecirculation of these photos than unhappiness which means it would be consideredmorally right to spread these photos. They believed the happiness of theofficers was larger than the unhappiness by Ms. York. It is morally wrongthough to invade someone’s right to privacy, no matter how much happiness itmay bring to other people. It is not just the right of privacy that ActUtilitarianism may be in conflict with it.
For example, it may come intoconflict with someone’s freedom of religion or their right to be able to speakfreely (Rachels p. 97). Lastly, ActUtilitarianism also does not take the past into consideration. For example,assume a person made a commitment to their friend that they will meet them inthe city to get lunch at a specific time in the future. Then, when that timecomes, the person fails to attend lunch because they have some unfinished workthat needs to get done.
Some Utilitarians would consider that the happinessthat is created by finishing this work is greater than the unhappiness that iscreated by breaking this promise. If this is true, then it is morally right fora person to break commitments for any reason according to Act Utilitarians andnot just for certain justifiable situations, such as rushing a family member toa hospital. This is important because it proves that Act Utilitarianism needsto look at past actions, too, and not just the results of actions. In thisexample, it is relevant that the person made an obligation and it is morallywrong to break it for any reason other than an emergency (Rachels p.
98). Otherexamples would include that a person should not be punished if they did notcommit any crime and that a person is doing a favor for their friend sincetheir friend did a favor for them. Both of these examples just support the factthat the past is important in determining whether an action is morally right orwrong.
Since Act Utilitarianism only looks at the aftermath of actions, it isincorrect since the aftermath is not the only thing people should examine todetermine if a certain behavior is acceptable or not (Rachels p. 99).In order to defend ActUtilitarianism against the criticism that it conflicted with these moralvalues, some people proposed that common sense cannot be trusted (Rachels p.104). Our morals are not ethical since it may include prejudices or religiousbeliefs that we have seen exhibited by our parents while we grew up or it mayinclude the beliefs of the culture that we were brought up in. This means thatour some of our feelings and morals may be flawed which is why we can’t justreject Act Utilitarianism because it conflicts with our morals. Now, thischanges what happens if we go back to the first argument where it stated thatit is unjust to lie in order to get a person convicted of a crime that they didnot execute.
If the person did not lie, then they would help bring an advantageto only the innocent person but what about the advantages that all the otherpeople would receive if the person did lie about seeing the crime. Lying wouldcause a stop to the protests and violence which means a stop to many otherinnocent people getting injured. It would be illogical to believe that givingan advantage to one person would be more beneficial than giving an advantage tomany other people (Rachels p. 105).
Another example would be that in the past,some people believed that whites were inherently better than blacks so a whiteperson’s well-being was of more value than a black person’s well-being. Thiswas the common belief that most people held in the past where racism wasprevalent which proves that, in today’s society, there could still be bigotryin a person’s moral sense. This is why it cannot be counted on and why ActUtilitarianism cannot be denied only on the basis that it clashes with theideas of justice, human rights, and taking into account the past actions(Rachels p. 106). In conclusion,Utilitarianism is an interesting theory that should be looked at closely. It isnecessary to show that there are two types of Utilitarianism and what theultimate difference between the two is.
It is also vital to reveal some of thereasons as to why people believe Act Utilitarianism is incorrect because thenit makes sense as to why people had to develop a defense against these attacks.It is a difficult theory to fully comprehend since there are many criticismsand many defenses associated with it.