Utilitarianism, Principles of Mill's utilitarianism with application to "Crime and Punishment" well-organized and good grip on Mill's theory

Essay by Vicky EckenrodeCollege, UndergraduateA+, April 1997

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"One death, and a thousand lives in exchange--it's simple arithmetic."


Raskolnikov's mathematical evaluation of the moral dilemma presented to him in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment exemplifies the empirical view of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism attempts to distinguish between right and wrong by measuring a decision based on its calculated worth. Raskolnikov appears to employ the fundamentals of utilitarianism by pitting the negative consequences of murdering his old landlady against the positive benefits that her money would bestow onto society. However, a true follower of utilitarianism would be outraged at Raskolnikov's claim that murdering the old woman can be considered morally right. Raskolnikov arbitrarily leaves out some necessary considerations in his moral "equation" that do not adhere to utilitarianism. A utilitarian would argue that Raskolnikov has not reached an acceptable solution because he has not accurately solved the problem. On the other hand, a non-utilitarian would reject even the notion of deliberating about the act of murder in such a mathematical manner.

He might contend that Raskolnikov's reasoning, and the entire theory of utilitarianism, cannot be used to judge morality because it rejects individual rights and contains no moral absolutes.

A utilitarian bases his belief upon two principles: the theory of right actions and the theory of value. These two principles work together and serve as criteria for whether or not a utilitarian can deem an action morally right. First, the theory of right action argues that the morally right decision is the one whose consequences are at least as good as any other available option . For example, upon receiving the assignment for this paper, I could have chosen to ignore the assignment and spend my time on something more enjoyable, or I could have worked diligently on my paper, actually turning it in. Employing the utilitarian principle, I would have...