The Flaw of Utilitarianism

Essay by platinum182College, UndergraduateA, April 2006

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Philosophers Bentham and James Mill developed an ethical theory, utilitarianism, proposing that all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Utilitarians further argue that achieving the greatest happiness overall is not only the right thing to do for society but also moral. Although this theory is applicable in many situations, when one takes a closer look it is clear to see that utilitarianism is immoral.

To argue that utilitarianism is immoral it is first necessary to define morality. The dictionary's definition of morality is "The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct" (American Heritage). Utilitarianism would indicate that "in being in accord with the standards of right or good conduct" is choosing that action which achieves overall happiness. Utilitarians further rationalize the following:

To be moral is, by definition, to be concerned with promoting the well-being of others, not just oneself.

Well-being is determined by happiness (however happiness is construed in detail). So to be moral is to be concerned with promoting the happiness of others, not just oneself. But morality requires also that one not favor any particular person. To do so would be unfair. We may put this by saying that morality requires impartiality. So to be moral requires that one be impartial in being concerned with promoting each person's happiness equally. This is, then, to be concerned with maximizing overall happiness. (Ethical Theory, 3 and 4)

This rationalization corresponds well with the belief of utilitarianism, however if this rationalization is truly moral, then every utilitarian decision should be moral.

When analyzing certain situations it is clear to see that achieving overall happiness can actually be immoral. One hypothetical case that contradicts morality in utilitarianism is a situation involving a professor who gets...