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The Utilitarian View, Essay Example

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Essay

Philosophy: Is utilitarianism correct in requiring that we maximize benefits and minimize harms? Compare the utilitarian view with either social contract theory or with Kant’s view.

Introduction

Philosophy allows a person to think of society and its relationships based on his/her level of understanding. This level of understanding emerges from various aspects of the persons’ background.  Scientists have posited that, the social environment has a great impact on how a person perceives life and its occurrences. Other propositions have been that family culture influences the paradigm through which the world is viewed. Then, philosophers who embrace past life regression philosophy argue that a person’s level of understanding is derived mainly from experience fragments built and stored in the subconscious from many past life experiences (Judit & Snyder, 2013).

However, despite these assumptions the truth is that we live in a now society, which was structured and designed long before we arrived in this place and time. Much of what is seen as order, law and institution was never altogether our interpretation of a good life or fairness/justice one for the other. This essay examines a phenomenon asking the question whether utilitarianism is correct in requiring that we maximize benefits and minimize harms. Key concepts that will be fully explored  in this section are utilitarianism, benefits and harm.

Discussion of utilitarianism theory requiring that we maximize benefits and minimize harms

Society and life interactions must be balanced. Without balance there is dysfunction in organizations/institutions. Disruptions occur in a person’s behavior if he/she cannot align the inner self and outside experiences for developing congruency with the environment.  For example, serious health issues emerge if a person eats all the time without exercising or visiting the bathroom for elimination purposes. Precisely, balance is an essential feature of living and whenever an activity is embarked upon it must be conducted with a great measure of balance.  Therefore, it is insane to maximize benefits and minimize harms all the time. Balance must be developed relating to what extent benefits must be maximized and the degree to which harm must be exercised ((Judit & Snyder, 2013).

Utilitarianism theory in its originality advances the assumption that acting morally correct means maximizing utility or benefit being later translations. By responding in this way individuals and society are expected to cater towards the need of ensuring happiness of all citizens/persons. At the same time measures ought to be taken for a reduction in suffering. This really has a utopic connotation in my estimation as again it is reiterated for balance to exist there must be adequate proportions of happiness and suffering. Pain is always balanced with peace or comfort and adversity with well-being(Gay, 2002).

However, regardless of how societies have attempted to provide pure happiness for individuals always suffering interrupts whether it is intentional or just a matter of fate. As such, in reality this utopic environment does not exist on earth and has never happened. Some religious theories perpetuate the doctrine that people living on earth will go to heaven if they are exceptionally good. Heaven is a place where there is no harm/suffering. Only benefits are accrued in that environment. It can then be questioned whether heaven is a place somewhere in the sky or within the human mind because in modern societies there are never only benefits and no harm (Gay, 2002).

Consequently, in advocating a balance between happiness and harm it would be worthwhile considering some criticisms of this utilitarianism theory. John Rawls’ ( 1971) theory of justice clearly attacks utilitarianism in contending that the theory does not take into account individuality where some people are fair while others are exploitative in their relationships with each other. Therefore, in advancing that there should be only utility and no suffering it is further argued that a human who exploits another or animal must be punished for their moral injustice. The ones who are loving and kind must enjoy happiness. Traditionally even in ancient religious societies social structure was organized in this manner(Gay, 2002).

In exploring the prerequisites for benefits and harm it was discovered that, benefits can be considered in response to a good deed as a reward. If then, attempts at all levels should be made to maximize benefits it would mean that, persons will consistently be rewarded. However, there are certain criteria embodied in earning a reward. Critics continue to contend that it is true  people must be rewarded for high quality performance and just behavior similarly, rewards pertaining to harm must be executed to balance the equation (Gay, 2002).

Comparison of the utilitarian view with Kant’s philosophy

Immanuel Kant‘s (1724-1804) exposition pertaining to assumptions advanced in the utilitarian perspective are profound. In his discourse on ‘Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals’ he offers interpretations of what constitutes morality. Kant (1785) explains that ‘Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without  qualification, except a good will’ (Kant, 1785, p 2).  Further, he advances in clarifying the assumption that wit, judgment and intelligence along with many other talents expressed through mind other talents such as perseverance, courage, resolution and personal temperament could be classified ‘good’ since they are innate features and gifts. Significantly, expression of these qualities when interacting with individuals and the wider society derive benefits (Kant, 1785)

However, to say that we must aim to maximize utility/benefits and minimize suffering Kant (1785) argues that benefits ought to be earned since they are really rewards for good work. Consequently, if ‘Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will’ (Kant, 1785, p 2) then how could utility be established for its maximization. Kant (1785) continues to detect that postulate that while innate gifts are applied when used to provide a better life for humanity, they can become corrupted in expression and used to isolate, subjugate and harm other humans. Then where the utility that should be maximized and harm is minimized (Kant, 1785)

Kant (1785) then responds to the utilitarian view by revealing constituents of a morally good character for which benefits could be ascribed when functioning within justice boundaries. Riches, Power, honor and even health were highlighted as special gifts or benefits earned by individuals while on earth. Contentment is recognized as happiness even if these gifts are no operating within the individual’s environment. However, individuals who are considered to be in good will are those expressing happiness; enjoying prosperity and honor. Generally, poor underprivileged people do not express much happiness because they are deprived of the benefits of life even though they possess the relevant gifts as those who are enjoying the better benefits in society. In this sense Kant (1785) recommended that everyone should strive to receive this benefit by expressing some degree of good will in their interactions with each other (Kant, 1785)

Consequently, Kant’s (1785) good will philosophy clearly contradicts the   utilitarian theory, which perceives the whole without any attention to individual virtues that predict the receptivity of benefits or harm.  In concluding his discourse Kant (1785) emphasized that even if mis fortune in the form of suffering/harm happens to an individual good will ought to prevail in responding to the dilemma as efforts are made to minimize harm (Kant, 1785).

Conclusion

Arguments against utilitarian pertain to its lack of alignment with the group of subjects it is trying to make prediction about. Karl Marx’s (1818 – 1883) contention is that if one wants to know what is useful for a dog he/she must do a study of the dog. In this case the dog is the individuals for whom this theory did not explicitly take into consideration when assuming that we maximize benefits and minimize harms. My deliberations pertain to balance. While it may be theoretically moral to maximize utility or benefits and minimize this is a utopic philosophy similar to the animal farm ideology that ‘all men are equal.’ It was soon changed to, but some are more equal than some because at the time the commandment was made there was no balance considerations. There will always be harm and benefit because ‘Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without  qualification, except a good will’ (Kant, 1785, p 2).

References

Gay, J. (2002).Concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality.  Cambridge University Press.

Judit, T., & Snyder, T. (2013). Thinking the twenty first century. Penguin

Kant, E. (1785). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals Immanuel Kan. Pdf

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