The problem of what constitutes right and wrong has been a matter of concern over the years. The philosophy developed due to conflicting debates that surrounded the problem of morality. As a result, different schools of thought have advanced opposing perspectives in support of what constitutes morality. Being a philosophical theory of how people should act, its main aim is to make decisions that are based on the consequences. Thus, according to the perspective, an act is morally right if it produces the greatest happiness to the highest number. However, the philosophy is characterized by several shortcomings that tend to attract rejection in the world of knowledge.
The Concept of Utilitarianism
The Utilitarian philosophy was advanced by Jeremy Bentham and later developed by David Hume. According to Green, an act is right if it can produce the greatest amount of happiness to the majority of a population (69). Thus, it is right for a person to perform an action that has the highest subjective utility if the activity is calculated in terms of the overall production of happiness. The author further argues that a good act is the sum total of all pleasures that result from an action having subtracted the suffering that is involved in a particular context (69). As a product of consequentialism, utilitarianism theory states that the consequences of any action are basic standards of determining what is right and wrong.
Arguments Against Utilitarianism
There are several arguments that undermine the truth-value of utilitarianism. To begin with, the rejection of utilitarianism is rooted in its conception of ethics. According to the school of thought, the amount of good is distributed with the aim of maximizing happiness in society. The conception is fallacious because it conceives ethics from a point of view of a consequence in the expense of other components of a human act. As a matter of fact, there are several acts that are good but essentially evil since they are achieved through a flawed process.
Secondly, the philosophy can promote injustice in the society. Since the perspective associates morality with what gives happiness to a greater number of people, there is a likelihood that the minorities may suffer in the process of enhancing maximum happiness to many people. In this context, the standpoint may encourage exploitation and human rights violations as the theory is centered on the satisfaction of the majority. Moreover, the theory would justify slavery as far as free labor can satisfy the needs of the majority.
The theory is also unjustifiable because it holds that activities can be termed right if they promote happiness. Similarly, actions are viewed as wrong if they contribute to sadness or sorrow. From day-to-day experiences, it is evident that not all right actions can lead to happiness. Consequently, accepting utility approach may promote deviance and crime in the society. For example, acts such as stealing can promote happiness to a group of thieves but the conduct does not imply that it is proper to steal. In this context, critical examination of the utilitarian statements indicates that there are several unethical activities that tend to promote happiness to a group of people, hence limiting the philosophy.
Furthermore, the philosophy tends to promote human rights violations because it prioritizes the well-being of the majority in the expense of the plight of the minorities. As a matter of fact, the perspective has several tenants that seem to violate human rights. For example, the act of forcefully evicting a person from his or her land to provide space for building a school can be viewed as morally right under the utilitarian point of view. However, the conception is improper since it violates the rights to own property. Although forceful eviction can promote the well-being of many people in the society, it is immoral to sacrifice the rights of an individual without following the due process of law.
In addition, the school of thought tends to compromise the dignity and value of human beings. According to the perspective, the consequences of an act are of paramount importance compared to the process of achieving certain results (69). Equally important, the school of thought holds that an act is morally right if it maximizes the good of a certain class of people. Thus, the standpoint is dangerous because it limits ethics to activities that can lead to happiness among the majority. The standing is also erroneous because it may lead to damages in the process of achieving societal goals. For example, it is immoral for a public officer to defraud a client to get a church offering. Although the offering is good and produces satisfaction to a large number of people, the process is flawed as the process of acquiring the offering was evil.
Besides, the theory is misleading because it promotes egoistic values. Thus, limiting ethics to happiness can lead to personal interpretation of what right or wrong (67). Thus, the philosophy lacks the true value of knowledge where universalization takes prominence in defining what constitutes morality. In such context, a true conception of ethics should have an objective approach as well as limiting subjective interpretations.
Therefore, a true definition of ethics should include a critical examination of all aspects of reality. In this case, an evaluation of an act itself, the circumstance, and the motive of a behavior should be put into consideration instead of putting emphasis on the consequence of an act. With regard to the act itself, it is evident that one can define the morality of a conduct by a using the established ethical standards. Additionally, the situation under which a conduct is performed is essential in making a judgment of what constitutes good and evil. Lastly, the motives for conducting an activity should be considered in defining ethics. In this case, the consequence of an act will not matter in ethical definitions since the intention can be an objective measure of determining whether an act is morally right or wrong. Therefore, utilitarianism is misleading because an act can increase happiness to the majority but still maximize the net well to the smaller number of people whose happiness is not increased.
In conclusion, the problem of ethics has been a matter of concern over the years. The conception is fallacious because it conceives ethics from a point of view of consequentialism. As a result, the philosophy can promote injustice in the society as well as promoting deviance and crime in the society. Furthermore, the school of thought tends to compromise the place of human beings and the sanctity of life. Therefore, the perspective of utilitarianism is incorrect and illogical because it promotes egoism, hence compromising the well-being of human beings in a society.