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Describe the main strengths and weaknesses of Utilitarianism Essay

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* Utilitarianism is simple. It doesn’t have a lot of complex rules, but instead the individual can decide would be the ‘best’, by how it affects others.

* It is flexible: no law or principle is unchallengeable.

* It allows for circumstance, so you can decide what is the best thing to do given the current circumstance.

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* It ties in with the Christian ethic of unconditional love, as preached by Jesus.

* If someone believes that both lying and breaking promises are acts that are intrinsically wrong, utilitarianism provides a principled way in which they can choose which moral rule to break if forced to make a choice between them.

* The emphasis on impartiality, unselfishness and altruism is to be commended.

* There is no need to consider precedents as absolute – just because one action worked for someone does not mean that it must be enforced again, when it may not work for someone else.

* It is also attractive to secular thinkers, because it makes no grand claims to the supernatural or metaphysical. It appeals to tangible results – the consequences of an action will be perceived.


* What do we mean by happiness? What makes us happy? It is hard to define happiness as it varies with person to person.

* Should happiness always be pursued? What if we can only be happy if we achieve it in a ‘bad’ way? Like if a murderer is only happy if he kills someone.

* How can we say that happiness from one pleasure is greater than from another? There is no way to tell if a genius is any more happy than someone not so clever.

* Humans do not always treat each other equal. We care more about the people close to us and would give them more consideration in an ethical dilemma. Some would claim that utilitarians are simply idealistic and unrealistic because they do not accurately evaluate human behaviour and just assume we are all perfect, caring equally for everyone.

* It is impossible to be certain about a consequence, which is a general problem with teleological ethics.

* It is very difficult to measure pleasure given by any outcome. It will take a great deal of time, thought and study, considering effects on both people and the situation.

* Can we compare one person’s happiness to another person’s happiness?

* If only the total happiness counts, imagine these two situations: [A] 80% population live very well and are very happy because the other 20% are their slaves. [B] There are no slaves and everyone is happy but not as happy as the 80% in situation A. The total and average happiness in both situations is the same, therefore to a utilitarian there is no difference between the two, and both are equally morally right, but slavery is considered wrong.

* Is Act Utilitarianism too demanding? Someone buys a TV for �500, which would make them happy; but they could also spend the money saving 1000 lives in Africa. Some Act utilitarians would argue that, yes, we should send most of our money overseas, since that would create the most happiness for the most people, but is that too demanding?

* The refusal to acknowledge intrinsically wrong acts: a judge might convict an innocent man in order to prevent a riot that would ensue if he were not convicted – a utilitarian would argue that this is permissible because more people would be made unhappy by the lack of a conviction and the riot; but is it intrinsically wrong to imprison or execute an innocent man?

* Act utilitarians might accuse Rule utilitarians of being legalistic: what’s the point, they could say, of following a rule when it is clear that the consequences will decrease happiness? In their view, past experience can only give guidelines, not rules.

* Rule utilitarianism may just be act utilitarianism in disguise: all the rules are focussed around the maximisation of happiness. Rule utilitarians believe that the best way to maximise happiness is to maximise happiness with every act- but this is just act utilitarianism.

* Human rights, justices, and other such values may not have any place in a utilitarian ethical system if the wishes of the majority override them.

* Christians, Muslims, and others of religious faith would argue that god decides what is rights, and what is the best outcome; it is not four humans to try to calculate.

* Utilitarianism ignores ‘meaning well’ – benevolent motives.

* Utilitarianism “seems to require more of a human that many are capable of providing”

* Just as there are no absolutes for determining acts which are intrinsically wrong, there is also no way to define what is universally good.

* There must be sufficient account taken of the minority view – the majority are not always right, even though the satisfaction of their wishes might create the most happiness.

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