Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a book called Crime and Punishment, in this book the character Rasklnikov explains strong rule utilitarianism; “I maintain that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a hundred or more men, Newton would have had the right, would indeed have been duty bound … to eliminate the dozen or the hundred for the sake of making the discoveries known to the whole of humanity …
But if such a one is forced for the sake of his idea to step over a corpse or wade through blood, he can, I maintain, find within himself, in his conscience, a sanction for wading through blood. That depends on the idea and its dimensions, of course. “6 This explains that Newton’s scientific findings have brought about a lot of happiness for thousands if not millions of people and that that is worth sacrificing other lives. This is because more people would gain pleasure than those suffering pain or other such like.
Now I am going to explain some Christian responses to utilitarianism; Mill thought he had incorporated the spirit of the golden rule (to treat others as we would want to be treated). However to treat others as you would want to be treated is definitely not to treat him or her as one of many. Utilitarians define justice as treating ‘similar cases similarly’ and Christian ethics means ‘treating similar cases dissimilarly’. Also Christian ethics are all about love and how this can form true communities, and being unselfish, whereas utilitarianism is just about consequences and what is good for the largest amount of people.
The above people all believed in utilitarianism, but some philosophers have not, and I will now explain their views. A good valid argument to utilitarianism comes from D. D. Raphael “… let us imagine that the happiness of the whole human race were to be immeasurably increased… but the condition is that one man, his life mysteriously prolonged, is to be kept involuntary in a state of continuous torture. According to the utilitarian criterion, which measures the rightness of an act by its results, it would seem that the argument is justified.
“This points out that justice is not taken into account in the utilitarian theory, because of one man unwillingly sacrificing himself to an unjust life the rest of the population’s lives are greatly improved. This is the problem with a theory that looks just at the consequences even though there are other factors that come into moral decisions. However this anti-utilitarian theory like many others is unrealistic, and as utilitarianism is designed as a guide for moral decision making in situations that we actually face it makes these examples irrelevant in my opinion.
Even though they show that utilitarianism has unacceptable consequences. Anti-utilitarian arguments such as the one I have stated and explain below is much better in my opinion because it uses a situation that could easily occur in real life. Justice is a factor that is not taken into account in utility, and this is shown above in Raphael’s example. Another factor that utilitarianism does not take into account is rights; it goes against the idea that people’s rights should not be ignored because of expected good results.
Most people believe that everyone has the right of freedom of speech, religion, life and others, and utilitarianism does not take these into consideration. Backward-looking reasons, is also another criticism of utilitarianism, “Suppose you have promised a friend that you will teach her to play the guitar. When the time comes to go to help her, you do not want to do it – you would rather stay at home and watch television. What should you do? Suppose you judge that the utility of enjoying TV slightly outweighs the inconvenience your friend. Appealing to the utilitarian standard, you conclude that it is right to stay at home.
“This highlights the fact that what the utilitarian theory says is correct is generally seen by people who do not believe in the utility principle as not. This is because in this case if you promised then you have an obligation to carry out your promise. However if there was special circumstances then breaking the promise would be understandable, for example if a close friend or relative died or was seriously injured. Again, imagine the world to be full of sadists (people who gain pleasure from causing others pain) their pleasure would outweigh the pain of the sadists victims, and a weak rule utilitarian would see this as justified.
Therefore a small gain in utility cannot overcome an obligation come about by a promise. I conclude that utilitarianism as an ethical theory seems to be very good, however in practice seems seriously flawed. The basic principle of utility; ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ would lead people to think it a commonsensical theory. But this is not the case, as I have shown above it is in fact very complicated, and this is one of its problems. If it were to be used in practice it would take time to work out a specific actions consequences, and these may not be correct.
I think that it has too many valid arguments against it to be considered as worth while ethical theory, and I do not think that it is just this theory but all teleological theories. This is because I do not think that you can just look at the consequences of actions to see whether they are right or not, but her things have to be taken into account as for example the past. This is one of the things that utilitarianism fails to. Therefore in my opinion utilitarianism like all other teleological theories is useless.