9. Kant’s Criticisms of Utilitarianism
Kant’s criticisms of utilitarianism have become famous enough to warrant some separate discussion. Utilitarian moral theories evaluate the moral worth of action on the basis of happiness that is produced by an action. Whatever produces the most happiness in the most people is the moral course of action. Kant has an insightful objection to moral evaluations of this sort. The essence of the objection is that utilitarian theories actually devalue the individuals it is supposed to benefit. If we allow utilitarian calculations to motivate our actions, we are allowing the valuation of one person’s welfare and interests in terms of what good they can be used for. It would be possible, for instance, to justify sacrificing one individual for the benefits of others if the utilitarian calculations promise more benefit. Doing so would be the worst example of treating someone utterly as a means and not as an end in themselves.
Another way to consider his objection is to note that utilitarian theories are driven by the merely contingent inclination in humans for pleasure and happiness, not by the universal moral law dictated by reason. To act in pursuit of happiness is arbitrary and subjective, and is no more moral than acting on the basis of greed, or selfishness. All three emanate from subjective, non-rational grounds. The danger of utilitarianism lies in its embracing of baser instincts, while rejecting the indispensable role of reason and freedom in our actions.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article discusses utilitarian ethical theory. For a discussion of John Stuart Mill's book Utilitarianism, see Utilitarianism (book). For the architectural theory, see Utilitarianism (architecture)
Utilitarianism (also: utilism) is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility as summed among all sentient beings. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle". Utility, the good to be maximized, has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain), although preference utilitarians define it as the satisfaction of preferences. It may be described as a life stance, with happiness or pleasure being of ultimate importance.
Utilitarianism can be characterised as a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. It is a type of naturalism. It can be contrasted with deontological ethics (which do not regard the consequences of an act as a determinant of its moral worth) and virtue ethics (which focuses on character), as well as with other varieties of consequentialism.
In general usage, the term utilitarian refers to a somewhat narrow economic or pragmatic viewpoint. Philosophical utilitarianism, however, is a much broader view that encompasses all aspects of people's life.
Both rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism are teleological (from the Greek τέλοϛ for "end", "purpose", or "goal") meaning that they are consequential, however Bentham's act utilitarianism is primarily absolutist, even though it is much more free than theories such as those put forward by Immanuel Kant. This means that in all acts require "Felicific calculus" to achieve "the greatest pleasure for the greatest number." Therefore there are definite rules and codes as to what the person must do in each situation to benefit the most people. The hedonic calculus is what Bentham thought all people must do before deciding the utility of the certain act in question. It is dependent on:
- Its intensity.
- Its duration.
- Its certainty or uncertainty.
- Its propinquity, or remoteness.
- Its fecundity, or the chance it has of being followed by similar sensations: that is, pleasures, if it is pleasure: pains, if it is pain.
- Its purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by, sensations of the opposite kind: that is, pain, if it is pleasure: pleasure, if it is pain.
- Its extent (the number of people who are affected by it).
However, Mill's rule utilitarianism is much more relative in that he encourages people to do acts that are pleasurable to themselves as long as they are what he calls a "higher pleasure" for example, the arts like literature, poetry, the opera. However, the meta-ethics of rule utilitarianism can be questioned as they are much more absolutist, since Mill is absolute in what he values as a higher pleasure.