concerned with the results of some action rather than with features intrinsic to the act itself
is a teleological system in that it is concerned with the ends of an act
sees the ultimate criterion of morality in some nonmoral value that results from some act
such nonmoral values may be happiness, pleasure, welfare, or ending of suffering
is the dominant version of consequentialism
is a normative system in that it applies universally
calls for the maximization of goodness in society, the greatest good for the greatest number
rules have no intrinsic value. rather, they exist only to serve humanity in its attempt to achieve happiness
example is punishment for crimes. utilitarians do not believe in punishment for the sake of justice or retribution. punishment is only for the purpose of deterrence.
two main features
rightness or wrongness of an act is determined by the goodness or badness of the results that flow from it
the ends justify the means
only thing that is good in itself is some specific kind of state, e.g. happiness, pleasure, etc.
has one absolute principle which applies universally
this principle applies in all situations at all times
unlike deontological systems, does not rely on some unchanging set of rules. rather, utility is determined by the circumstances of any particular situation
utilitarianism is about something other than mere morality. that is, it makes morality a means to a larger end, that of happiness.
this seems to be an intuition that most people share. it seems to make no sense to have a moral system that exists for no larger purpose, that has no reason to exist other than its own rules.
criticisms of utilitarianism
how can we know the consequences of actions?
at what point should we stop doing the “best” thing, that which maximizes utility?
utilitarianism leads to absurd implications
lying and telling the truth are equal when ends are the same
justice is sacrificed
utilitarians are willing to sacrifice innocents to maximize utility
knowing the consequences of actions
three ways of distinguishing what is right in terms of utility
an act is absolutely right when it has the best actual consequences
an act is objectively right if it can reasonably be expected to have the best consequences
and act is subjectively right if the agent intends or expects the best consequences
most of the focus is on the notion of objectively right
we should use the best information at hand and do what can reasonably be expected to have the best results
no rest objection
our own happiness is important as well. it turns out that we are the kind of creatures that function well when we are happy. to devote ourselves completely to others’ happiness would make us unhappy, and, if everyone did this, suffering would increase, and utility would be diminished
we hold things like telling the truth in high regard because, in general, they maximize utility. therefore, all things being equal, it is best to tell the truth. that preserves a society where truthfulness is expected, and that allows us to cooperate successfully.
there are times, however, when lying may well serve us best, and we should be aware of this. for it is truth which serves us, not we who serve the truth
preserving the institution of justice serves to make us happy. it instills confidence in us that we will be judged fairly, and this contributes to the greater good.
however, it is entirely possible that some situations might arise where the best thing to do is to let an innocent suffer for the good of the many. that’s just the way things are.