What are the flaws in utilitarianism?

What are the flaws in utilitarianism?


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Avatar Søren
Posted Jul 22, 2010 - 9:37 PM:
Subject: What are the flaws in utilitarianism?
I've heard there are many flaws in utilitarianism. Can someone explain the points? Just the major ones will suffice. It is hard to think of them. Except perhaps the philosophical question of "are some lives more important than others?"
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Posted Jul 22, 2010 - 10:26 PM:

There's more than one flavour of utilitarianism, but in general it has difficulties in regards to notions like justice and motive.

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Posted Jul 23, 2010 - 12:03 AM:

There are cases when a minor individual may suffer significant loss while the majority gain happiness from it.

For example, A just lost his arm in car accident and needs an arm. B just got heart disease and needs transplant. C got heavy burns from explosion in war and needs skin transplant. D got kidney failure in both of his kidney and needs transplant. E got his cornea peeled off and needs a new one. F is a completely healthy. Let's say advanced medication allows all these transplant happen.

In sense of utilitarianism what is the best way to make the larger number happy? 1 people suffering or 5 people suffering. Which is better? in Utilitarianism, will take 1 people suffering and the 5 people happy. The answer is kill F and transplant all the organs the other people need to them. F suffers great loss. Is this acceptable?

Edited by I-FLUX on Jul 23, 2010 - 12:09 AM

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Posted Jul 23, 2010 - 2:04 AM:


that is all i could find.

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Posted Jul 23, 2010 - 8:00 AM:

This is going to be brief as it is late on a Friday night and I should really be sleeping. I should really come back and give some more detailed answers but here goes;
1. Some forms of utilitarianism such as classical and preference do not place much (or any value) on justice or notions of rights. If you are interested in this point I would suggest reading Mill's essay on the importance of happiness over justice.
2. It can be hard to work out what the consequences are going to be. Futhermore it can still be difficult to judge what the best consequence was after the action has taken place.
3. Some people believe that some acts are inherently wrong and can not be justified even if the consequences do produce more happiness, ie ten men may really want to have sex quite badly but that does not justify raping someone (I admit this is an odd example but I did once see it in a schlorly article against utilitarianism, just thought I would throw it in).
4. Two utilitarians may come both tackle an issue and come to difference conclusions on how best to solve it, see Peter Singer V Garrett Harden on world poverty.
5. Classical utilitarianism does not give a suitable answer to why it is wrong to kill an individual (it argues that other people will be scared of being killed if we live in a society that does kill people-a reduced live of happiness).

Sorry this was short but I hope it helps.
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Avatar Roke
Posted Jul 23, 2010 - 10:21 AM:

The flaw is that the calculations are often impractical and vary from person to person. But in theory it's great because it accounts for all factors at play in any given scenario.

The repugnant conclusions that people often bring up are, I think, a red herring. The conclusions are only repugnant when you leave utilities out of the equation or when your intuitions were misguided in the first place. For example, in the scenario I-flux gave, there are more utilities to be considered in harvesting a healthy man such as the way it would undermine sense of security for everyone.

Basically, we don't trust eachother to make utilitarian calculations honestly and/or accurately. In theory it's perfect, but in practice it can't be because we're human.
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Posted Jul 23, 2010 - 8:46 PM:

Utilitarianism places too much emphasis on the quantity of happiness rather than the quality. The calculus of felicity should measure units of happiness in terms of both quantity and quality, e.g., distributing food based on both the nutritional content and the total amount.


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Posted Jul 24, 2010 - 7:59 AM:

The biggest problem with teleological ethical systems, like utilitarianism, is that they're arbitrary. If you try to reason out *why* some commodity or another should be maximized, you'll find yourself back in bed with deontological ethics. You have to have a fundamental ethical sense in the first place to justify utilitarianism.

But leaving that aside, How should you go about maximizing utility? How do you know when utility is maximized? At what future point does the ethical propriety of an act count? After all, an action that seems good tomorrow could turn tragic the day after. Sure, you could evaluate one's intentions instead of one's actions, but to do so is to invite even more problems--Who decides? How do you know?--and to forfeit the spirit of utilitarianism itself.

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