12
   

The Problem With Utilitarianism

 
 
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 09:26 am
If we should do whatever produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and if raping a single child would produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people then we should rape that child.

This is the problem with utilitarianism. There's no mention of fairness, justice, virtue, honor. All human morality is just reduced to a form of arithmetic.

There are some lines we should never cross. It would be better for the entire world to suffer than to do something as evil as raping a child.
  • Topic Stats
  • Top Replies
  • Link to this Topic
Type: Discussion • Score: 12 • Views: 12,646 • Replies: 208

 
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 09:52 am
@Night Ripper,
well ripper, your argument is going anywhere with me mostly because it's silly but also because it's personally directed at Thomas who happens to be a good friend of mine both on this forum and in real life. Odd as it may seem, I do regard Thomas with esteem as I do some others on a2k but then I'm more than a bit cranky. (thomas is of course wrong about anarchy, Italy has done ok for several thousand years)
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  4  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 09:53 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:
If we should do whatever produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and if raping a single child would produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people then we should rape that child.

From a philosophical standpoint, I actually consider this a strength of Utilitarianism. Utilitarians abhor raping children as much as everybody else does. But this insight emerges as a conclusion from the pain and anguish the rapist is putting the child through, and from the anxiety it will feel for the rest of its life.

In other systems, such as natural-rights-based ethics, thinkers simply assume that it's wrong to physically injure people or to deprive them of their liberty. Their conclusion is the same. The difference is in reasoning---the philosophical rabbits these thinkers pull out of their philosophical hats are exactly the same they stuck in before the show. In practical terms, so what? What counts is that the child stays safe. But philosophically, this tactic of sticking the rabbit in before pulling it out is cheating.

Utilitarianism refuses to cheat in that way. As you noted, the ethical assumptions Utilitarians make are very narrow. But that only means they derive their ethical insights by reasoning and evidence---including insights about fairness, justice, virtue, and honor. That's a philosophical strength of their framework, not a philosophical weakness.
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:00 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

Night Ripper wrote:
If we should do whatever produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and if raping a single child would produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people then we should rape that child.

From a philosophical standpoint, I actually consider this a strength of Utilitarianism. Utilitarians abhor raping children as much as everybody else does. But this insight emerges as a conclusion from the pain and anguish the rapist is putting the child through, and from the anxiety it will feel for the rest of its life.

In other systems, such as natural-rights ethics, thinkers simply assume that it's wrong to physically injure people and to deprive them of their liberty. The result is the same, but this way the philosophical rabbits these thinkers pull out of their philosophical hats are exactly the same they stuck in before the show.

Not so in Utilitarianism. The ethical assumptions Utilitarians make are very narrow. But that only means they derive their ethical insights by reasoning and evidence---including insights about fairness, justice, virtue, and honor. That's a philosophical strength, not a philosophical weakness.


I didn't get a straight answer. According to the scenario I presented, if utilitarianism is true then we should rape the child. Do you think we should rape the child? If not, do you concede that utilitarianism is false?
Thomas
 
  5  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:13 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:
According to the scenario I presented, if utilitarianism is true then we should rape the child. Do you think we should rape the child?

If the child didn't mind being raped much, and if the rapists got immensly more pleasure out of the rape than out of the available alternatives---then yes, they should rape the child according to Utilitarian ethics.

But the absurdity of this conclusion is not a rebuttal of Utilitarianism. It's just a case of garbage-in, garbage-out. You start with grotesquely false assumptions about human emotions, so you arrive at grotesquely false conclusions about the ethics of the case. That says nothing about the Utiliarans' framework for reaching ethical conclusions.
0 Replies
 
Khethil
 
  5  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:16 am
@Night Ripper,
... quick question on your extreme example: How, exactly, would raping a child produce happiness? For others, as well as the child?
Night Ripper
 
  2  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:28 am
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:

... quick question on your extreme example: How, exactly, would raping a child produce happiness? For others, as well as the child?


Raping a child won't produce happiness for that child, obviously. Utilitarians don't care though. It's all about figuring out how many people will suffer vs. how many people will prosper and then doing whichever benefits the greatest number of people by the greatest amount.

*MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*

There's a movie out now called "Unthinkable" starring Samuel L. Jackson. He plays an interrogator trying to find the location of some nuclear bombs. At some point it becomes obvious that unless he tortures the terrorist's children, the terrorist will never give up the location of the bombs. He doesn't torture the children and one of the bombs goes off killing and injuring millions. If you are a utilitarian you probably would have tortured those children to save millions from death and torture from radiation burns and sickness, etc. Personally, I think those children were innocent so they didn't deserve to be tortured, no matter the cost, even if thousands of children would probably be tortured far worse by radiation poisoning.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:34 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:

Khethil wrote:

... quick question on your extreme example: How, exactly, would raping a child produce happiness? For others, as well as the child?


Raping a child won't produce happiness for that child, obviously. Utilitarians don't care though. It's all about figuring out how many people will suffer vs. how many people will prosper and then doing whichever benefits the greatest number of people by the greatest amount.


Thanks for the clarification. While I've known a few who'd hang their hat on a utilitarianistic mindset, I'm not sure I've met any who would take it this far; or who don't care.

Perhaps one will sound of...

Thanks
0 Replies
 
Sentience
 
  2  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:44 am
@Night Ripper,
You obviously don't get it, at the same time as you do. Utilitarians, such as myself, agree that moral can be described through mathematical 'Benevolence - Suffering.' However, it is impossible to truly give an absolute mathematical weight to any action, as the opinions differ from utilitarian to utilitarian. In my opinion, the suffering you would cause the child far outweighs the pleasure you would cause for yourself, (and even then, it's a lot more complicated. The hurt I would do for myself guilt-wise, and even then, rape is more often the inability to control urges then a utilitarian philosophical justification).

I have a question for you now.

I haven't seen this movie, but presumably, the same innocent children you speak of, and many more, were hurt or killed in the explosion and it's aftermath. So either way, the innocent children are hurt. So while they didn't deserve to be tortured, in either outcome they would be.

However, the only difference is that it is you in question torturing them. Doesn't that mean you would allow more people to be injured and killed simply because you couldn't bring yourself to perform a necessary action?

That would make your action spineless, not moral.
Thomas
 
  5  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:46 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:
Raping a child won't produce happiness for that child, obviously. Utilitarians don't care though.

This is slander, not philosophy. Of course Utilitarians care about the suffering of the child! Of course they care bout the intensity of its suffering---not to mention the suffering of its parents, of everyone who loves it, even most people reading about it in the paper. And of course this suffering outweighs all the possible pleasure the rape could bring to the rapists, compared to the alternatives available to them.

I quite agree that something absurd is going on in this thread. But that thing isn't Utilitarianism. It's your steadfast refusal to acknowledge the crass disproportion of suffering over pleasure in your hypothetical, your deluded insistence on assuming it away. To repeat: If you feed garbage assumptions into the Utilitarian calculus, it will yield garbage results. And because the garbage results follow fom garbage assumptions, they can't refute the validity of the calculus.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  2  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 10:46 am
The strength of Utilitarianism is that it provides a reason why raping a child is wrong-- most systems of morality provide a rather arbitrary set rules about right and wrong that is based on cultural norms. Utilitarianism is a much simpler, more objective, system which makes it appealing.

I think it is only fair to put the question back to you Night Ripper.

Do you think that raping children is wrong? If so, then why is it wrong?
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:07 am
@Sentience,
Sentience wrote:
So either way, the innocent children are hurt. So while they didn't deserve to be tortured, in either outcome they would be.


You are quite right, but that's an important difference. If a terrorist sets off a bomb then he's the one harming the innocent. If I torture children then I'm the one harming the innocent. I would rather allow a terrorist to be evil than to become evil myself just to stop him. That's because I have integrity and honor. We're all going to die anyways. It's better to leave this world as a good person, never having tortured children, even for a "good cause".
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:09 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
Do you think that raping children is wrong? If so, then why is it wrong?


Empathy. I don't rape children because if I were that child I wouldn't want to be raped. I would never expect something from someone else that I wouldn't expect from myself.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:14 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:
It's better to leave this world as a good person, never having tortured children, even for a "good cause".

Why?
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:15 am
@Sentience,
Sentience wrote:

either way, the innocent children are hurt. So while they didn't deserve to be tortured, in either outcome they would be.

However, the only difference is that it is you in question torturing them. Doesn't that mean you would allow more people to be injured and killed simply because you couldn't bring yourself to perform a necessary action?

That would make your action spineless, not moral.


interesting point

we've discussed the differences between old and modern forms of warfare a few times here over the years - the research concludes that it is much easier to hurt people we don't have to see
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:17 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:

ebrown p wrote:
Do you think that raping children is wrong? If so, then why is it wrong?

Empathy. I don't rape children because if I were that child I wouldn't want to be raped. I would never expect something from someone else that I wouldn't expect from myself.

So hypothetically, if you didn't feel empathy for that child, it would be morally acceptable for you to rape it? There are plenty of people who are incapable of feeling empathy, you know.
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:17 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper wrote:
an important difference


the important difference is that you're squeamish.

You'd rather not harm one person than save millions.

Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:25 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
So hypothetically, if you didn't feel empathy for that child, it would be morally acceptable for you to rape it?


Things I don't feel empathy for don't even get moral consideration. I don't feel empathy for trees and rocks so therefore I do to them anything and everything that I feel like doing.

Thomas wrote:
There are plenty of people who are incapable of feeling empathy, you know.


I'm not one of them.
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:27 am
@ehBeth,
ehBeth wrote:

Night Ripper wrote:
an important difference


the important difference is that you're squeamish.

You'd rather not harm one person than save millions.




No, I'd gut you like a fish if you tried to torture an innocent child. I'm not squeamish at all, I just don't hurt the innocent even to protect other innocents. I don't compromise on certain things. There are lines I never cross. I wish more people would try it sometime. It's exhilarating to have principles.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Jun, 2010 11:30 am
@Night Ripper,
Quote:
Things I don't feel empathy for don't even get moral consideration


There are plenty of times that human beings don't feel empathy for other human beings. Evolutionarily we developed empathy for people we consider to be like us-- human's quite often feel no empathy for the "other". This is quite pronounced in times of war-- quite often people have no empathy for the "enemy" (this has been demonstrated countless times).

Night Ripper, In the case where soldiers feel no empathy for the enemy, is raping children as an act of war unethical?
 

Related Topics

 
  1. Forums
  2. » The Problem With Utilitarianism
Copyright © 2017 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 03/28/2017 at 05:28:44