Friday, January 27, 2017

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is defined as wanting social institutions restructured for the greater good of the most people. People are free to seek their own pleasure and to avoid pain, which will in turn promote progress in all aspects of society. The most important phrase that came out of utilitarianism is that people will act in their own "rational self-interest." Utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, and Fourier believe the man is generally good by nature. In contrast, Dostoevsky believes that man cannot be governed by such rules and generalizations as this and will act however he or she wants to act. Whether or not utilitarianism can be seen as fully or even partly true is impossible to tell with any degree of certainty. One thing that we do know is that if people act in their own self-interest, which they often do, then the world should be a better place because of that according to utilitarianism. I do not believe this tenet of utilitarianism to be true because self-interest can also be associated with greed, spite, and malignant behavior that culminates in negative results for other parties in addition to the individual. Emotions play a big role in defining self-interest, but it is hard to form a philosophy based on something that people may not even know themselves. Who is to say if we are acting in our own self-interest or not if we do not know what that self-interest is? And why would we do anything different if we knew exactly what we wanted?

5 comments:

Rickeia Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rickeia Coleman said...

In Sophmore year we read a story called the Ones who walk away from Omelas. In the story we see everyone living in a fantasy world because of the suffering of this child who nobody pays attention to. On the basis of utilitarianism this is the best situation because everyone else is living in utopia and only one person is suffering. They describe how the child sits in its own filth and the child is referred to as it because of how monstrous the child looks after being neglected for so long. From this I think we can see the problems with Utilitarianism that Dostoevsky points out. Humans simply cannot always be good and put others before themselves like utilitarianism states. Also, even if the majority of people are happy, someone could still be living in utter misery which is not okay. The utilitarianist philosophy has obvious flaws and that's why many people like Dostoevsky criticize it.

Julia Scofield said...

The idea that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few is a dangerous one. In utilitarianism, this usually results in the majority living in a utopia. In real life, the minority group must suffer in order to maintain the status quo for the majority. An example of this happening is trumps ban on refugees from Muslim countries. The intent of this ban is to ensure that American are safe from foreign terrorism. When in reality, a more pressing threat is domestic terrorism and gun violence. The only thing that the ban does is ensure that refugees from Muslim countries will be forced to live in potentially life threatening conditions. According to utilitarianism, this is ok, because the majority is safe. We know however, that this is wrong and that the needs of all need to be considered.

Luke Jeanfreau said...

I think that in authors who oppose utilitarianism like dostoevsky we can see a lot of similarity to the modern conservative movement. This movement is based off of people being able to make their own decisions. In this way, it likely came about as an opposition to the ideas of utilitarianism.

Bailey Taylor said...

I think Dostoevsky was accurate in saying that humans will act against their own self interest just because they want to. Everyone has experienced this. Just because you can't do something, it makes you want to do it more even if you know it will harm you in the end. Whether humans are naturally good or evil, I have no clue, but I do think that the idea of a utopia and world peace are a little far fetched because humans are always going to want to rail against rules to prove their free will.