10: Applied Utilitarianism

Objectives

  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as hedonism, consequentialism
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with utilitarianism
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

Example 1 of 3
Euthenasia

J. S. Mill

Key Terms

Utilitarianism
Consequentialism

Jeremy Bentham

The dictates of religion would coincide, in all cases, with those of utility, were the Being, who is the object of religion, universally supposed to be as benevolent as he is supposed to be wise and powerful

  • Sigmund Freud
    • Renowned psychologist of the early 20th century
    • Developed oral cancer
    • Euthanized by personal physician at his request
  • Euthanasia is Wrong
    • Christianity traditionally judges this is as wrong
    • Human life is sacred
    • Only God has the right to take life
    • Exceptions: war, capital punishment
  • Euthanasia is Right
    • Utilitarianism judges this is as right
    • Actions should promote happiness and minimize unhappiness
    • Freud was unhappy
    • The doctor’s actions were morally right
  • Bentham's Analysis
    1. Intensity – How intense is the happiness?                +
      • One could argue that Freud’s unhappiness was very intense
    2. Duration – How long will it last?      ?
      • If the question is, how long will Freud’s unhappiness last without euthanasia, that answer is uncertain. This is the first of Bentham’s measurements we are unable to sufficiently address.
    3. Certainty – How certain are you that the results will be what you predict?     +
      • Freud and the doctor are fairly certain that administering a particular combination of drugs would lead to the result he desires.
    4. Propinquity – How soon will happiness be achieved?      +
      • The cessation of suffering will be achieved very soon after the drugs are administered.
    5. Fecundity – Will it lead to additional opportunities for happiness in the future?          –
      • This is the first clear negative to Bentham’s quantitative approach. There will be no opportunities for happiness or pain if Freud dies.
    6. Purity – How much pain comes with the anticipated happiness?       +
      • According to the information we have, the drug that ended Freud’s life was painless.
    7. Extent – How many other people will be affected by the happiness?    ?
      • Freud’s death did not affect him alone. It also affected his friends, Dr. Schur and others, and his family, his daughter Anna in particular. The pain that they would feel as a result of their loss would, however, may have been tempered with the knowledge that he was no longer in pain. Again, this question is difficult to quantify for this ethical dilemma.
    • In the end, Bentham’s analysis seems to indicate that the benefits of euthanasia for Freud outweighed the alternative.
  • Does this mean Utilitarianism is at odds with Christianity?
    • Bentham says no
    • Christians would agree with Utilitarianism if God were truly benevolent

William Bennett

The simple fact is that drug use is wrong. And the moral argument, in the end, is the most compelling argument.

Example 2 of 3
Marijuana

  • Does marijuana lead to happiness or unhappiness?
    • Relaxing
    • Increased sensory pleasure
    • Most popular illegal drug
    • Does not cause violent behavior
    • Gateway drug?
    • Addictive?
    • Cognitive and physical damage with heavy use
    • Utilitarian verdict: varies.
  • Bentham's Analysis
    1. Intensity – How intense is the happiness?             +
      • Depending on the person, marijuana users report varying degrees of happiness from mildly or very pleasant to very unpleasant, increasing paranoia and unease. Overall, the consensus among users is that marijuana use is pleasurable.
    2. Duration – How long will it last?                  ?
      • Again, the duration of effect depends on the person, so this question is difficult to quantify.
    3. Certainty – How certain are you that the results will be what you predict?    +
      • People who use marijuana on a regular basis are fairly certain of the result it will have for them.
    4. Propinquity – How soon will happiness be achieved?      +
      • For most people, the effects occur fairly quickly.
    5. Fecundity – Will it lead to additional opportunities for happiness in the future?        -
      • Other than building a community with others who smoke marijuana, there is nothing in smoking marijuana that would lead to additional happiness in the future, and getting caught could greatly decrease happiness.
    6. Purity – How much pain comes with the anticipated happiness?           -
      • Again, the potential for pain through legal prosecution, getting fired from a job, losing the trust of friends or family, is great. While the happiness is present, the potential for pain is also.
    7. Extent – How many other people will be affected by the happiness?       -
      • If smoking marijuana is a social activity, then other people would be affected. Otherwise, others will only be affected if a person is caught, in which case, the happiness of others would decrease.
    8. In the end, Bentham’s analysis seems to indicate that the benefits of marijuana use varies.
  • Would legalizing marijuana lead to happiness or unhappiness?
    • People like it = increased happiness
    • Increased medical bills for heavy users = decreased happiness
    • People could drive when high, though they usually drive defensively
    • Marijuana vs. alcohol or cigarettes
    • Increased tax revenue = increased happiness
    • Decreased law enforcement costs = increased happiness
    • Decreased court and prison costs = increased happiness
    • Utilitarian verdict: almost unanimously in favor of legislation
  • Bentham's Analysis
    1. Intensity – How intense is the happiness?             +
      • If marijuana were legalized, it would increase the happiness of marijuana users because they would no longer worry about prosecution. 
      • Legalization would also increase the happiness of various industries and the government who could levy taxes.
    2. Duration – How long will it last?                  +
      • Legalizing marijuana would last as long as the majority determined it was for the best. 
      • If public opinion changed, it could then be made illegal again.
    3. Certainty – How certain are you that the results will be what you predict?    +
      • Regular users are certain of the positive effects of marijuana; however, since it has not yet been attempted in the United States, we are not certain how legalizing marijuana would affect society. Many supporters of legalization argue that marijuana would be just another legal drug like alcohol or tobacco products. Other countries have legalized marijuana use and an abundance of research has proven they have suffered no ill effects. So, while it is difficult to be positive, it is fairly certain that the effects of legalization would be positive.
    4. Propinquity – How soon will happiness be achieved?      +
      • If marijuana were legalized through popular majority, happiness for the majority would be achieved fairly quickly.
    5. Fecundity – Will it lead to additional opportunities for happiness in the future?        +
      • This is the first area where legalization really changes our responses to Bentham’s argument. If marijuana were legal, it would provide opportunities for happiness in the future because the threat of legal ramifications would be negated.
    6. Purity – How much pain comes with the anticipated happiness?          +
      • Like fecundity, the purity of happiness experienced would also be increased with legalization. If there is no threat of emotional pain through legal means, then there is no barrier to the anticipated happiness.
    7. Extent – How many other people will be affected by the happiness?    ?
      • Your opinion on how other people will be affected by the legalization of marijuana will likely be similar to your perspective on alcohol. If you believe alcohol is should be prohibited because of its dangerous effects on people, you probably believe the same about marijuana.
    8. In the end, Bentham’s analysis seems to indicate that utilitarianism would be in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Example 3 of 3
Non-Human Animals

  • Traditional views on animals
    • Animals are provided by God for our use from a Christian perspective
    • Animals are eaten, used for clothing, hunted for sport
    • This is justified because animals are not rational, cannot speak, and are not human
  • Utilitarian views on animals
    • Can an animal be happy or unhappy?
    • Because the answer is yes, they matter
    • The treatment of animals should not equal the treatment of humans
    • Speciesism - discrimination against animals because they are a different species
    • Basic question: Is the happiness people get greater than the suffering of animals used by people (for experiments, food, or any other reason)?