Criticisms of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism – John Stuart Mill

Research has contributed to a lot in the fields of ethical principles, of business and human, as well as other forms of human behavior that tend to identify the relationship between individual behavior and how it is perceived by the environment surrounding them. These ethical principles have been supported by various theories that shed light on the different aspects and interpretations of each, identifying different schools of thought, deontological and teleological.

The teleological (University of Waterloo) school of thought has been researched and contributed to in larger amounts by John Stuart Mill, the famous theory of Utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism, or the greatest good theory, put forward by John Stuart Mill strongly contends in favor of the human pursuit of pleasure and the acquisition of means aimed at achieving the greatest good. The author of this theory argues that humans contradict in behavior with other living beings in their interpretation of the definition of pleasure. It is in their interpretation of pleasure as a mental fulfillment, rather than being a mere physical pleasure, that exhibits the intellectual abilities of human beings over other animals. Mill argues that it is rather good to pursue less happiness than to be happy or satisfied at a lower level. He has been clear in describing pleasure as a feeling of the absence of pain or discomfort that results in dissatisfaction and the urge to achieve physical and mental contentment.

Human beings differ in their pursuit of pleasure in that they have a sense of morality, dignity, pride that they associate with their actions. Humans are different than animals in that they seek not only basic pleasures such as hunger, thirst, and sex, etc. rather being intellectually guided to pursue higher pleasures not bounded by mere physical boundaries. Very rarely do any human would agree to move to a lower standard and become satisfied with only the basic animal instincts fulfilled. A human being might choose to adopt discomfort, suffering, and agony to reach higher levels of satisfaction rather than accepting lower moral and ‘human’ standards to them.

It is also in our nature to become easily dissatisfied. But the author argues that those dissatisfied or working to achieve higher levels of satisfaction can achieve it. We may, at different stages not notice that there is a very fine line between happiness and content. Being content does not mean being happy. It is also important to note that people pursue happiness not only due to quality or quantity but also based on the means through which it is achieved. Happiness is only achieved in its entirety if the ends result in the complete satisfaction and the effective utilization of resources, and the absence of pain.

Criticisms of Utilitarianism – E.F. Carritt

A major criticism of Utilitarian theory has been the failure of its ability to ‘measure’ happiness between two outcomes. Critics argue that happiness in two circumstances cannot be measured, rather compared. It is hence compared and based on an individual’s preferences, results in the choice for the greater good.

Another criticism of the Utilitarian theory is the unequal distribution of “happiness”. Since the Utilitarian theory suggests the pursuit of the greatest good but does not discuss the equality/inequality of distribution (Most Common Criticisms of Utilitarianism) of this happiness among individuals, it is widely criticized. Critics contend that happiness unless equally distributed, is not justified.

Critics of the Utilitarian theory also contend the inability of human beings to judge the differences between two objects of deriving pleasure and choosing one that ranks higher. It is argued that we make choices merely based on our judgment rather than identifying our obligation in pursuit of pleasure that is rightfully available. People rate actions only based on personal interests and derived pleasure rather than the moral obligation attached to it or the quality of the decision. Utilitarianists are often criticized for pursuing ‘less pleasurable’ outcomes in the event when fear / negatively reinforcing behavior is attached to such. For example, ‘we do not cheat because we are afraid of getting caught’ is mostly the reason rather than ‘we do not cheat because it is bad’.

Utilitarianism allows individuals to inflict pain in pursuit of ‘greater happiness’ rather than achieving contentment at lower levels, in wake of sacrifice to achieve the ‘best good’.

Works Cited

Most Common Criticisms of Utilitarianism. 1999. Web.

University of Waterloo. Faculty of Science. 2004. Web.

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