Utilitarianism, is the concept truly designed to benefit the greater good for the masses, or for the masses of the ruling class? The perspective of utilitarianism can only be considered as a divine concept if the theory is inclusive of all cultures and creeds. Many theorists argue the concept of utilitarianism does consider the all cultures and races, however, when put to the test, the concept proves itself improbable.
This paper will analyze the utilitarianism theory and draw a direct connection to its lack of consideration given to cultural relativism as well as analyze the objections raised by theorists and others, such as myself, who otherwise refute the doctrine. To accurately analyze Classical Utilitarianism, we must first gain an imperial understanding and origin of the theory by defining the term. Utilitarianism has the pursuit of the greatest happiness for all people as its core belief.
Basically, utilitarianism poses the question of what one should do with his or her life. It then answers the question by stating we need to act in the most productive way that produces the best consequences possible. As a result, utilitarianism focuses on all the consequences that result from an action. The good consequences should outweigh the bad consequences.
If such is the case, then the action should be taken. The ongoing evolution of the theory has grown over the years. However, for purposes of this essay we will focus on the classical approach. Classical Utilitarianism is an ethical theory as it evaluates right from wrong. It was initially developed by British philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mil who were concerned about the legal and moral issues of society (Rachel pg107 ). The theory states that actions are right if they are useful and beneficial to the majority. It is the doctrine that an action is right insofar as it brings happiness and that the greatest happiness to the most numbers of people should be the guideline for principle of conduct (Rachel).
The philosophers identified the “good” with pleasure. They agreed that we should seek to maximize the good seeking, “the greatest amount of good for the greater number”. Impartiality is also a concept of Classical Utilitarianism in that each person’s happiness is equally considered, thus maximizing the good, you maximize the impartiality. My good is of no greater importance than your good. Also, the reason I promote the overall good is the same reason any other person would (Rachel ). It’s these statements and many other conceptions behind this theory which has cause controversy leading to theorists and others such as myself to refute the classical version of the theory. An example of Classical Utilitarianism that demonstrates someone making an individual “good” choice that benefits the greatest number of people can be seen in Terrence’s decision to donate his land parcel to an urban farming co-op in a severely underserved urban community with no access to fresh fruit and vegetables. The urban co-op can now grow their own vegetables for sale in the neighborhood.
The co-op is overwhelming successful and begins to sell their produce to ABC company who is an international distributor of produce. The co-op now produces and sells produce which is shipped overseas for sale to areas that are underserved as well. Even providing new jobs here and abroad to help in distribute the produce.
Utilitarianism is a theory that has been reviewed and revised over many years. There are several objections to the theory. As a collection of theories developed over the years, the utilitarianism doctrine leaves itself open to a much criticism and objection. Is it logical to surmise that if humans are constantly evolving, then shouldn’t the theory evolve as well, and to what extent? Allow me to explain as we analyze, objections to this doctrine. The baggiest objection to Classical Utilitarianism is assuming the desires of every person before taking any action (Rachel). In my opinion, this objection clearly refutes the utilitarianism theory. Allow me to illustrate my point of view.
The wants and needs of individuals are unique in nature. One person’s needs or requirements may not be equal to another’s in the same or different situation. Furthermore, there may exist race, creed, or cultural influential factors guiding one’s principals and / or decision-making process when determining exactly what exactly is the “greater good”. If such factors are present and duly influence such decision-making processes, how then can an individual’s decision-making process be truly altruistic? Let’s consider the following example. John is a practicing Hindu. He wishes to make a sizeable donation to the local soup kitchen, who says they will use his donation to purchase beef to feed the needy. His donation will supply one year of meat to the soup kitchen in his community as well as several others.
John’s religion worships cows as deity and prohibits him from consuming beef. Although he is aware of the “greater good” of making his donation, John decides not to donate because doing so would be offensive to his religion. it’s obvious John’s change of mind was influenced by his culture, not considers the culture of others who do eat meat. John’s decision had his best interest in mind and not the greater good of others. Critics of the doctrine argue that all individuals are incapable of making decisions that he or she is certain would benefit everyone in the world, if individuals place different priorities on what they deem necessary in an occurrence or situation. The theory of Ethical Egoism refutes the utilitarianism doctrine.
Ethical Egoism basically states that individuals should act in their own best interest, doing what is best for the individual. There are three types of Ethical Egoism which are personal, individual, and universal. All there are designed to first promote one’s self-interest. Let’s consider John again.
Although his initial decision to donate would have been for the greater good and helped the greatest number of people, he changed his mind so as not to offend his religion or his personal beliefs. We are all inherently influenced by our own beliefs, which directly affects our capability for doing the most good for the greatest number of people, thus exposing the main flaw int the Classical Utilitarianism theory. There are other theories which also refute Classical Utilitarianism doctrine such as Cultural Relativism. Let me explain my point of view.
Cultural Relativism is the idea that a person’s beliefs, values, and should be interpreted based on that person own culture, not to be held to, and judged by a rubric of anther culture. Remember John from our example. It was evident that Cultural Relativism played and important role in his decision to retract his donation. Although John’s initial gesture would have helped the greatest number of people and brought about the most happiness to others, his religious beliefs deterred him from doing a selfless act.
Instead John chose to be guided by his cultural and religious beliefs because it would make him the happiest not to donate to the soup kitchen. John failed to include the cultural aspects of persons running the soup kitchen in his decision-making process. Because they decided to purchase beef with John’s donation, as a result he decided not to donate. John’s decision exhibits classic signs of and individual being affected by both Ethical Egoism and Cultural Relativism. Cultural utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of doing the most good for the greater number, while Ethical Egoism and Cultural Relativism focuses on the origin and intent of one’s actions while leaving little concern for consequences if those consequences do not negatively affect the individual making the decision. Doing “good” means attempting to increase the number of happy people. While being “bad” means only increasing the number of people in the world who are suffering.
Was John being, “bad” in his decision to resend his donation knowing that doing so would cause a great number of people would suffer? Was John wrong by making himself happiest by upholding his religious beliefs? Personally, I believe Utilitarianism is an abstract concept with is subjective to an individual’s own interpretation. As such, can an individual truly consider the needs of everyone if they are unaware of the breadth and depth of those needs?