Samson 1 Aaron Samson Phi .

24 Section A-02 Pekka 12 March 2007

Utilitarianism: Morally Adequate?
Utilitarianism broadly argues that everyone morally ought to do what does most benefit to the general welfare . As a result, any action, despite the means or motive for the action, that does more for the general welfare is automatically considered morally right . I contest that both means and motive are severely important in determining the morality of an action, despite the end result of the action . In this essay, I will show the relevance of this point through the use of real world cases, and the application of my argument to the Trolley Problems and the Hospital Problem . Utilitarianism’s claim that means and motive are irrelevant argues for the benefit of the majority at the expense of the minority . As important as the general welfare is, are we to assume that it is our moral obligation to promote happiness and welfare at someone else’s expense? There are many implications if this philosophy becomes mainstream; in certain cases, it would be perfectly acceptable to enslave a minority for the benefit of the majority . In this case, the means certainly do not justify the end; though the general welfare may be increased, enslaving a human being is certainly objectionable, regardless of the increase .

Samson 2 If this way of thought is adhered to, it would completely undermine the idea of a person’s rights . If the means and motive are irrelevant in a moral decision that benefits the general welfare, than it can be assumed that there will be cases where a person’s rights must be violated in order to maintain or increase the general welfare . Because there Utilitarianism must be taken case by case, it leaves no room for consistent standards of rights for people to live by . This not only means that it is impossible for rights to exist, but that people are mere tools at the hands of other people in order to increase general welfare and happiness . Furthermore, if the only thing that mattered was the results of actions, then there can be no feasible system of laws that apply broadly to cases . I argue this because if general welfare is the only thing that matters, every case can feasibly have a different moral obligation, and therefore a general law would be impossible to enforce . There are many real-world cases where motive and means are considered in identifying the morality of an issue . The courts are a very strong example; in every court case, the law is taken into account as well as the severity of the infraction and the motive . In murder cases there is a strong difference in sentence between manslaughter and 1 st degree murder, based purely on motive . Similarly, there are other cases where the same end can have different moral implications . There is often the case of how money is acquired . Utilitarianism would argue that as long as the general will is not worsened,

Samson 3 whatever means by which money is acquired are perfectly morally acceptable . Many would agree, however, that money acquired through dishonest practice is morally tainted and the owner of the money is morally in the wrong . John Harris gives an example of a Utilitarian situation in his concept of the survival lottery . In John Harris’s situation, two men are dying of organ failure, and it would promote the general welfare to kill one healthy man to save the lives of two sick men, because two saved lives equate to more general welfare than one lost life . The man should not be killed, however . According to John Locke, we are all entitled to an inalienable right to life, which would be denied in the killing of the healthy man to save two other men . Another moral drawback of killing the man is that by attempting to promote the general welfare, we are actively killing a person who was not going to die in the first place . Through a Utilitarian viewpoint, the killing of a human being to save the lives of two more is perfectly acceptable, because the end result saves the lives of two men; however the means to this end must be considered when attempting to make a moral decision . It is true that in many cases, one’s duty should be to maximize the general welfare, but the general welfare should not be maximized at the expense of the minority . Thompson’s first trolley problem is also a strong example of how the end does not necessarily justify the means . Thompson’s trolley problem raises the question of whether it is ok to actively kill one person in order to save many . If Utilitarianism is correct in assuming that the general welfare is the only thing of

Samson 4 importance, then the trolley problem would not be an issue; Utilitarianism would simply argue that there should be no question, and the one person should be killed to save many . There is an issue, however; the question of whether it is OK to actively kill a person has been raised . Because that person has as many rights to life as the rest of the people, his life should not be arbitrarily taken from him . There is also another version of the trolley problem where the track loops back . The question in this problem is whether to divert the train to the course that would kill one person in which case it is the only way to save a number of people . Thompson argues that this is not morally allowed, for we are not allowed to use people as a means to an end . Because we are specifically using the person as a “speed bump” to prevent the trolley from looping back and killing several more people, that person is a means to an end and, Thompson argues, should not be killed as such . This is another argument for the idea that means and motive are important factors in decision-making and the morality of actions, regardless of the general will and happiness . I personally argue that means and motive are an important moral factor to be considered . Because Utilitarianism promotes only the general welfare, it undermines the idea that we have rights, and undermines the entire legal system . There are many cases in which Utilitarianism would argue for the same punishment for a crime, even though one may have been for a much more just cause than the other . Similarly, Utilitarianism argues for the idea that it is

Samson 5 perfectly acceptable to do anything, so long as it promotes the general welfare; I argue that if a decision must be made in which the solution is not apparent, the policy should be not to change the course of action that is currently in place. Using this argument, situations such as the hospital and trolley problems become morally apparent. This illuminates the difference between killing and letting die: in both situations, the solution may not be morally apparent, but if we decide that we will not change the norm of a situation unless we are sure of what to do, then actively killing becomes wrong while letting die becomes morally permissible.