Utilitarianism, objections

So — we were having a class discussion about objections to utilitarianism..

We needed to talk about the justice objection and the integrity objection.

In terms of the justice objection, the idea is that utilitarianism could be used to conclude that you should do an unjust thing.  The example in the reading is of the criminal scapegoat (note, not “escape goat”) — the town “feels” better that the criminal has been caught, but an injustice is required on the part of the sherrif.  The problem is that it seems intuitively wrong to do an unjust thing — even though utilitarianism can defend the action.

The other objection we didn’t get to was the integrity objection — that’s the one with Jim and the “rebels” who are planning to shoot a group of “indians”.  Jim, as the honored guest, gets the opportunity to shoot one of them and, in celebration of his greatness (or something.. aack!) the rest will go free.  So, the utilitarian would say shoot one to save the rest while Jim’s internal moral system says intentionally killing anybody is wrong.

So, we have several basic types of objections to utilitiarianism..

1) knowledge based — how do you know what will make others happy, how do you know who to count in terms of happiness and how do you know your action will really result in the better overall good.

2) Human nature based — it seems intuitively plausible that we have a set of norms and values that are more important than increasing happiness — so, when one of those norms is violated, we think the action is wrong.  period.

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