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Applying utilitarian theory to practical cases

What are the main problems in applying utilitarian theory to practical cases?

Main problems in applying utilitarian theory to practical cases

Jeremy Bentham’s theory of utility is prone to criticism that it may well surrender the
rights of the marginalized groups for the sake of contentment of the majority. Justice continues to
be the suitable name for some social utilities which are hugely more imperative, and therefore,
more important and absolute, than any others are as status; and which, then, should be, as well as
innately are, guarded by n outlook not only diverse in degree, but also in kind; differentiated
from the milder sentiment which attaches to the simple idea of promoting human convenience or
pleasure, at once by the more explicit nature of its orders, and by the sterner element of its
sanctions. This essay will explore the problem which is associated with the application of
utilitarian theory to practical cases (Bailey, 1997).

Firstly, utilitarian theory generates conclusions which tend to differ with people’s moral
intuitions. What this means is misleadingly simple; moral intuition refers to an involuntary
sentiment or a gut feeling regarding where something is wrong or right. If a philosophical
conclusion is illustrated and someone thinks that it is obviously wrong or right, without requiring
deliberating on it, or consulting a moral philosophy, that is a moral intuition. When someone
claims that utilitarianism goes against human moral intuitions, then, it is that there are instances
where this theory says one act is right, but oral intuition claims an utterly different thing is right.
Many people find claims from moral intuition very persuasive especially the philosophers. There
are numerous reasons for that, but they are not as compelling. Moral intuitions can be useful
evidence in various claims although they do not prove anything when it comes to normative
notions. A normative notion serves as a hypothetical ideal which illustrates a perfect state of
affairs, offering a foundation against which to evaluate reality. Normative ideas are not supposed
to be prescriptive or descriptive. Utilitarianism is usually a normative theory. Moral intuitions
definitely exist, and they are effective and practical ways of getting people to collaborate in the
real world, although there is no reason to imagine that they have anything to do with any form of
ethical ideal (Regan, 1980).

Secondly, utilitarianism disregards natural rights or other such theoretical constructs.
Utilitarian disallows the idea that a conception of the right to some things is ethically
constructive in itself. Rights are practical only as long as they support welfare. People usually
find the concept of morally supreme rights instinctively appealing, but see the utilitarian react to
the use of such moral intuitions. Utilitarianism basically rejects the notion that ideas of absolute
rights ought to place restraint on welfare. Whenever any notions of rights disagree with welfare,
utilitarianism has to choose welfare. It does not see any justification for giving up people’s

welfare, even to the level of bringing about situations which are not preferred by anyone,
because of some notions that some rights ‘violations’ are naturally bad despite their
consequences (Sen & Williams, 1982).

The reason for philosophers’ devotion to rights is that they have been descriptively
useful. Political and legal rights in the actual world had very constructive results. Sadly, rights
have usually been promoted on the justification that they are naturally right in themselves. Their
accomplishment in the real world tend to underpin that perspective although people would not
have found it very engaging if the idea made everybody worse off. Human beings have a history
of taking ideas that are prescriptively important, and coming to think that those ideas are
inherently right. This may be partly because people tend to have a conviction that whatever
traditional wisdom holds to be superior is superior because of some natural precision because it
is simply very useful in supporting the welfare of people (Shaw, 1999).

Utilitarian are usually strong promoters of political and legal rights. This is because
instead of wasting time attempting to establish which rights are preferable based on their natural
merits, utilitarian acknowledge that a number of rights are very effectual in supporting welfare.
In the practical world, things like abuse of power, crime, and intolerance are very actual issues
and legally safeguarded rights are efficient and effective safeguards against them. It is necessary
to acknowledge that those criticize this theory for not having enough regard for rights are either
doing so on totally theoretical grounds, or do not understand the importance of rights. Rights are
definitely not so lacking in validation that they cannot stand on verification, but have to appeal to
being moral obligations in themselves (Scarre, 1996).

Utilitarianism in practice has moderately major egalitarian inferences because a very
irregular distribution of resource is not likely to be utility-maximizing. The theory is concerned
with making the best of the general welfare of people, and a reasonably fair distribution of
resources seems to be a superior way of doing this in practice. It is true though that this theory
will support inequality when doing so is utility maximizing (Goodin, 1995). To support equality
at the cost of utility is to mean that equality is in itself naturally good and that in some situations
it is allowable to promote equality even when that is not what people value. It is worth noting
that utilitarianism critics place a lot of importance on equality when compared to the average
persons. Most of the contemporary Egalitarian philosophers who disapprove of Utilitarianism for
being inadequately egalitarian think that welfare ought to be surrendered to equality in rather
dramatic ways. Extremely egalitarian philosophers normally specify extreme ways of how
equality is to be accomplished, like the compensatory resource distribution and creation of
collaborative under Marxism. There are usually incompatible with market mechanisms, and so
would have significant problems of inadequacy (Barrow, 1991).

Also, there are two logics in which justice can be applied. The first one is that of a
structure that ensures outcomes that are good according to ethical theories. The second one is
that of a structure which promotes law efficiently in practice. In the ethical theory logic,
utilitarian claim that utility maximization offers the optimal substitution between the values of
various people. An idea of what individual deserve which is not generated from the values of the
people calls for replacement of an objective, innate value in some element of justice (College
Park Michael Slote Professor of Philosophy University of Maryland, 2001). That would be
vitally dissimilar to the basis of the theory, and utilitarian claim that there is no reason for
claiming that some kind of justice is naturally good autonomously in parallel of the people’s

welfare. Such a theory of justice would not necessitate that, in some states, justice ought to be
supported even if it was not what anybody involved wants. People do not appear to think that
justice ought to be seen as valuable in it, but this is because justice has a tendency to be
practically useful. The practical value of justice means that believes that it is good thrive, since
they have a tendency to lead to results which promote their spread. The prevalence of
contemporary belief in justice ought to be understood not as a proof that justice is good in it, but
as a proof that confidence in justice has produced positive results in practice (Kymlicka, 1990).

A constantly enforced set of laws are efficiently at maximizing utility. Utilitarians
normally suggest a form of justice structure that many people consider to be attractive, and
which do not differ drastically from that present in contemporary society. Utilitarianism does not
propose surrender of the real world justice structure to hope that persons will come up with more
practical behavior. While ideal utilitarian would not require meddling with a justice system, real
people will normally respond to a superiorly permissive system by exploiting it for individual

Furthermore, utilitarian believe that justice is valuable only as long has it supports
welfare. This is to say that punishment is not enviable if the loss of welfare it triggers to the
punished surpasses the gains in welfare arising from a decline in future unwanted behavior. The
ideal degree of punishment reduces the absolute loss of welfare, both from the undesirable
behavior and punishment, in society in general. Few people would claim that punishments ought
to be more compassionate that called for by utilitarian policy, since this would have the impact
of reducing the welfare of community so as to preserve the welfare of the guilty persons.
Nonetheless, many people feel that punishment ought to be sterner than the utilitarian guideline.

Utilitarianism can simply answer any practical opposition to its policies, since it proposes
whatever is most favorable in maximizing long-term utility in practice. Utilitarianism can
consider all of the practical issues of running a justice system, the call for crime reduction in the
long-term and the call for severe punishment in order to create efficient deterrent effect. The only
real disparity arises when non-utilitarian arguments, for instance, that punishment ought to be
made sterner than the utilitarian superior punishment even if it will not prevent or deter
substantially more possible crimes. Utilitarians look upon imposing extra punishment when that
will not be effectual in discouraging crime as useless torture. It would help nobody and harm
someone (Kymlicka, 1990).
Lastly, utilitarian does not place any inherent moral values on things like obligations,
promises, and special accountabilities. People usually feel that placing a pledge, or having a
responsibility on someone, builds an intrinsic moral devotion to live up to it. Utilitarianism takes
a special perspective saying that a principle of something is utterly a function of its outcome.
For instance, if someone borrows money, Utilitarianism states that one should pay it back if by
so doing, the consequences will be better than failure to pay back. A lot of people do not agree
with this view although utilitarian continues to stress that such divergence is a function of
prescriptive morality. In practice, it is normally a good idea to live up to pledges and obligations.
Doing so promotes cooperation and trust, and often supports not only welfare but the individual
growth of those living up to their obligations (Mill, 1877).



Bailey J. (1997). “Utilitarianism, Institutions, and Justice”. Oxford University Press.

Baron J. (1994). “Thinking and Deciding” Cambridge University Press.

Barrow R. (1991). “Utilitarianism: A Contemporary Statement”. Routledge

Bentham, Jeremy (1789) 1948 An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. New
ed. New York: Hafner.

College Park Michael Slote Professor of Philosophy University of Maryland (2001). Morals
from Motives. Oxford University Press.

Demetriou K. N.& Loizides A. (2013). John Stuart Mill: A British Socrates. Palgrave

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