Justice- What’s the right thing to do?By: Michael J. Sandel |
Chapter 2: Utilitarianism |
Bentham's explanation of Utilitarianism is “the right thing to do is whatever will maximize utility.” (Sandel p.g.34) which means that the right thing to is always whatever produces the greatest amount of happiness and whatever is necessary to prevent unhappiness. Suppose you are walking and someone stops you to take a poll; they ask you if you rather have an animal center where you can pet animals, or if you would have a school for special children. Which would you choose? Most people would choose the school because there are children involved, but according to Bentham and his theory, there should be an animal center because it is what makes people happy. In our scenario, what makes people happy are animals therefore he would say to build a pet center because the people would be the happiest, hence maximizing utility.
(Sandel pg. 41) On the other hand we have the example where it is justifiable to torture a man to give out information of a bomb that can kill thousands of people. In this example Utility is acceptable, but if the “terrorist” is not willing to speak up, where utilitarianism draws the line is having to torture the family so they can talk. If there are thousands of lives at stake, Sandel tells us utility will be acknowledged as doing the greater good and cause pain rather than not torturing and risking lives.
The second approach in the book is John Mill’s concept of utilitarianism. Mill’s concept is basically to do anything that makes you happy, as long as you do not harm others. Sandel goes on to say “Mill believes it is possible to distinguish between higher and lower pleasures”. (Sandel pg. 53). But when you ask yourself, what are higher pleasures? Well, my higher pleasure would be to lay on my sofa and relax before cooking, or just sit in the balcony and read a chapter of my favorite book. Those are higher pleasures as they are what makes you most happy, and most importantly, are not harming others. Mill tell us his liberty principle, where we can ban religion if a mass number of people don’t believe in it, as this will make the happy. To the minority of the people, as Sandel said, it will cause pain and suffering, This is cause for a disagreement in as Mill’s liberty principle is do whatever makes you happy.
In conclusion, having two different approaches to what utilitarianism is, give us many examples as some may be right and others wrong, depending on your point of view. Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant believed that “certain types of actions (including murder theft, and lying) were absolutely prohibited, even in cases where the action would bring about more happiness than the alternative.” (Kantian Ethics). In Kant’s theory we see another point of view of Utilitarianism, knowing there are thousands of views with utilitarianism, it is to one's discrete which theory to believe.
Justice: what’s the right thing to do?
Michael J. Sandel-Farar, Staruss and Giroux-2009