The Instigator
wingnut2280
Pro (for)
Tied
6 Points
The Contender
BrownEyedAlto932
Con (against)
Tied
6 Points

Peter Singer is my hero: Utilitarianism is a reasonable argument.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/12/2007 Category: Society
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,173 times Debate No: 313
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (4)
Votes (4)

 

wingnut2280

Pro

Utilitarianism seems to have an automatically negative connotation on this sight and I'm kind of curious as to why. I do not personally follow the philosophy, but find it, in most ways feasible. I would like someone to persuade me that generic utilitarianism is a bad personal philosophy or paradigm.
BrownEyedAlto932

Con

There are a bunch of different types of utilitarianistic theories that you could argue, but utilitarianism in its most generic form is, in my opinion, a very bad concept.
Depending on who you're referring to, utilitarianism could either be the greatest good for the greatest number of people, or the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, but they're not necessarily the same thing.
I think that one of utility's biggest problems is that it's so nonspecific. How do you measure it? How can you honestly know if you've achieved the greatest good for the greatest number of people? Who determines what "the greatest good " is? There's never any way to fully know if the utilitarian ideal is achieved. Also, how do you know what is, essentially, the greatest "good" for the majority? You could take a vote, similar to a democracy. But utility doesn't allow for the structure of democracy - it's more like a tribal rule. And what makes the majority happy isn't necessarily just. For example, I'm sure you've heard of the example of how under utilitarianism, it would be perfectly just to kill a completely healthy man and take five of his organs for five sick people. Because five people benefit and only one person does not, in the eyes of utilitarianism, it is just. Another example: what if two sadists take physical pleasure from torturing one child? In a utilitarian society, because the majority is made happy from this act, it is considered just.
Another thing is this: the utilitarian ideal would be to minimize suffering for as many people as possible. Wouldn't the easiest way to do that be to kill everyone on earth? Then there would be no suffering at all: maximum utility.

There are a lot of arguments for utilitarianism and it does work well for some resolutions, but in general I think it carries a lot more negatives than positives. I don't like it.
Debate Round No. 1
wingnut2280

Pro

First, let me clear up some popular misconceptions about utlitarianism and we can go on from there.

Utilitarianism is not, as it is commonly defined, the greatest good for the greatest number or the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Utiliarianism is the process of weighing the forecasted positive and negative outcomes of each possible consequence or actual consequence (depending on the version) in order to make a decision.

That being said, lets look at this measurement problem. The actor 'assigns' values to each forecasted consequence as makes the decision accordingly. Therefore, measuring the outcome of the decision, according to utility, is absolutely unnecessary because the outcome of the decision does not have an effect on the morality/immorality.

So, in order to make these decisions, one has to way to pros and cons of the consequences and the action with the greatest sum (the maximization you talked about) is the 'just' one.

So, lets look at your examples. First, the 5 for 1 human exchange. If the five people are gaurunteed to live as full a life and we can assume the lives are equally valued etc. then yes, utility would take that action. But, what you have to ask yourself is whether or not this is really wrong. If you had to make a decision between killing 5 people and killing one, you would kill the lone person (assuming all things equal).

Next, killing the world to minimize suffering. The fact that if everyone were dead, there would be no suffering is true. But, that ignores the positive value of life on earth. Certainly, there would be more pleasure than pain if we let the world continue.

In short, utilitarianism is not a matter of majority, but a matter of positive vs. negative outcome.
BrownEyedAlto932

Con

"Therefore, measuring the outcome of the decision, according to utility, is absolutely unnecessary because the outcome of the decision does not have an effect on the morality/immorality."

This is not true. Utilitarianism is an ends-based concept, and you make it sound in your argument like it is a deontological outlook. The means are not considered with utility, ONLY the ends, ONLY the outcome of the decision.

Yes, the pros and cons are essentially weighed when making a utilitarianistic decision, but only with regard to the end result, not to the morality of the decision itself. You talk about the "positive value of life on earth". Would it be moral, then, to take away this value of life from one innocent to benefit five? All utilitarianism cares about is the numbers, and if those numbers add up to more than 50%.
In theory, utility sounds great.
But then again, so does communism.

Again with the two sadists torturing the child. Two people are made immeasurably happy by this act, whereas one innocent is being forced to suffer in the name of the justice of utilitarianism.

Another problem with utilitarianism is that it is completely idealistic. Not only is it impossible to implement into a society, but it has absolutely no room for checks and balances. Who is weighing the pros and cons of the consequences that you talk about? Who is ultimately making that decision? And why should that person be allowed to decide what is the "most beneficial" to the greatest number? There might be a few positives to utilitarianism, but I think that it is obvious that they are HEAVILY outweighed by the negatives.
Debate Round No. 2
wingnut2280

Pro

Utilitarianism IS an ontological concept. It is a 'formula' that is used to make a moral decision. One would use it in order to make the decision, not to make a posterior judgement. This is the big distinction here.

In a sense, Utilitarianism is an ends-based concept, but you portray it as if the 'actual' consequences matter. This is a misconception. A utilitarian decision measures the probabity of the outcome along with its severity. So, in the sense that it values consequences it is, but the actual purpose is to take place BEFORE the decision.

For example, if I made the decision to go to my local mall and shoot the first person I saw in the face. It could turn out to be Osama bin Ladin, but, despite the good outcome, it would not have been a good decision.

There is no 'greatest number' involved. Utilitarianism does not advocate killing one person so that ten people make a dollar. This notion of majority is only true if we are weighing equal things. This whole conception of 50% and two outweighs one is totally illegitimate. Utilitarian actions are those which the possible positive outcomes outweigh the negative.

For instance, it WOULD advocate sacrificing one so that several could live, ASSUMING THAT THE LIVES ARE EQUAL. I fail to see how this is an issue, as I would definately choose to save 5 people over 1, if I had to make the choice.

I'm not claiming our government should be utilitarian, or that it should be the basis for all of society's decisions. It is a moral 'guide', so to speak, used to make MORAL decisions.

So, on to this whole sadists argument. Just because two people get pleasure out of this does not mean that the one girl being tortured is justified. Refer to my above arguments of numbers. Additionally, the claim that these two things (sadist's pleasure & girl suffering) are equal would be incorrect. Milles goes into great detail regarding the 'competent judge'. In short, he shows how humans are automatically attracted to intellectual or 'higher' pleasures rather than barabaric pleasures. He goes on to say that whenever these pleasures would conflict (pleasure of torturing with rational value of the girl), the 'higher' values would come through because of human's more intellectual faculties. In any instance (sadists) that this wouldn't happen, the values assigned to the consequences would be illegitimate and therfore, the action would be UNJUST.

In conclusion, all of the 'majority' arguments are obviously not applying to what utilitarianism really is. Second, utilitarianism is not idealistic because it forms the basis for just decision making and makes no claim to produce maximized actual consequences all the time (bin Ladin argument). It needs no checks and balances because it is based on moral values, not policy options. Utilitarianism is not simply a numbers game. It weighs consequences as to their values and probability, not merely how many people are on each side. Any actual consequences can't really be calculated as they are namely anomolies, as long as the probable/valuable decision has been made.

I think the careful difference here is that you are arguing that utilitarianism does not allow for the correct decision someone SHOULD HAVE made. While, in reality, it makes the maximized decision someone SHOULD make, but does not always turn out this way. It is impossible to create a system that makes maximized decisions all the time. I don't argue utilitarianism is perfect, just reasonable.
BrownEyedAlto932

Con

BrownEyedAlto932 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by AJmartinez 9 years ago
AJmartinez
i would actually have to say that utility is a kind of weak argument. I say this from experience, there are so many arguments against utility. True, people may think its strong on the basis that it affects the most people, but the truth is, so does justice or individual rights. those are better values or ideas to base your arguments on. Also, the fact that there is no true way to measure utility is what makes it so weak. You will never know if what you are doing is really what will bring the gretest benefit toward the greatest number of people, or even how many people a choice will truly benefit.
Posted by wingnut2280 9 years ago
wingnut2280
This sucks, I really was looking forward to a response. Anyone else who would like to debate the issue let me know.
Posted by wingnut2280 9 years ago
wingnut2280
In util, the agent is supposed to weigh consequences as if he were an independent party. This makes the value just.
Posted by UBERdude63 9 years ago
UBERdude63
First, I would like to clarify that deotology says that one should do what is morally correct according to circumstance, reguardless of the outcomes, whereas util focuses on the ends as a justification for the means. While they are both different types of moral justification, one looks at it from different perspectives, so Util cannot be the same as Deon.

Secondly, whenever you ask "Who is justified in saying what should be valued?" is simply a nihilistic argument. Whenever you have a debate such as this, it is implied the person givin as the valuer is qualified in applying value. Otherwise, debates would go absolutely nowhere.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by BrownEyedAlto932 8 years ago
BrownEyedAlto932
wingnut2280BrownEyedAlto932Tied
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Vote Placed by Oolon_Colluphid 9 years ago
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wingnut2280BrownEyedAlto932Tied
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Vote Placed by Darth_Grievous_42 9 years ago
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wingnut2280BrownEyedAlto932Tied
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Vote Placed by redinbluestate 9 years ago
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wingnut2280BrownEyedAlto932Tied
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