The Instigator
wingnut2280
Pro (for)
Winning
24 Points
The Contender
clsmooth
Con (against)
Losing
9 Points

Utilitarianism functions as a paradigm

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/15/2007 Category: Society
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,667 times Debate No: 495
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (13)
Votes (11)

 

wingnut2280

Pro

Utilitarianism gets a bad rap. I think it carries a lot of popular misconceptions which I would like to clear up. Under its correct use, utility works fine.

Utilitarianism is the decision-making process which defines a just action as one whose consequences will maximize pleasure or good things. It is not the greatest good for the greatest number. I will clarify upon request. Thanks.
clsmooth

Con

The problem with utilitarianism is that "pleasure" is subjective. Maximizing societal pleasure requires an objective measure of what is "good" or "pleasurable," and thus, in political action, utilitarianism empowers an elite to determine the values of its "inferiors." Since the "pain" of some can be weighed against the "pleasure" of others; and since utilitarianism makes no moral argument against forcing some to endure "pain" in order that others can experience "pleasure," this philosophy justifies violation of natural human rights. A preferable political philosophy is one in which the natural rights of all human beings are respected, and that no man or woman's natural rights may be violated in the pursuit of "pleasure" for others.
Debate Round No. 1
wingnut2280

Pro

In utilitarianism, the agent or actor, must weigh the consequences of the possible action as an independent objectivist. Meaning, that he/she/it must evaluate the circumstance as if they had an equal stake in each persons situation. The objective nature of the decision making process would ensure that these "natural human rights" are not violated unless the advantages of violating them are TRULY worth it.

The fact that utilitarianism makes some endure pain, while others get pleasure is merely a reflection of reality. There exists no action or philosophy which can produce absolute positive effects. The goal then, is to determine which positive effects outweigh which negatives and vice versa. The objective nature of the actor allows this to happen, despite the subjective nature of pleasure.

A couple of issues arise here. First, if pleasure is subjective then it follows that the 'just' action is contingent on the definition of good. As this definition is never universal, we can assume that the subjective nature of good or pleasure and the objective nature of the actor can ensure that the action is the MOST JUST, not necessarily perfect. In other words, since we can't realistically define good, the best we can hope to do is make sure that the agent has taken all parties equally into account (as a utilitarian objective actor would). Regardless of what the actor values as good, utilitariansim requires him to regard each consequence as if he had equal stake in it, therefore the decision would not be skewed, making these people suffer.

Also, this notion of "natural human rights" seems presumptious. I know its something that we talk about a lot. I just don't see the justification behind thinking that we are all born with these undeniable qualities. Its kind of engrained into us, rather than proven. Thats probably a topic for another time, but intriguing nonetheless.
clsmooth

Con

Utilitarianism applied to the individual defies human nature. Humans cannot be expected to weigh the "pleasure" vs. "pain" of all of society before taking a given action. Humans are naturally going to be biased in favor of maximizing their own pleasure. Man should not be a sacrificial animal willing to extinguish his own life if he deems it will add to societal "pleasure" more than society's (especially his own) "pain" -- and men, in general, are not going to do this. It goes against man's nature, the basis of which is the desire to preserve and extent his own life.

Utilitarianism applied to the government is even more dangerous. If it can be reasoned that inflicting "pain" on one group advances the "pleasure" of another group to a greater degree, then utilitarianism justifies this infliction of pain. Perhaps this could be understandable IF there were an objective standard of what is good and how pleasure and pain could be quantified -- but there's not. Whomever is making the decision is naturally going to be biased, as above. Even if one is sincere in trying to maximize societal pleasure, even at one's own expense, NO ONE is smart enough to centrally plan the happiness of society. No one can possibly know the values of every living man, woman, and child, and how to quantify pleasure and pain. And no one can ever be 100% confident of the outcome of an action before it is taken.

Human nature is to act in one's own self interest. When restrained by the doctrine of natural rights -- essentially, that one person may not initiate force against another -- then no one can be directly harmed by the actions of another. If all societally condoned human relations are voluntary and consensual, then there is no opportunity for exploitation or abuse. Perhaps initiating force, exploiting and/or abusing your neighbor would add to your pleasure more than it adds to your neighbor's pain, but how can you be certain? How can you quantify this? It is better to pursue happiness without infringing upon your neighbor, and thereby, no miscalculation in utility (causing more pain than pleasure due to human error or misunderstanding) is possible. Only an omnipotent, omniscient God could act with perfect and unerring utilitarianism, and human beings are not omnipotent, omniscient gods.

You say it is presumptuous to assume there are "natural rights." You would be correct if these rights included things like free healthcare, a minimum wage, and the right to not be discriminated against. But I can prove that everyone agrees that they have the right to be free from the non-consensual initiation of force -- because for an individual to deny this, he is giving his consent to have force initiated against him, thereby excluding himself from the axiom.

Human beings should not be thought of as numbers of a balance sheet, nor as potentially sacrificial cattle. This is what utilitarianism teaches. Instead, each individual should be free from having violence initiated against him, and should act in his own self interest -- limited by his inability to initiate force against his neighbors. While I believe that this leads to the maximization of utility, that is not why I argue the point. Utilitarianism is not objective, and if followed by individuals or collectives, it can produce results that some would agree maximize utility, while others would disagree -- this is due to its subjective nature. But everyone CAN agree on the objective right to not have force initiated against them, as proven in the paragraph above.

An omnipotent, omniscient God could make utilitarianism work. But in the absence of an activist God, an objective standard is necessary for human beings to universally evaluate the merit of a given action. Utilitarianism fails to provide an objective standard, and thus, it contradicts itself into paradox.
Debate Round No. 2
wingnut2280

Pro

1) Utility defies human nature.

I'm not how this is 1) true or 2) how that makes it a bad paragigm.
If anything, pleasure seeking is what defines human nature. We go around looking for happiness, not as mindless drone bent on survival at all costs. We are rational beings, which means that we operate on a higher level than merely living life in order to make sure we don't die. I would certainly rather have I moral paradigm in which I seek pleasure of myself in others in my actions, living a full and meaningful life, rather than devolve to my baser instincts and existing, purely for the sake of not dying. You are wrong here. Animal instinct may be the need to survive, but we should be above this kind of irrational, survivalism at all costs, mentality.

2) Utility means we can take our own lives (sacrificial lamb)

Again, you say this as if it were a bad thing. If an objective person deems it just to take his own life in the name of society he should do so. We sse this in society all the time. We honor men (mankind in general) who dive on grenades, run into burning buildings and go fight wars. What about the armed services? Your paradigm makes all of these people unjust and, in essence, stupid. Again, we SHOULD be above this survivalist mindset. The fact is, there are situations in which people should take/risk their own lives and safety for societal good. This doesn't make them sacrificial lambs, it makes them heroes.

3) Utility justifies inflicting pain.

As I stated in my last post, this is merely a consequence of every form of decision-making. There exists no perfect choice. Every decision is going to lead to negative effects, regardless of your moral paradigm. There exists no perfect system. That is not what I am arguing. What utility does is offer us the ability to maximize pleasure in the face of that pain. Since pain and negative consequences are unavoidable, no matter what, the best we can do is hope to get the best pleasure/pain ratio, you might say. Utility does this when performed correctly.

4) People are not smart enough to make utility work.

This would only be true if I needed Utility to be perfect. People do not need to be all knowing or calculate each possible scenario. Utility is able to function from a practical standpoint. Is EVERY decision just all the time? No, but again, that is true of every moral framework. You talk about our decisions as if they have some kind of global magnitude. My everyday decisions certainly don't effect the planet at large, in any significant way. From a practical standpoint, utility advocates weighing the pros and cons in order to maximize pleasure vs. pain. This doesn't mean I have to take EVERY consequence into account EVERY time I act. Again, that would entail perfection. I simply need to look at the viable consequences and weigh them objectively.
Here again, you make this human nature argument. You claim that human's selfish, stupid, and ambivolent nature means they will seak out survival and pleasure, rather than act objectively. This may be true or not (I don't beleive it is), but this is EXACTLY what utility overcomes. The drive that makes people selfish and survivalist is absent in a utilitarian system. Instead, people act with rational quantification of the consequences of their actions, rather than trying to merely stay alive or benefit themselves. Whether or not man is naturaly selfish and survivalist is irrelevant, as even if they were, utility solves for this, changing peoples motives to rational and considerate ones.

4) Subjectivity/Objectivity

You avoid my point here. How much pleasure/pain a particular person receives as the result of an act is an OBJECTIVE FACT. Do we measure pleasure in inches or pounds? No, but this does not mean it is subjective in any way. The objectiveness of how much pleasure someone receives is correlated to our quanitfying it. Just because we don't have set numbers to define it, doesn't mean it isn't universally measured.

Note what I claim in my opening statement. I don't think Utility is perfect, or even the best option. Your paradigm may function well or better, but it bears no weight on the debate.

So, disregarding other paradigms. I don't need utility to be perfect.

Utilitarianism is the calculation of WHAT IT IS for an action to be good or bad. The amount of pleasure, which isn't the meaning we commonly use it as, just a loose term for benefits, is an objective fact, free from personal opinion. Just because we don't have a perverbial measuring stick for pleasure does not mean it is subjective. The possibility for miscalculation is there when people make ignorant choices, but this is true for every decision making tool. Utilitarianism functions well most of the time, accomplishes its goal, most of the time. This is all I need it to do in order for it to be a functional paradigm. It clearly doesn't advocate any gross monstrocities and its aim and use is practical, objective and directed correctly. This makes it, for the large part, functional and workable, as is my claim for the debate.
clsmooth

Con

You've misconstrued my arguments:

1. I never said "utility" defies human nature, I said someone foregoing the pursuit of his own self interests so that strangers may prosper defies human nature. Defying human nature is a "bad program" because it cannot be sustained. Any "program" is bad -- Man should be free to pursue his own interests without infringing upon the Natural rights of his neighbors. You say "pleasure seeking" is Man's nature, and when "pleasure" is broadly defined, this is true. But it is not in Man's nature to forfeit his own pursuit of happiness or to allow others to initiate force against him in order to allow strangers to have "pleasure." Man is not a sacrificial animal. He exists for his own sake.

2. I never said I had any problem with someone choosing to take his or her own life. My problem is with a political or moral philosophy in which human beings think of themselves as worker bees existing for the collective benefit of the hive. Taking one's own life is not initiating force, and thus it is allowed under a Natural Law philosophy, but it is not DEMANDED for "the greater good", as is the case with utilitarianism.

3. Utility involves inflicting pain whenever someone rationalizes that doing so will create greater "pleasure" for society than the resulting pain. In addition to being immoral and a violation of Natural Law, this suffers from the "Socialist Calculation" problem highlighted by Ludwig von Mises. Human action and human values are too diverse and ever-changing to know the amount of pain or pleasure any given action will produce. Thus, the utility of any given action is incalculable, and utilitarianism as a creed is impossible, in addition to morally bankrupt.

4. Individuals are smart enough to pursue their own interests without violating the rights of others to do so, and in so doing, the greater good (utility) is realized. But individuals are NOT "smart" enough to calculate how any given action will impact all of society -- the measures of such are not quantifiable, and the calculation is impossible (see above). Thus, any action taken with the objective of maximizing "utility" without the constraints of Natural Law is doomed to failure, while the actions of individuals acting in accordance with Natural Law, in the pursuit of their own rational self interests, irrespective of the societal utility of those actions, will produce superior utility, in the aggregate. See Adam Smith.

5. No, you ignore MY point. Utilitarianism, at least as we have been discussing it throughout this debate (and you've never disabused me of this notion), involves calculating the total pleasure or pain a society experiences as a result of a given action -- at least when applied as a philosophy of statecraft. Taking the more narrow view, that an individual should maximize pleasure and minimize pain of his own person, without regard to the pleasure/pain of others or their Natural rights, produces a philosophy that is even more immoral and prone to a breakdown of societal relations. If individuals acted without respect of the pain they inflict on others, only to the pleasure they produce for themselves, then trade and the division of labor would quickly cease, leading to massive erosions in living standards and an overall increase in the "pain" of poverty. Thus, applied utilitarianism (under this view), is even worse, and like most socialist endeavors, results in the opposite of the intended effect.

Individuals should not act as aggressors against their fellows, even if doing so would maximize their pleasure, or even if they BELIEVE the actions would produce more pleasure for them than pain for their peers or more pleasure than pain for society. Utilitarianism justifies aggression if it can be reasoned by the aggressor that he's maximizing utility (either for himself or for the tribe, however broadly defined). But true utility is arrived at through division of labor and trade, which is incompatible with a moral system that is inconsistent with Natural Law. Utilitarianism is, thus, un-utilitarian, and absolutely does not "function as a paradigm."
Debate Round No. 3
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by easy2know 9 years ago
easy2know
opps..misspelled history...all though his toy worked..lol..oh and after the trial Scrooge then leads the stunned crowd to his house for a wondrous party. Happy Holidays..:o)
Posted by easy2know 9 years ago
easy2know
Oh my..lmao..you may be right Scrooge has even taken it to court.. The Trial of the Century! A year after his miraculous transformation, Ebenezer Scrooge is back to his old ways and is suing Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future for breaking and entering, kidnapping, slander, pain and suffering, attempted murder and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The ghosts employ Solomon Rothschild, England's most charismatic, savvy, and clever barrister. Scrooge, that old penny pincher, represents himself. One by one, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's nephew Fred, solicitor and philanthropist Sara Anne Wainwright, and the ghosts themselves take the witness stand to give their account of the night in question. But the Spirit of Christmas Future breaks down under heavy questioning and confesses that Jacob Marley forced the spirits to break one of the rules of redemption: Do not use a dead body to scare someone into redemption, for the consequences could prove fatal. Judge Stanchfield Pearson gives his verdict: Jacob Marley and the Spirits of Christmas, guilty! Pearson fines the Spirits 40,000 pounds apiece and terminates their redemptive duties. Rothschild desperately pleads with the judge not to terminate the Spirits of Christmas. It's a death sentence. But in another staggering turn of events, Scrooge makes the spirits an offer: work every day, not just one day a year, and he'll drop the charges. The spirits agree and, to everyone's amazement, Scrooge does drop the charges. But he's keeping the money the ghosts owe him to start a fund to help the poor. Everyone stares at Scrooge. And then … a twinkle in Scrooge's eye,a smile,and giddy,joyously delirious laughter. Scrooge confesses that Jacob Marley and the Spirits of Christmas had to go to extraordinary measures to change him, so he had to go to extraordinary measures to change the Spirits of Christmas. The spirit of caring and giving should be every day, not just once a year. hum-bug is histoy
Posted by clsmooth 9 years ago
clsmooth
haha, IN DEFENSE OF SCROOGE:

That Bum Bob Cratchit
Posted by Thomas Woods at December 23, 2007 05:09 PM

"We are to believe that Bob Cratchit is worth more than Scrooge is paying him. On what grounds? If literally no one else on earth will pay him more, how do we know he's worth more? And if Cratchit really is worth more to another employer, why is he too pathetic and devoid of ambition to pursue such alternative avenues of employment?

"Moreover, if Scrooge is the only person on earth who's making Cratchit at least slightly better off, why does he bear the entire moral burden here? Why don't the employers who passed up on Cratchit bear any blame? Is the moral principle that if you pay Cratchit five monetary units you're a monster, but if you never employ him in the first place, and thus pay him zero, you're just fine and off the hook?

How about other people in society who, knowing of Cratchit's plight, do nothing to help? Why are they not lectured and badgered, too?"

http://www.lewrockwell.com...
Posted by clsmooth 9 years ago
clsmooth
I would have to review my Scrooge. I'm not sure if he actually initiated force, or was just a jerky character penned into creation by an anti-capitalist author. Greed, so long as it does not lead to the initiation of force or fraud (as it commonly does), is an acceptable value in the marketplace of values. It is not a value that I personally care for, but it is acceptable, nonetheless.

Taxation, particularly the kind you're talking about, is not something I find acceptable. And it is less acceptable the further removed the taxing body is from the taxed populace. Local taxes are bad, but not as bad as the U.S. income tax -- and not as bad as a tax from the U.N. will be, barring the U.S.'s removal from that socialist body.
Posted by easy2know 9 years ago
easy2know
Would we be talking the Ebenezer Scrooge theory before the great awakening..? (greed) Or like the imposition of over taxation to line the pockets of some, while crushing anyone who stands in their way..?
Posted by clsmooth 9 years ago
clsmooth
Even though I am no fan of Lincoln, he was insightful when he made the argument against altruism -- essentially, altruism is impossible. A firefighter gets mental satisfaction from his work, and thus, it is not selfless.

I'm more concerned about the other aspect of utilitarianism; the aspect in which people can justify hurting others in order to increase their own pleasure (or society's as a whole).
Posted by easy2know 9 years ago
easy2know
Great debate here, very interesting, although utilitarianism is nothing more than a theory, but yet is practiced by many, as mentioned, firelighters, military, police, even down to the parents who protect their children with their life. clsmooth has some very good points in that man is not normally a sacrificial animal. He exists for his own sake. (maybe some of the neanderthal in us) But Spock made some interesting comments..the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few..! lol...Seriously my vote is for clsmooth as he made the better argument. Good debate..
Posted by clsmooth 9 years ago
clsmooth
Well, the latter one is the one we were discussing all along, and then you sort of reframed the debate in Round 3 by arguing for the "misconception" view.
Posted by wingnut2280 9 years ago
wingnut2280
The first interpretation is the popular misconception. The latter you mentioned is the one I defend. Sorry for the lack of clarity.
Posted by clsmooth 9 years ago
clsmooth
BTW: The other great thing about this debate is that the type of people who vote based simply on their own views (i.e. stupid people) are not going to have views on this issue, thus voters will most likely vote based on the actual strength of the arguments.
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