The Instigator
TheElderScroll
Pro (for)
Losing
3 Points
The Contender
RyuuKyuzo
Con (against)
Winning
15 Points

Utilitarianism is a sound theory

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 5 votes the winner is...
RyuuKyuzo
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/24/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,241 times Debate No: 34141
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
Votes (5)

 

TheElderScroll

Pro

Resolution: Utilitarianism is a sound theory
The very purpose of this debate is to explore the meaning of Utilitarianism. Almost all my arguments would be derived from the book Utilitarianism, written by John Stuart Mill. The book can be found at http://www.gutenberg.org... (no copyright given the fact that the book was written long long time ago).

Definition - Utilitarianism
The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

General Rules
R1. Acceptance
R2. Opening arguments (my opponent can start presenting your counter-arguments if he or she wishes. But he or she is not obliged to do so.)
R3. Counter-arguments/Rebuttals
R4. Closing arguments.

Special Rules
My opponents should attempt to present at least one example whenever he or she puts forward a theory (or counterexample) to show the implication of the theory. Dry theoretical debate does not suit my particular appetite, unfortunately.

May both of us enjoy this debate and let's begin
RyuuKyuzo

Con

I accept. I look forward to my opponent's opening case.
Debate Round No. 1
TheElderScroll

Pro

It is my honor to have RyuuKyuzo in this debate. May both of us enjoy this debate

Defintion
In order to determine the soundness of a theory, it is imperative to know the exact meaning of the theory. Utilitarianism, according to John Stuart Mill, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. This theory of morality is grounded on the assumption that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the ONLY things desirable as end; and that all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. Consequently, it follows that our moral duty is to maximize happiness (right) and minimize pain (wrong).

All action is for the sake of some end, regardless of the eventual attainability of such event. It seems rather natural to suppose that rules of action must take their whole color from the end to which they are subservient. According to this doctrine, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would appear to be the first and foremost thing we need consider. A test of right and wrong, therefore, must be the means of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a mere consequence of having already ascertained it. (Utilitarianism)

Implication
The Dark Knight: The Joker"s Social Experiment
Those who once watched the movie would vividly recall the final scene when the Joker placed everyone in a very delicate situation: As the apex of the film"s moral play, a ferry filled of criminals is pitched against another one full of upstanding citizens. Each boat is given a choice to blow up the other to survive. In other word, you have to blow the other boat to ensure your own survival. If neither of you act, the Joker will blow both boats up. How should one react in this situation and would Utilitarianism lead us to reach the righteous conclusion?

It is a terrifying social experiment. The Joker picked his groups perfectly. On the one hand, we have a group of criminals who have committed all manner of heinous crimes. One the other hand, we have a group of innocent citizens including children and women. One could argue that it is extremely terrible that everyone will be killed, but I have no right to kill anyone. Therefore, if I activate the detonator, then I will have committed an act of evil. The consequence is so severe that I would be compelled to accept the first option (do nothing) and face whatever fate awaits me. This choice seems to go against Utilitarianism since the theory demands that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, and by its stand, one should blow up the other boat. It is a fair criticism, but the particular path that movie follows takes an additional assumption that may not exist in the real life example: The possibility that the Joker will blow up both boats even if one blows up the other boat. Essentially, movie assumes that deaths are guaranteed to happen with or without one"s action. In this case, given the fact that eventual result is determined, one would be compelled to accept the first option. I.e., Do nothing. Utilitarianism actually would reach the same conclusion by having this particular assumption: Given the fact that everyone has to die, it is not right for me to make the decision who would die first since the decision would undermine my own happiness and induce pain. The overall happiness thereby suffers following my decision. Therefore I would not blow up the other boat.

In reality, however, there are no guarantee of such thing. In fact, it is not immoral to blow up the other boat if one believes that the Joker would keep his words. In this case, the person who designates the explosion was acting heroically as he or she saves more life than one would have expected. Accordingly, he or she was acting morally by ensuring the maximum happiness.

Conclusion
Utilitarianism is a theory that guides people to go through difficulty situations. Intuition is useful when one does not have to face dilemma. In the case where one must decides his or her own fate, Utilitarianism provides a powerful mean to reach for the best conclusion.
RyuuKyuzo

Con

Thanks Elder, the honor's all mine =)

1. a) Gang-rape

My opponent has explained an instantiated utilitarianism. To briefly recap, utilitarianism posits that we ought to do that which results in the greatest net utility (in this case, happiness) or that which results in the least utility lost, the lesser of two evils. However, this method frequently brings us to situations where the correct utilitarian answer contradicts the intuitive moral answer. Consider the following one-liner:

"Studies show that 9 out of 10 people enjoy gang-rape."

Besides being (hilariously) low-brow, it brings up a very big flaw with utilitarianism. It justifies gang-rape. The standard reply to this is that allowing gang-rape to happen this one time opens the door for it to become a social norm, which would ultimately result in a net-utility loss for society, however this response is illogical. If I were to give you $10 in exchange for $1, even though you're losing $1, you're still netting $9. No matter how many times we do this exchange, you will still be gaining 9x what you're losing. You'll never reach a point where you have negative dollars. The same is true for gang-rape. No matter how many times gang-rape is carried out, 9 people gain happiness and only 1 loses happiness. Pro could argue that the happiness lost by that 1 person is greater than the happiness gained by the 9 rapists, but ignoring the fact that Pro has no way of quantifying such a thing, measures can be taken to reduce the happiness lost by the rape victim. The victim could be drugged, so that s/he can't feel or is even conscious for the raping. This way, the 9 rapists gain happiness and the rape victim remains at a neutral level throughout the event.

Obviously gang-rape is a horrendous act that any civilized society would make illegal, but from a purely utilitarian standpoint, it is justified so long as enough people rape the victim to offset the victim's sadness from being raped. Since utilitarianism fails to protect individuals from gang-rape, it cannot be considered a valid moral theory.

b) Organ Harvesting

Human beings can survive perfectly well with only 1 kidney. In fact, you can live perfectly well with only 1 kidney working at 75% capacity [1]. It's also the case that millions of people die every year due to kidney failure [2]. Therefore, If someone were to, say, knock you out and harvest one of your kidneys and donate it, their actions would result in a net-utility gain for society. Even though this person is holding you against your will, cutting you open and stealing a part of you, as a utilitarian you would have no grounds to oppose it, especially considering those who donate a kidney live for just as long as those who don't [3]. Heck, even if this person harvests all of your organs and kills you, so long as your organs manage to save two or more people, your death results in a net-utility and is therefore moral according to utilitarianism.

Since utilitarianism fails to protect individual's lives against organ harvesting, it cannot be considered a sound moral theory.

2. a) Motivation

Utilitarianism fails to address the issue of motives, it only looks at consequences. If I try to assassinate the president with a sniper-rifle, but miss and end up hitting the guy behind him - who just happened to be another assassin sneaking up on the president so he could introduce the president's brain to his new tomahawk, am I a moral person? I've just saved the president's life. Better yet, I've also removed a murderer from society. Clearly I've stopped what would have been a massive net-loss in the nation's happiness, yet my intention was to murder the president. If we adhere to utilitarianism, we fail to address the issue of motivation and end up labeling immoral people as heroes.

The flip-side to this is even worse. Let's say I was trying to hit the assassin, but at the last second the president leaned over and I ended up hitting the president instead of the assassin. Even though my motives were to save the president, I am labelled a monstrously immoral person under utilitarianism, as my actions have resulted in a net-utility loss.

Since utilitarianism fails to address motives, it cannot be considered a sound moral theory.

b) Justice

Since utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, if we adopt a utilitarian system, we end up weighing crimes by their result and not their intention. In this way, all crimes of identical magnitude are considered equally immoral. This means that first, second, and third degree murder will all warrant the same punishment. A man who meticulously plans out his co-workers murder and carries it out in an attempt to kill off the competition for that new promotion he's after will receive equal jail-time (or lethal injection) as someone who happened to be changing the car-radio at the same time someone ran out onto the road in front of his car. Clearly these crimes are not equivalent, but because the result is the same (-1 human being), the utility loss is the same (all else being equal) and therefore both men are considered equally immoral according to utilitarianism.

Since utilitarianism equivocates between various crimes by ignoring motives, it undermines a large and immensely significant part of the justice system, and so it cannot be considered a sound moral theory.

Conclusion

Utilitarianism justifies actions that human being intuitively find to be immoral such as gang-rape and organ harvesting. Furthermore, it fails to take motives into consideration and so immoral people can end up being labelled as moral and vice-versa under utilitarianism. This failure to take motive into account also results in radical and unfavourable changes to how we weigh crimes in the justice system. As such, utilitarianism fails to be a sound theory of morality.

The resolution is negated.

Sources

1. http://www.scientificamerican.com...
2. http://www.worldkidneyday.org...
3. http://www.scientificamerican.com...
Debate Round No. 2
TheElderScroll

Pro

TheElderScroll forfeited this round.
RyuuKyuzo

Con

Extending all arguments.


Debate Round No. 3
TheElderScroll

Pro

This is TheElderScroll. I am deeply sorry that I did not complete my round due to a variety of personal reasons. I would concede the debate at this point because of my failure to fulfil the fundamental obligations.

I may post a forum later in the day to continue our discussion. The lack of time seems to be a great hurdle for me to complete an entire debate.
RyuuKyuzo

Con

As my opponent has graciously conceded, I ask that he still receives the conduct point.

Thank you for your time.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by donald.keller 1 year ago
donald.keller
The gang rape case isn't that strong. Their happiness is going to last an hour or so, while her pain is FAR stronger and lasts her whole life (discribing it as only a loss of happiness is a huge oversimplification). And how do you wieght the very short term happiness against the violation of Privacy and bodily autonomy, or the precedence set by allowing gang rape.
Posted by evangambit 3 years ago
evangambit
I'm not sure I buy the "motive" argument. You are labeling a person good or evil based on the net effects of their past actions.

I agree that you can conclusively say that someone has been detrimental to the happiness of the human race if they assassinate a president (though it may depend on who this hypothetical president is!). But ultimately a person is valued as potentially good or evil by their predicted actions of the future (past actions being a sunk cost), and in trying to predict the future value of a person's actions you need not restrict yourself to a strict Utilitarian view of their past actions (I hope that makes sense).

If you can determine that someone is LIKELY to kill someone in the future (for instance, if they have INTENDED to, and succeeded at, killing someone in the past), then you take action to prevent them from doing so (e.g. prison). If someone has accidentally killed someone in the past and all their other actions have had positive effects, it is unlikely that they will contribute negatively to the happiness of the human race in the future, and they can be labeled (likely) as a "good person"
Posted by RyuuKyuzo 3 years ago
RyuuKyuzo
@ Elder,

It's all good. Maybe we can debate this topic again at a later time =)
Posted by TheElderScroll 3 years ago
TheElderScroll
Dear RyuuKyuzo:
This is TheElderScroll. I am deeply sorry that I did not complete my round due to a variety of personal reasons. I would concede the debate at this point because of my failure to fulfil the fundamental obligations.

I may post a forum later in the day to continue our discussion. The lack of time seems to be a great hurdle for me to finish an entire debate.
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by CriticalThinkingMachine 3 years ago
CriticalThinkingMachine
TheElderScrollRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Con had amazing arguments. The one about punishment for crimes was one that I had never thought of. I was really curious to see how Pro was going to respond. (Maybe someday). Good sources, grammar and conduct on both sides. Conceding does show that one has good conduct, but not BETTER conduct than one's opponent, so that gets a tie too.
Vote Placed by 1Devilsadvocate 3 years ago
1Devilsadvocate
TheElderScrollRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Concession. I would usually give pro conduct, if not for the fact that he F.F.'d a round.
Vote Placed by Maikuru 3 years ago
Maikuru
TheElderScrollRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: Arguments to Con (concession), Conduct to Pro (class)
Vote Placed by Ragnar 3 years ago
Ragnar
TheElderScrollRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: Concession.
Vote Placed by ClassicRobert 3 years ago
ClassicRobert
TheElderScrollRyuuKyuzoTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro conceded