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Utilitarianism is flawed

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/23/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 10,026 times Debate No: 25246
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (33)
Votes (1)




I'd like to challenge Viperx00 to a debate regarding utilitarianism. If there are any questions or complaints about the set-up, resolution or definitions, please post them in the comments section prior to accepting.

Utilitarianism is flawed


Utilitarianism states that "actions or behaviors are right in so far as they promote happiness"[1] And likewise, actions that have a negative affect on overall happiness are wrong actions. Thus any action that increases net-happiness is a morally good act and any action that decreases net-happiness is a morally bad act.

Happiness: a mix of pleasure, contentedness, joy and absence of pain

Definition of happiness should not be taken strictly throughout this debate.

Burden of Proof

The BoP is on both of us. Con has to demonstrate why utilitarianism is valid while I have to affirm the resolution.


1st round is acceptance only.
4th round there should be no new arguments introduced.

No semantics

No arguing the definitions except in the comments section prior to accepting the debate.

Voters are not to vote on sources as this is a philosophy debate and those points are so abused anyway. If claims are made that do require sources but no sources are given, then simply treat those claims as weak claims.



I accept and thank phantom for the opportunity to once again debate this issue. I also completely agree with the definitions provided.

But would just like to clarify my position, I will argue that utilitarianism is ideally the best possible approach to maximizing happiness in society

However in regards to it being "flawed" while I do believe the philosophy of utilitarianism itself is flawless in regards to being the best method of maximizing happiness.

I cannot say that any system is absolutely flawless when it comes to actual implementation, between human limitations and unpredictable acts of God. I don't believe any societal system can guarantee perfect results in an imperfect world, but I certainly believe that utilitarianism will have the best results in comparison to other approaches as far as overall happiness and the betterment of society is concerned.
Debate Round No. 1


Cons stated position is that utilitarianism is the best system for the betterment for society. Now this obviously begs a few questions. Firstly con has to substantiate that his position, if affirmed, concludes that utilitarianism is valid. In this case I would like to refer back to the definition. Utilitarianism states that actions are good/bad based on the affect they have on net-happiness. I'm afraid this doesn't correlate with what con is asserting. Even if con were to show that utilitarianism is superior to other philosophies, he still would not have demonstrated the moral assertion that actions are good/bad based on the affect they have. Moreover, it could be the case that all moral theories are false, so it serves nothing to say utilitarianism is the best one.

That beings said, I would still like to assert that utilitarianism is far from the best system for attaining the betterment of society so even if my opponents statements did correlate with his BoP, I don't believe I would have any problem in accomplishing my burden.

C.1 The problem of 'consequence verses motive'

Utilitarianism is a philosophy that subscribes to consequentialism. The theory that consequence decides the moral worth of an action and not motive or deontology. Kant outlined this objection. He writes "Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without qualifications, except a good will." Consequence theory is irrational. It has little plausible to say about moral worth. The man who tortures babies for fun could be committing a morally good act while the man who gives food to the starving man out of compassion an immoral one. It would all be dependent on what random and unknowable consequences might occur from that one action. The same goes for things which would largely be considered ammoral, like riding your bike or pulling out an umbrella. Simple facts like these make the theory immediately repellant but not just from emotional reasons. Consequentialism alleviates any rationality in moral choice. What if you are 100% justified in not knowing that the act you committed by moral motives, lead to negative consequences? It could not be deemed immoral, for as already stated, it was justified!

It is completely irrational to say acts which were justified are immoral. Justification ties right into morality. For example, if all self-aware factors of my life point towards x being right while y is actually what is right, am I not justified in doing x? In fact, would it not be assumed that I would do x? If I did not do x, then I would be doing something contrary to what everything around me was telling was right, thus I would in fact be acting contrary to what seemed morally obvious. It would be irrational to not do x even if y were right, thus I would be fully justified to do x. It would also be more moral to do x than y, since doing x would be acting according to my moral conscience and knowledge, while y would be acting according to what none of my moral cognizance posited.

C.2 The problem of non-responsibility

Suppose you're at the beach with your friend. Your friend buys an ice-cream cone, and you suggest they walk down to the rocks. On your way there, your friend stumbles over a small hole that he didn't see and drops his ice-cream. He proceeds to blame you, his reasons being that if you hadn't suggested they go to the rocks, he would have never stepped in the hole and thus would have never dropped his ice-cream cone. It is inarguable that your actions lead to him dropping the ice-cream, but are his complaints rightly directed at you? Are you really to blame? I'm guessing that anyone put into the situation would be indignant that your friend would actually be blaming you for something that happened entirely unforeseeable and out of your control. However, taken utilitarianism, you would be committing an immoral act by suggesting they go to the rocks. Taking this principle, responsibility of actions are entirely out of the equation, only the latter consequences. But am I not not only morally accountable for an action if I am responsible? As Kant argues, a person who keeps promises by accident is not acting morally. In the same way, a person who accidentally causes happiness should not be considered a moral person. He is only acting morally if he understands that he should keep his promise. Moral acts, if they exist, should be based upon whether the individual understands the nature of the act. By utilitarianism, even killing a homeless man for his blanket, could turn out to be a morally good act, and stopping the murder a morally bad one.

C.4 The problem of the subjectivity of values

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of utilitarianism is that happiness is so valued by so many people. Now no-one would reprimand you for placing your personal view on happiness as ultimately superior by an entirely subjective stand point, but the moment you start saying that it is objectively superior, then you are starting to tread some rather unfounded grounds. Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who would prefer not to have happiness. For example, many people such as monks and hermits, might want to attain righteousness by toil and isolation. Who am I to say they are objectively wrong in doing so? According to utilitarianism, I would be sinning if I did not give these people pleasure but if they don't want pleasure why would it be a sin? There are hundreds of different labeled ethical theories and even more variations. Most of those theories do not see happiness as the ultimate goal. Goals are not in the least bit objective but rather subjective, therefore utilitarianism is ultimately flawed.

C.3 The problem of infinite consequences and impossible calculations

Utilitarianism posits that any actions is good or bad depending on its effect on happiness. This would entail that actions are sometimes good, then latter in time, bad. One act of kindness might eventually, perhaps even one hundred years latter, lead to more net-negative effects, causing the action to then be a morally bad action. This presents a number of problems. Firstly, it outlines the extreme impracticability of utilitarianism. It becomes essentially impossible to even know you are acting morally or not, or to make any reasonable calculation upon whether your action is moral or not. This leads to theoretical problems. If we can't assess all the effects of an action and also can not, within any reasonable possibility predict, what will happen, we are no longer morally free. We could never knowingly commit a purposeful action and know whether it was moral or not because there could be an infinite amount of subsequent effects which are impossible to calculate or foresee.

Furthermore, I would strongly contend that knowledge is a prerequisite of morality. For, moral knowledge and awareness is what gives us moral free-will. It is why in the event of a court case, when a mentally ill person is on trial, we deal much differently than in the case of a mentally well person. We realize that factors irrelevant to his will influenced his actions and thus he is not, or not entirely, to blame. If a mentally challenged person were to slap you in your face solely due to his mental disabilities, we would not blame him but the disability. We can apply knowledge limitations the same way. If I have no way of knowing what the right choice is, I am not morally responsible for which choice I make.

C.5. Self-ownership objection

Suppose in a certain circumstance, your body is on the line for whether net-happiness is satisfied? Suppose cutting off your arm would benefit two other people? Or even killing yourself? According to the utilitarianism we would be obligated to cut off our arm or kill our self. This contradicts our self-ownership, as well as being blatantly implausible. Why must I suffer so that others will be happy? Utilitarianism clearly violates the most basic rights of human beings.



Morality was unfortunately not defined.

Morality has different meanings to different people and what is or is not moral is defined differently by various personal beliefs and asserting something to be moral or immoral quickly becomes subject to our respective biases.

I personally no longer believe in defining individual actions moral or immoral but I recognize that many people can’t help but make the distinction and so for arguments sake, based on what I used to believe I would say that utilitarianism could accept some immoral acts for the greater good.

Because to me the rule of morality was along the lines of "Do unto others what you want others to do unto you", I don't want to be tortured so torture is immoral.

Let us examine this example, my opponent puts out the argument that a man who “Tortures babies for fun” could be construed as a moral act. I don’t believe anyone would view torturing a child as a moral act in itself. However my position as a utilitarian is not to debate morality of certain actions but the overall balance of happiness and unhappiness resulting from the said action.

To demonstrate my opponent’s example on how torturing a child can be utilitarian I present this scenario.

A terrorist has vital information that can be used to prevent a disaster causing hundreds of casualties, due to time constraints the interrogator kidnaps the terrorist’s only family, his son and uses him, to extract that information quickly in order to save lives, the plan succeeds and hundreds of people are saved.

Even if say the interrogator was a sadist and actually enjoyed the act of torturing the child to illicit compliance from the terrorist, the pain inflicted upon the two is justified by preventing the deaths of hundreds of people and the resulting pain to every one of their family members for their losses, many whom would also be fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and children.

Thus in this scenario the action of torturing a child while distasteful and immoral to most if not everyonel, has created the best possible outcome of reducing overall pain. I would reference happiness as defined by this challenge…

Happiness: a mix of pleasure, contentedness, joy and absence of pain

I would assert that preventing hundreds of deaths would be for the betterment of society as opposed to sparing a single child from torture. Let us not forget that fatherless/motherless children resulting from the casualties could be considered an even worse form of torture to many children.

Now my opponent made another argument in regards to what is and not is moral and that the overall good result must be moral to utilitarians while I disagree because I reject morality, I do not wish to dismiss it despite my own views so I shall address his view of morality as well, if he believes that anything justified should be moral then I would conclude that by his views and deferring to this scenario that...

Torturing a child in this scenario was moral because it saved many more lives and prevented much pain.


Not torturing the child in this scenario would be immoral because it would effectively be discarding the opportunity to save many more lives and prevent much pain when it was in ones capability to do so.


In this situation I disagree with my opponent’s analysis of the situation, while my suggestion to go to the beach was a factor that led to the loss of ice cream, blaming others in this situation does not serve utilitarianism. My friend could have done any number of things to prevent the result like simply watching where he was going, blaming me for something so petty could result in a loss of friendship and greater pain while accepting responsibility and maintaining the friendship would likely result in greater happiness, and less pain of injuries down the road by learning from his mistake.

Overall accepting responsibility eventually leads to learning and indepedence which both contribute to happiness, so I refute the notion that utilitarianism leads to Non-responsibility.

The problem of the subjectivity of values

Here my opponent seems to propose that happiness is not the goal of every person and thus utilitarianism does not serve their interests.

Monks and hermits are used as an example of people who seek righteousness through toil and labor or perhaps some form of abstinence, some monks believe that by abstaining from worldly pleasures they can achieve a higher form of enlightenment in the afterlife, I never viewed these people as adverse to happiness but rather people who derived satisfaction from their journey to enlightenment or the desire to be happy in the afterlife by achieving enlightenment, and hermits are generally content or prefer to live alone. Once again deferring to the given definition of happiness…

Happiness: a mix of pleasure, contentedness, joy and absence of pain

For the benefit of a more relatable example, some devout Christians abstain from sexual pleasure among other things because they believe through their sacrifices they can secure happiness in heaven, and the belief that they will go to heaven for their actions gives them peace and satisfaction.

I would assert that people seek their own happiness even if it seems like an unhappy existence by our personal standards.

The problem of infinite consequences and impossible calculations

In this argument my opponent asserts that utilitarianism is impractical due to our lack of ability in predicting every possible outcome for the ultimate balance of happiness over unhappiness. While I acknowledge our human limitations in implementing utilitarianism, that doesn’t mean its worthless and impractical, many systems we employ like our Justice and Education systems are rife with imperfections and human error yet despite this we use them anyway because it’s the best we have right now and the benefits of using them outweigh the cost of not., so we use them and simply learn from our mistakes and refine our methods to achieve better results.

Utilitarianism is much the same, we may not always achieve the perfect outcome, but overall analyzing situations to the best of our ability for the purpose of maximizing happiness is a more practical approach to the betterment of society, certainly better than just rolling the dice or going with our gut (feelings of morality).

Self-ownership objection

This “right” is more of a moral argument in which I have made my position clear on the torture example, sometimes hurting someone can be justified by the end result.

I would however point out that losing ownership of oneself contributes to unhappiness as well and must be taken into consideration in balancing happiness.

Communism for example doesn’t work or make people happy because while the intentions are to sacrifice personal property for the good of the many this has been demonstrated to damage productivity and causing overall dissatisfaction in a society, it is not utilitarian.

Back to Motive

I will now move to attack my opponent’s alternative of using motive based morality to pursue moral actions, and demonstrate its inferiority to utilitarianism.

In this example let’s say two hitmen are out to kill their victim, but the second hitman misses inadvertently killing the first hitman, blowing his own cover and getting caught. Clearly this bad motive has resulted in a positive effect.

Now lets go back in time and for purpose of this argument lets say we knew exactly how the events were going to unfold just as the second hitman passes by, a person subscribing to the motive philosophy would be morally inclined to stop the act, thus allowing the first hitman to kill the victim.

A utilitarian on the other hand would permit the hitman to perform his evil deed knowing it would result in sparing the target, killing one criminal and busting the other, achieving the best possible result.

I would assert that a practical and reasoned approach in analyzing a situation is superior than subscribing to some “morality” for the purposes of the betterment of society.

Debate Round No. 2


My opponent is free to argue what morality implies if it corresponds with the definition of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism states that certain actions are morally good/bad.actions. This entails objective moral obligations, for for every objective moral basis there is a system pertaining to ought and obligation.

The problem of 'consequence verses motive'

Con completely misconstrues my analogy. In fact, I believe this strawman warrants an extension of this contention.

I clearly state that by utilitarianist principles, torturing babies for fun could turn out to be a morally good act. My opponent goes on to show how torturing a baby (well actually he changed it to child) could be morally acceptable if there are hundred lives at stake and we do it for the greater good. Well I have to agree that it could be acceptable at some times but what my opponent has done is completely strawmaned my point. According to my opponents analogy, the torturer did it for the greater good and even according to motive. This does not fit the context of my argument.

Let me stress a better analogy for it. A little girl is walking down the street at night. A man comes up behind her, grabs her, drags her to an ally and mercilessly rapes, mutilates, and finally kills the girl mirthlessly while he does it. While this is going on, a neighbor phones the police and they arrive, though to late. But there was also a boy playing with a gun he had found in his fathers closet. When he heard the police coming, he put the gun back and stopped playing around with it. If the police had not come and the boy had continued to play with the gun, he would have accidentally shot if off. It would have hit a gas station causing it to blow up killing all the people inside and around it.

If the man had not rapped, mutilated and killed the girl, all the people at the gas station would have died. But since he did so horribly murder the girl, the lives of the people were saved. So I ask con, and I wish a direct answer, was the murder, rapist and most violator of human rights committing a morally good act when he rapped and killed the little girl? It is established and assumed that it's affects lead to a greater net-happiness.

According to utilitarianism it most certainly would be a morally good act that the rapist did. And if a man courageously tackled the rapist and even sacrificed his life to save the girl, that would have been an immoral act according to utilitarianism because his actions eventually lead to a decrease of happiness. I again say, there is absolutely no justification relevant in utilitarianism. It's principles posit the most detestable speculations that I wander if any utilitarianists would condone such actions if faced with them in real life.

The problem of non-responsibility

Con does not answer the analogy. He simply states that his friend could have been more careful about where he was going but that just further highlights the implausibilities of his position! It does not matter whether his friend should have been more careful. It was still his action that lead him to dropping the ice-cream cone. My opponent only shows that it was an accumulation of different actions but that is irrelevant as they are all linked.

Moreover to make it more simple, we could just change the story to that a piece of dirt fell from a tree into your friends ice-cream causing him to not be able to eat it. That way only your actions lead to the negative consequence and no one else's (unless we want to start accusing the man who planted the tree there and that certainly would be a prospect).

My opponent also does not address my points that keeping promises by accident should not be considered moral. Causing happiness purely by accident alleviates any responsibility for that action. If you are inarguably not within in the realm of plausible responsibility, it is useless to see you are morally accountable.

The problem of the subjectivity of values

Monks will/would physically beat themselves to point of extreme pain and suffering and it is unfounded to say they were content being isolated. They did it for sake of righteousness so it's probable that many or most of them did not derive happiness from it as happiness was irrelevant to their goal and most people find pleasure in involvement in social life.

My opponents refutations only bring about further problems. Does utilitarianism apply only to this life or is the next life, if there is one, relevant? If Christians seek happiness in heaven are we to help them in their quest? That would be to assume the Christian outlook is right. But then what about Islam? Do we help them in their quest for happiness in the next life? But then there's all these contradicting views so how can we plausibly say they all should be assumed? And if we assume one of them then why doesn't it apply to everyone else? Utilitarianism doesn't work for the next life for there are hundreds or thousands of religions. We can't assume them all right. That would be absurd. My point still stands.

Furthermore, I am sure con could conceive of someone who did not seek happiness in this life or the next. There are billions of people. It's not hard to believe that some of them don't want such a value.

The problem of infinite consequences and impossible calculations

Con states," many systems we employ like our Justice and Education systems are rife with imperfections and human error yet despite this we use them anyway because it’s the best we have right now and the benefits of using them outweigh the cost of not." My opponent seems to acknowledge the problems of utilitarianism. My job is only to prove that utilitarianism is flawed. Just something for the viewers to keep in mind.

My opponent does not try to refute this only outweigh it. He concedes that it is an error in the system. I however would posit that it is a fixable error. Utilitarianism's subscription to consequentialism is the root of this problem. If motive were acknowledged as more a moral worth than consequence, none of these problems would exist. I thus don't think it hardly a necessary flaw at all, however it is. And the fact that it is not necessary makes it a very significant and big flaw.

Self-ownership objection

I don't understand how my opponent responds to this. I clearly showed that killing ones-self or cutting off ones arm could easily be required according to utilitarianism. Con just states that losing ownership to ones self contributes to unhappiness. Well this would certainly be the case in certain scenarios, but in plenty of cases, when we consider the net-happiness of the affect, breaking your jaw, giving all your money away, or cutting off your genitals could all contribute to happiness in some circumstances (though it would have to be fairly bizarre for the latter). Self-ownership would be completely discarded if utilitarianism were true contrary to what my opponent states. Communism doesn't work because it's ineffective. But it doesn't say anything about objective morality. We're talking about moral obligations. Losing our rights would in many cases contribute to unhappiness. But it's an obligation irregardless of whether people are prone to implement it incorrectly.


My opponent grossly misinterprets motivism. He states that if we went back in time, according to motivism we would be morally inclined to stop the act allowing the human to be killed. This is clearly misrepresentative of motive philosophy. We would know that allowing the hit man to shoot would result in the greater good so we would act according to the greater good by motive. I don't see why a motvist would stop the killer. Yes it would stop one immoral act, but saving an innocent life far outweighs that.

The only implausibility here would be to consider that if utilitarianism were right, the hit man would be doing a morally good act be trying to call the target.


Utilitarianism for the betterment of society

Before I address my opponent’s rebuttals I shall reinforce my position that Utilitarianism would be the best system for the betterment of society, since I share burden of proof.
Happiness: a mix of pleasure, contentedness, joy and absence of pain
Happiness is an excellent measure for the betterment of society because while we all have individual preferences, most if not all people seek happiness.
- Progress and technological innovations are created to satisfy needs and growing demands which make people content.
- Security and safety to reduce pain.
- Entertainment to bring joy
- Justice and fairness to prevent unhappiness.
These are generally, all things that we would consider to improve society.
Utilitarianism aims to maximize happiness in a practical reasoned approach, by balancing cost and benefit to the best possible effect regardless of personal biases of morality or any ideology.
A utilitarian for example would not pursue justice for justice’s own sake rather we pursue justice because of its positive effects. Logic and reason has always proven to be the best approach to resolving any situation involving decision making.


I apologize if my opponent felt I strawmanned his point but given that he gave the example that torture for fun could be utilitarian, I had difficulty on my part conceiving such a situation, given society’s abhorrence of torture using it for petty reasons would result in much anger and unhappiness so the example had to be extreme enough to justify it and that scenario was frankly the best I could come up with, also I didn’t consider motive to be a factor since at the time my concern was to make it a utilitarian scenario not one of motivism though after our discussion on comments I guess its clear now that both are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

But since we’re pointing out fallacies now I guess I should point out that my opponent's arguments has also invoked a fallacy twice now, which I overlooked the first time since it might've been just coincidence, in his first example he propped up a baby which yes I changed to child in an attempt dampen the fallacy rather than just negate it, which I think was quite fair of me, but even his new analogy still uses the same fallacy using a little girl this time who instead of tortured is now horribly mutilated.... and raped... before being killed... as if that wasn't enough.

This is a clear use of the “appeal to emotion fallacy”

Appeals to emotion are intended to draw visceral feelings from the acquirer of the information [1]

Harm to children and more so to babies tend to illicit strong emotions in people because they are helpless and we are inclined to protect them, thus by using a baby and in the second example a “little girl” my opponent attempted to draw out our natural bias to make my position look worse for justifying it.

Let us be fair here, children or not when we look at it rationally and without bias, the value of one life is no different from that of any other average person, at what age does ones life begin to lose value? Possibly when you’re over 60 but even that is arguable.

So child or not, the life of one will never outweigh the lives of many from a utilitarian perspective, even if its a little girl.

The problem of non-responsibility

In a turn of irony I now contend that my opponent is invoking a straw man argument here.

The purpose and argument for utilitarianism is to promote rational thinking and analysis of a situation rather than emotional, moral or religious dogma, as a superior approach to maximizing happiness, by seeking to balance cause and effect to achieve the best possible outcome.

Yet my opponent exaggerates his interpretation of utilitarianism to beyond reason by suggesting that any single possible factor that influenced the outcome no matter how indirectly would be accountable, essentially tantamount to chaos theory’s butterfly effect.

we could just change the story to that a piece of dirt fell from a tree into your friends ice-cream causing him to not be able to eat it. That way only your actions lead to the negative consequence and no one else's (unless we want to start accusing the man who planted the tree there and that certainly would be a prospect).

By this statement even if it was just included offhandedly, admits that the logic of his own argument entertains that even a man who planted the tree years prior would be a “prospect”, which used in this context means potential candidate for accountability.

Happiness in this life or the afterlife

I don’t acknowledge the limitless happiness of the afterlife as it has no bearing on this world I merely understand that that’s what these people aim for, and having once been a Christian myself the mere belief that you are going to heaven for being good gives you a sense of satisfaction and security in life, regardless of wether or not it is true.

As for the Monks I will admit it’s merely my opinion and I while I would contend that I do have grounds given its human nature to seek satisfaction, its not strong argument but then again neither is the assumption that they don’t want to be happy, its hard to argue what’s in other peoples heads.

Self-ownership objection

I had thought that I made my position quite clear that in utilitarianism sacrifices can be deemed necessary for the greater good in the torture analogy, I merely pointed out that the resulting unhappiness must also be taken into consideration, as to avoid misinterpretation by putting things in proper perspective.

One individual’s “right to live” in certain situations can indeed be sacrificed for the “right to live” of the many, but such a thing cannot be implemented liberally lest it result in a society of fear where everyone has the feeling of expendability to an extent that leads to mass discontent.

If the situation and needs of society demands it, voluntary sacrifice would be preferred since it has less societal repercussions and in fact we already promote this behavior by recognizing heroic sacrifices and martyrdom.

Forcibly sacrificing someone for the many is a last resort option.

Motivism VS Utilitarianism

After our brief exchange in the comments I believe I now understand my opponents position, and so will attempt again to compare motivist views to utilitarian

Let’s go with a simple analogy.

In a position of two options

A) Save a single life

B) Save 100 lives

Utilitarianism would only justify option B.

My opponent would also pick B because he is has the insight to prioritize the greatest good, which is also happens to be a utilitarian objective but since he was motivated by the greatest good its also consistent with Motivism.

So clearly we can both come to the same conclusion justified by both Utilitarianism and Motivism for the best outcome.

However Utilitarianism can only go with option B by default, because the primary concern is the best results, there is no other justifiable option, a Utilitarian cannot pick A and justify it

Motivism on the other hand is not restricted to that standard, it is concerned by intentions, and therefore can also justify picking the worse option A.

To demonstrate this weakness let's say the one person was a friend just to make it more believable choice.

If a Motivist picked option A because he wanted to save his friend, that would be justified by Motivism, wanting to save a life is a good intent, he may have not saved the 100 lives but he didn’t intend to kill them either so he had no bad intentions, so a Motivist in this situation can justifiably make the worse choice while a Utilitarian cannot, regardless of emotional biases it would be un-utilitarian to pick one person over the many.

This is a logical construct based on both philosophies

I would enforce with this logic that Utilitarianism is therefore superior to Motivism, for the betterment of society because it holds itself firmly to a results based standard, whereas Motivism is based on intentions.


Debate Round No. 3


I would like to thank con for the good debate.

I'd also like to remind the viewers not to vote on sources as agreed upon.

The problem of 'consequence verses motive'

First I requested my opponent directly answers my question of whether the man committed a moral or immoral act. My opponents negligence to comply only affects him negatively if the viewers take note. By the framework of utilitarianism, if an act promotes happiness, it is morally good. Rapping and killing the girl promoted happiness as proven and presupposed so according to utilitarianism, it was morally good.

It doesn't matter how society regards torture. No human being would realize that the man was committing a moral act. All that matter is that according to utilitarianism, he was. Con simply states using torture for such petty reasons would result in anger and disgust. Well he's just changing the analogy. I said it would result in more happiness. If no-one knew about if for example, no anger or disgust would occur.

My opponent also never even replies to my analogy except to call it an appeal to emotion. I have to say this seems to be just a cop out. Yes, I did strongly emphasize some of the factors but that was much more of an appeal to morality than emotion. I made the analogy so morally detestable in order to demonstrate the flaws in utilitarianism. I see no problem with that. It's a clear failure of a rebuttal. It does nothing in refuting the logic to my argument.

My opponent is looking at it wrongly. Yes the lives of a few outweigh the lives of many. That is more morally desirable but is irrelevant. We're talking about the intrinsic moral worth of the action itself, not the outcome. If I caused a greater good with the intent of doing evil, how can I say the action has any intrinsic moral worth? Only the balanced outcome had worth too it but not the action itself. Bad intentions are immoral and good intentions moral, so it would follow that acting on evil motives does not have moral worth even if the outcome does.

The problem of non-responsibility

I don't care what utilitarianisms aim is. I care about what its definitions is and what its framework implies.

Here's where my opponents reasoning is flawed. He basically argues according to the bellow premises.

1. Pros interpretation of utilitarianism is extremely bizarre.
2. Therefore it can't be true.

The problem we have here is that all I have to do is argue according to the definition and I am committing no straw man whatsoever. Notice my opponent has not once referred us to the definition of utilitarianism given in the first round in order to refute me. He just argues his own unbacked explanations which are certainly bias to his feelings rather than utilitarian philosophy. So yes then, my opponent is only helping my case by indirectly conceding that his position is a bizarre one.

I do indeed say that according to utilitarianism any indirect affect is accounted for. That is just simply self evident with the definition. "Actions or behaviors are right in so far as they promote happiness". It's just unfounded semantics to say this only implies direct causes.

I'm not sure where con is going when he quotes me. Yes we could possibly argue that the man who planted the tree there did an immoral thing according to utilitarianism as it eventually resulted in someone not being able to eat his ice-cream. I didn't really want to go there since we have no way of knowing since it's possible the tree actually resulted in more happiness in other affects that it had. All it does is just further demonstrates the absurdity of the position in terms of acts that should be thought of as amoral.

The problem of infinite consequences and impossible calculations

My opponent dropped this since he didn't have the character space to respond.

The problem of the subjectivity of values

It almost seems that con is agreeing with me here. He says he doesn't acknowledge the afterlife, so my whole point stands that according to utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to impose our subjective values on people who do not wish it. Humans have rights. If they want to live according to their desire, I have no right to stop it as long it doesn't conflict with anything else.

Con doesn't refute that some monks don't seek happiness, only says it's hard to argue what's in other peoples head. How does that refute me? Con could try to show that they did want happiness. I clearly showed how they did not seek pleasure and contentment in this life, as this life is the one that matters.

Self-ownership objection

I never stated it would have to be implemented liberally. The thing is, moral obligations exist irregardless of whether humans ignore them, shove them down peoples throats or blatantly abuse them.

In the torture analogy my opponent gave, the torturer sacrificed someone else's right for the greater good. That says nothing about our own rights.

If utilitarianism is true, my opponent should donate all his money to the poor since refraining to do so results in less happiness. It's a question of whether rights outweigh obligations or obligations outweigh rights. Well as I am in ownership of my body, I don't have to sacrifice my life and limbs just to benefit other people. My opponent has not refuted self-ownership and if self-ownership is true, it clearly conflicts with utilitarian philosophy.

Cons case for utilitarianism

Most of my contentions would counter what my opponents says.

Con advances the concept of happiness in support of utilitarianism, stating that if not all, most people seek it. I already refuted this with my "subjectivity of values" contention but I can go further. Why not advance a more inclusive moral framework? Why not say actions are good in so far as they satisfy the overall values of society? That way everyone who seeks happiness is accounted for and everyone who seeks things elsewhere is also accounted for. I think this is a much better system than what utilitarianism states.

My opponent presents some of the good things utilitarianism entails. I admit it has good to it. That's obvious. But I've already highlighted the many undesirable things it also entails. Showing the very simple moral things it would entail does nothing if we look at in the larger scope of things.

Con again looks at it incorrectly as I showed earlier. Both motivism and consequentialism can agree on what is the greater good. But the moral worth of the outcome =/= the moral worth of the action. So if I try to saves a persons life but end up doing the opposite by accident, the moral outcome of the event was completely undesirable even according to motivism, but the moral worth of the action was still good because he did it out of undeniably moral desires.

Also the analogy con uses is utterly incorrect. How on earth would motvism value saving one life because it was your friends life over the hundred??? The act was done out of clear bias and immoral principles. Acting according to your own selfishness instead of acting selflessly for the good of society is blatantly immoral. How can con say motivism would advocate it?



Quoting my opponent…

My opponent seems to have forgotten the point of this debate, he wrote the title and defined the terms himself, this is not about morality it is about utilitarianism. That’s why utilitarianism was defined but not morality, because we are discussing utilitarianism.

Yes the lives of a few outweigh the lives of many. That is more morally desirable but is irrelevant.

Utilitarianisms objective is the greatest overall good/happiness, and here my opponent openly admits that utilitarianism achieves it, the central point of the debate is not irrelevant.

We're talking about the intrinsic moral worth of the action itself, not the outcome.

While I had indulged my opponent’s arguments of morality, this is still a debate on utilitarianism not morality. My opponent may resent the actions leading to the results but has admitted that the best overall result has been achieved, strengthening my cause that utilitarianism works as intended and is not flawed.

The problem of 'consequence verses motive'

Despite my opponent’s claim to the contrary I have answered his question directly, quoting myself from the previous round…

So child or not, the life of one will never outweigh the lives of many from a utilitarian perspective, even if its a little girl.

If he wants me to elaborate than yes, in the situation he brought up, an unlikely chain of coincidences

(a child playing with a gun that would have fired in a specific trajectory resulting in blowing up a gas station that just happened to be full of people)

ultimately resulted in an overall good resulting from an act of violence

Yes, from a utilitarian perspective that specific scenario ideally played out for the best.

My opponent however misrepresents utilitarianism by implying that it condones the act of rape under those circumstances, the fact of the matter is the rapist would still be apprehended and given the death penalty regardless of the outcome, under utilitarianism the greatest good must be served and allowing a rapist to roam free to act again would be detrimental to society.

My opponent goes on to assert that if no one found out it won't upset people and would be a good scenario.

Yes, However it must be kept secret precisely because utilitarianism does not condone such actions in society.

So regardless of how my opponent’s wishes to classify morality and immorality the result remains the same, such acts are discouraged and not encouraged, wrong doers must keep their crimes secret lest they be discovered and punished just as it has always been.

My criticism of his argument is valid as demonstrated by my source, we agreed not to vote on sources so I am merely using them to validate my claims, my opponent has indeed invoked a fallacy to steer emotional bias in his favor, his argument is fallacious by relying upon emotional bias rather than rational reasoning.

The problem of non-responsibility

My opponent claims that I have asserted that…

1. Pros interpretation of utilitarianism is extremely bizarre.
2. Therefore it can't be true.

False, anyone can scroll up and check I have never said his scenarios cannot be true, bizarre yes but I have still answered his questions regardless, I answered him plainly that one life does not outweigh many in response to his “little girl” analogy. I have entertained his analogies and not dismissed them, so for him to claim I have done otherwise is rather disingenuous.

His ice cream analogy is overblown, he argues on the technicality of the definition but technically by the logic of his argument the person’s own mother is also at fault because if she didn’t give birth to him he never would have been able to lose his ice cream as he didn’t exist in the first place.

The fact is there are many factors that lead to an outcome, we may argue that all factors play a role in the accident but ultimately it is the deciding factor that takes the blame, the guy could have just watched where he was going,

Suggesting that the blame can be passed on any single factor no matter how minute the role is a gross exaggeration, and a strawman by definition.

By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone's argument, it's much easier to present your own position as being reasonable or valid. This kind of dishonesty not only undermines rational discourse, it also harms one's own position because it brings your credibility into question - if you're willing to misrepresent your opponent's argument in the negative, might you also be willing to exaggerate your own in the positive?[1]

The problem of infinite consequences and impossible calculations

Rules say I cannot bring up new arguments it doesn’t however limit me from responding to yours nor does it declare I drop by default if I do not answer in the succeeding round. That said my position here is the same as it always was so I’m not saying anything new anyway

Utilitarianism as a philosophy is unflawed, it demands the greatest overall good result possible. In the imperfect world of human limitations we can’t calculate for every single variable with 100% accuracy, so we make do with the best course of action and improve upon it as we go. It is the most practical course of action

My opponent has claimed Motivism to be superior yet he has never demonstrated how another approach would get better results

The problem of the subjectivity of values

My position was made clear each time this argument was brought up, Christians may seek happiness in heaven which is irrelevant, however the belief that they will go to this heaven gives them a sense of contentedness and security in their lives, which is a form of happiness as per definition.

And even if we assume these people don’t want to be happy (which I doubt), they would be a minority that we could not please anyway (since according to my opponent they don’t want to be happy) so it would serve no purpose for the betterment of society to divert our attention to them, and we should focus instead on the happiness of the majority.

Self-ownership objection

If utilitarianism is true, my opponent should donate all his money to the poor since refraining to do so results in less happiness.

If Communism worked then yes I would agree with you, but in reality that theory has proven false.

This is why I brought up Communism in response to this query as early as round 2, I knew it would lead down this road.

Giving up personal property ultimately leads to lack of productivity in society due to the lack of incentives, ultimately resulting in dissatisfaction which is un-utilitarian.

Motivism doesn’t aim for the best “result”.

How on earth would motvism value saving one life because it was your friends life over the hundred??? The act was done out of clear bias and immoral principles. Acting according to your own selfishness instead of acting selflessly for the good of society is blatantly immoral.

Because Motivism judges intentions, the man did not desire the death of a hundred people he only wanted to save his friend which was a good intention and by Motivism standards morally good.

My opponent did admit the action was morally good but also attempted to separate it from Motivism by claiming a more “morally desirable” outcome could have been achieved.

This is a utilitarian perspective, Motivism is not primarily concerned with the result only that it was well intended, yet opponent ironically favors a utilitarian approach focusing on the best outcome, strengthening my position


I have demostrated Utilitarianism is the best system for the betterment of society through the logic of rational thinking and practicality.

I have refuted all my opponents arguments and pointed out the flaws in his own

My opponent focused on Morality rather than Utilitarianism, regardless of the Morality, Utilitarianism is unflawed in its pursuit of best possible outcome for the betterment of society.

My opponent himself believes in securing the best outcome which is pro-Utilitarian

My opponent relied on fallacies


Debate Round No. 4
33 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Viperx00 5 years ago
Fair enough.
Posted by phantom 5 years ago
Yes I adhered to motivism but I made arguments for motivism in favor of consequentialism, not just assumed it.

Sorry but you're not really making much sense to me. Let's just leave it for the voters to decide.
Posted by Viperx00 5 years ago
Yes that's why I did stick to YOUR definition.

Either you're misinterpreting my posts or you're not reading them thoroughly.

I expressed my opinion that based on my own perception of morality some bad acts can lead to good outcomes, but conceded that by following YOUR definition all good outcomes are from good acts hence the conclusion that...

**"Torturing a child in this scenario was moral because it saved many more lives and prevented much pain."**

which was completely within your definition which I had accepted.

This was all covered in the first part of my round 2.

The bottomline was that by your definition all good outcomes are moral by the Utilitarian moral code.

You argued the acts were actually immoral but by using a different moral code. (Motivism)

That only shows that you adhere to a different moral code that disagrees with Utilitarianism, it doesn't prove that Utilitarianism itself is flawed.
Posted by MouthWash 5 years ago
If no one votes soon I'll do it.
Posted by MouthWash 5 years ago
Oh, I remember. Since happiness is simply a human state of mind, one must appeal to deontology to even make the "maximize util" position meaningful. Thus, utilitarianism is grounded in deontology.
Posted by phantom 5 years ago
My definition not yours?? Lol you do realize when the instigator makes a definition and you fail to contend it that means you have accepted it and must stick with it throughout the whole debate?

You're completely contradicting yourself. You concede that some acts that lead to a good outcome are bad. Well that is blatantly contradictory to utilitarianism. Utilitarianism states that ALL acts that lead to a good outcome are good therefore how can you say acts that lead to a good outcome can be bad? What do you think consequentialism even is?

The way I see it is you have a mind set about utilitarianism that you can't seem to let go. You have to stick with the definition, not your opinion. Otherwise it's bad conduct. I gave you a chance to argue the definition before you accepted the debate but you didn't and know you think it's okay to do so latter.

I don't know what you mean by posting that definition. Yes utilitarianism is a moral philosophy. Exactly the point I was making.
Posted by Viperx00 5 years ago
From Wikipedia :

Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and those that are bad (or wrong). A moral code is a system of morality (ACCORDING TO A PARTICULAR PHILOSOPHY, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code.

In our debate that particular philosophy was Utilitarianism, and not whatever else your moral code was based on.
Posted by Viperx00 5 years ago
Because outcome is the entire point of utilitarianism, its essentially the ends justify the means, the value of any action is only worth the overall results, with the best result being the correct answer.

**"I argued that certain acts are morally bad even if the outcome is good."**

I didn't contest that, in fact I even agreed to it in round 2, here's my quote...

**"based on what I used to believe I would say that utilitarianism could accept some immoral acts for the greater good.

Because to me the rule of morality was along the lines of "Do unto others what you want others to do unto you", I don't want to be tortured so torture is immoral."**

But that was just my opinion so I stated it as such, because according to your definition of Utilitarianism...

**"Thus any action that increases net-happiness is a morally good act and any action that decreases net-happiness is a morally bad act."**

So following that definition you provided the only logical conclusion was that...

**"Torturing a child in this scenario was moral because it saved many more lives and prevented much pain."**

It was your definition not mine, personally I do think some actions are immoral but they are justified by the greater good, which is for the best for society as a whole, and since that's the whole point Utilitarianism isn't flawed since it works as intended.

And Morality was not defined from the beginning, the definition only accounts for what Utilitarianism would perceive as Moral or Immoral.

Morality is different to different people, for example some view Gay relationships as immoral while others see discriminating against them to be immoral these are two mutually exclusive moral views, Motivism views morality by intentions and Utilitarianism views morality by the outcome.

You were arguing for a perception of morality whereas I stuck with how you defined a Utilitarian should see it.
Posted by phantom 5 years ago
The definition says MORALLY good/bad so that obviously means the good/bad that pertains to morality.

Utilitarianism is a moral theory (at least, very much according to this definition). The definition provided posits objective morality. It makes no sense at all to say I'm reverting the discussion from utilitarianism to morality. Utilitarianism is a kind of morality.

Of course I argued for the intrinsic moral worth of the action. Utilitarianism is all about the action. You continually argued the moral worth of the outcome but utilitarianism states all ACTS are good/bad depending on the increase of happiness. It doesn't say all outcomes are good that increase the net-happiness. Well it does but that wasn't my main argument. I argued that certain acts are morally bad even if the outcome is good. You just argued outcome almost the entire time.
Posted by Viperx00 5 years ago
Just to be clear though I had no problem with your definition on utilitarianism would perceive as moral or immoral actions as stated in the definition here...

**"Thus any action that increases net-happiness is a morally good act and any action that decreases net-happiness is a morally bad act."**

In fact I consistently even stated on round 2 that

**"Torturing a child in this scenario was moral because it saved many more lives and prevented much pain." **

However you began to divert from the issue, clearly by the opening definition it was moral, yet you began to contest Utilitarianism to Morality itself by your definition rather than the definition given in the first round as shown by your statement here...

**"No human being would realize that the man was committing a moral act."**

Your arguments basically implied this logic...

- Utilitarianism can say in some scenarios rape/torture is moral (based on Utilitarianism definition)
- Rape/torture is never moral <== This is where the argument shifts to Morality rather than Utilitarianism.
- Therefore Utilitarianism is flawed.

You were arguing for the intrinsic morality of the action itself by your definition of morality, not by the definition of morality you gave in association with Utilitarianism.

So I pointed that out in the final round that you were going arguing a case for morality itself rather than Utilitarianism.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Jessalyn 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Both Pro and Con did very well presenting their points! Several of Pro's arguments, however, were superior to those presented by Con; for example, in R2 C.2., Pro made an excellent point by using a vivid and accurate analogy. The point was not refuted very well by Con, and neither was Pro's point in R2 C.4. about knowledge. Both of those points were excellent, and I do not feel that Con refuted them as well as Pro made them.