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Utilitarianism as a realistic moral theory

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/6/2019 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 344 times Debate No: 121702
Debate Rounds (4)
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First round acceptance.

R2: Opening Statements

R3: Rebuttal

R4: Counter-rebuttal/Conlcusion
Debate Round No. 1



To begin, It is essential for us to establish terms: what actually is Utilitarianism. For starters, It is not the same as pragmatism, I. E. A moral theory based in practiciality or expediency; rather, It proposes that what is morally right is that which brings about the most happiness. In other words, Utilitarianism seeks to promote happiness, Instead of practicality. I only make this distinction, Because it is a common mistake misunderstanding. The Utilitarianism I defend here, Is the one imagined by it's founders Jeremy Bentham, And John Stuart Mill; although, Some of Bentham I am not in favor of. However, Now that any potential confusions with pragmatism are cleared up, I can will good conscience define Utilitarianism: promote happiness, Impartially. THATS IT! In this debate I will seek to establish why I think this presents a valuable and realistic moral theory, And defend it against criticism. Below will be my arguments in favor of Utilitarianism.

There are essentially two components of the definiton I offered; although it is absurdly short, I effectively sums up the lengthy topic which can only be partially discussed here. In the first place, It states that we should "promote happiness", And that we ought to do so "impartially". In the following paragraphs I will examine and explain each component, And establish arguments for them.

1. Promote Happiness.

So what is meant by "happiness", And why should it be considered the ultimate criterion for morality? In short, The usual claim regarding happiness as the "thing to be sought", Is that it is the only thing of intrinsic value. As a result, Although people might value things like money, Family, Or education, They only do so because these things are a means to happiness. Therefore people do not actually value such things for their own sake, But rather because they lead to happiness, Which is valuable for it's own sake. This argument for happiness is essentially what John Stuart Mill advocates for in his Utilitarianism. Below I will present a basic argument which seeks to conclude that Utilitartianism effectively provides a meaninful and fulfilling life; which, Seems to be self-evidently required of any desirable moral theory:

1. A life is meaningful and fulfilling, If it promotes things which are valuable and desirable.

2. Happiness is the only thing which is valuable, And all others are desirable insofar as they lead to happiness.

3. Thus, A life is meaningful and fulfilling, If it promotes happiness.

This argument closely resembles a basic argument for hedonism as well, Which reveals that Utilitarianism is broadly a type of hedonism, And not just consequentialism. However, While this argument addresses the intrinsic value of happiness, It has not yet been established that this may act as a universal moral imperative. Below is a basic argument that the principle of utility/happiness, Is effective as a universal principle:

1. A princple may be universal if all peoples' meet the criteria.

2. The desire for happiness is a criteria which all people's meet.

3. Thus, Happiness is effective as a universal principle.

As this argument is quite important, I will go into more depth with it. Essentially, It concludes that all people desire happiness absolutely; at least, Their own happiness. However, As seen in the first argument, Everything people desire, Is only desired insofar as it is a means to happiness. This means that the person who loves his family, Does not do so for their intrinsic value. This sounds quite harsh at first; however, When considered in more depth, It makes perfect sense! After all, If the person did not gain happiness from his family, Then would he love them? Obviously, He only loves them insofar as they bring him happiness; once considered, It does not seem so harsh. With this in mind, We can once again consider the second argument. Clearly, All people desire their happiness; and if it is not immediately clear at first, Remember that anything they desire, Is only desired as it is a means to happiness; there are countless examples of this in addition to the ones already discussed; some, More obvious than others. As a result, It is clear that the desire for happiness is universal, Which means that is an excellent choice for a universal moral theory!

But wait a minute! What about people whose version of happiness is evil or cancerous to society? Should we value a serial killers happiness equally with a saint? The answer is no, And the next arguments shall demonstrate why:

1. A life is fulfilling and meaninful, If it promotes happiness (See first argument).

2. A life cannot have happiness, If it is more painful than pleasureful.

3. Thus, A life cannot be fulfilling and meaningful, If it is more painful that pleasureful.

With this third argument, The roots of hedonism become even clearer; by pleasure, I mean the same thing as happiness. For our uses we can use them interchangably. But, Turning attention to the argument, It is clear that what is desirable is pleasure/happiness, And what is undesirable is pain. This provides the basis of Utilitarianism: promote happiness, And prevent pain. With this in mind, We can now answer the original dilemma: ought I to value a murderer's happiness equally to my own, Or my neighbor? The answer does not take much thought. After all, While the murderer might gain some type of unhealthy happiness from his deeds, He also diminishes his victims happiness absolutely; in addition, He also brings about quite a bit of pain. Already, His actions are deplorable in the eyes of the Utilitarian. Utilitarianism simply doesn't have room for evil and harmful acts; only, Acts which are nurturing and beneficial.

2. Impartial

The second component of our simple definition is the principle of impartiality. Here, The theory no longer merely applies to our own happiness, But to the happiness of others. Immediately however, Note that by the princple of impartiality, Our own selves are certainly included; it is quite a popular objection against Utilitarianism to claim that it's proponents are forced into selflessness, And forced to increase the happiness of society at the expense of their own. While this would certainly affect our claim that Utilitarianism is realistic and provides a fulfilling life, It is luckily not the case. Obviously, If we are to be impartial, We must make sure that our own happiness is equally considered. Utilitarianism does not require moral sainthood.

However, Why must it be impartial? Remember, The goal of Utilitarianism is to maximize happiness, And minimize pain; also recall, That this does not require the utilitarian to sacrifice their own happiness! If the goal is then to maximize happiness, It is surely wrong to derail this goal via prejudice or bias. Imagine that you pass a baby drowning in a puddle on your way to work; do you save it? Of course you do, But you also would save it regardless of race, Gender, Or any other distinguishing feature. And if you wouldn't then you clearly are not attempting to maximize happiness. In short, If the utilitarian does not promote happiness impartially, Then they only promote happiness to some groups or people, And do not maximize it. Remember, There is pleanty of happiness to go around.

1. In order to maximize happiness, One must promote the happiness of all peoples and groups

2. Those who promote happiness impartially, Promote happiness to all peoples and groups

3. Thus, In order to maximize happiness, One must promote it impartially.

These basic arguments establish Utilitarianism, And demosntrate what it potentially offers society as a realistic, Meaningful, And fulfilling moral theory. We have seen that not only do all people desire happiness for it's intrinsic worth, But that we ought to promote it impartially.

The sources used for this opening statement are:

https://www. Iep. Utm. Edu/bentham/
https://www. Iep. Utm. Edu/mill-eth/
Jonh Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism CH1-3 (iep also has this info)
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Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 4
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by oalks 3 years ago
I probably won't be able to respond to your post in time, But here is a link to a properly maintained (albeit small) debate website. Debateart. Com

A lot of the other people were raving about it, I would recommend you repost this there. I've been caught up in work so I probably won't be able to respond in time.
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