Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Boundaries in Utilitarianism?
I found Bentham’s untilitarian ideas to be very interesting, and I’ve often seen those ideas reflected in modern political speech. The idea that government should work for the pleasure of the people, rather than merely for the protection of their rights, is quite prevalent, especially in Western Europe. Bentham strikes me as Epicurus born without health issues, and gifted with some added gumption.
Bentham said that pleasure or happiness is good, and pain is bad. “Of all possible states of affairs, that one is best which involves the greatest balance of pleasure over pain.” This seems simple, but large questions arise, and, at least in Russell’s synopsis, aren’t answered. How is pleasure to be discerned? Is a parent’s difficult sacrifice for their child therefore bad? Or does it count as good because of the child’s resulting pleasure? What if a parents works overtime to be able to afford healthy food for their child. Most children get more pleasure out of cheap mac and cheese than they do for broccoli and kale. However, we’d agree that the parent is doing something good in helping their child.
Besides the difficulty of quantifying pleasure, can it be qualified? In class today our professor mentioned that some people called Betham’s “a pig’s philosophy,” that if people enjoyed wallowing in mud, then he would consider that to be good. We all have different tastes when it comes to pleasure; I love chocolate and books, another might prefer taco bell and football, but we could get the same amount of pleasure from both. But is pleasure ever curtailed by any morality? “One state of affairs is better than another if it involves a greater balance of pleasure over pain, or a smaller balance of pain over pleasure.” What is there to stop, say, rape from occurring? Who qualifies the pleasure verses pain? What if the amounts of pain and pleasure were equal; would that then mean that the sum of the event would be zero, and then neither good nor bad?
Bentham is very interesting, but I feel that I’d need a lot more details on these questions before I could endorse utilitarianism.