Utilitarianism is based on the notion that the key objective in life should be maximizing happiness through all necessary means. It reveals the need to focus on the outcome of an action and the worth it brings in one’s life. The morality of any activity is judged by the consequences that accrue from that activity. John Stuart Mill made his contributions to the theory of utilitarianism by elaborating on the human knowledge. The question on morality and its characteristics is not an easy question because humans have different traits. The problem has grown over the years because people focus on speculative thoughts, as there is no clear way of defining the scope of morality. The issue has been a source of controversy for several centuries and a unanimous definition has not been found. Most people describe utility as the mark of right from wrong but according to John Mill, it is more about the pleasure derived from the action. This notion supports any action that increases the proportion of happiness while an action is said to be wrong when it is inversely proportional to happiness. Happiness is defined as the absence of any sorrow, pain, or any bad feeling that may harbor a person’s soul. The pursuit of happiness and pleasure is the greatest characteristic of man’s objectives in this life. Happiness is the desired end result of people’s actions regardless of the form they experience. However, people often find flaws in the utility principle and brand it as immoral. This is because it does not highlight the scope of right or wrong so long as an individual is able to derive happiness or pleasure from his actions. It encourages people to pursue happiness even when they stumble on other people. The good aspect about this theory is that the result is tangible because happiness is visible.
Act Utilitarianism refers to the situation where a person considers the consequences of the different choices that he or she has before making a profound selection. This theory focuses on the total amount of happiness accrued by a large number of people. Before doing any activity, a person must weigh the outcome vis-a-vis the number of people that will be affected. The moral action is one that achieves the greatest level of happiness for majority of the people involved. An immoral act is one that culminates into lowest level of happiness for many people. Therefore, people should always strive to focus on societal wellbeing. Their actions must reflect the needs of other people in the society rather than personal objectives only. On the other hand, the Rule Utilitarianism is defined as a theory that highlights several rules that must be followed in order to perform right or wrong. In order for a person to do the right thing, he or she must adhere to the rules that culminate to high level of happiness. The process of conducting that activity and how correctly it was applied defines the rightness or wrongness of an action. This rule theory has been criticized because of being too restrictive in some circumstances, which might cause diminished happiness if followed. For instance, avoiding murder may be a good and moral rule to apply to human beings, but there are some special circumstances such as manslaughter that are justified. However, the rule utilitarians may brand someone as immoral because of breaking this rule regardless of the situation. These restrictive rules are the reason why rule utilitarianism was absorbed by the act utilitarianism. In some special circumstances, breaking a rule may lead to more utility than holding onto irrelevant rules that may harm many people.
Utilitarian attitude towards Individual Rights
Utilitarianism measures morality according to the greatest good done to other people in the society. It focuses on ensuring that most people benefit from the actions of an individual. Individual rights define the benefits that accrue to an individual and those that he or she is supposed to enjoy personally. An intrusion on individual rights may bring conflict and reduce happiness because people will not be free to enjoy their guaranteed privileges as individuals. When considering the individual rights, it may form a mismatch with the utilitarian theory. It may be difficult to respect individual rights when the aim is to satisfy the majority of people in the society. On the other hand, utilitarians tend to focus on the consequences of a person’s action while the rights theorists follow the principles that respect the rights of people. Individual rights are often depicted as mismatch between legal principles and ethical principles. The law recognizes individual rights as important to each person and any violation may lead to legal ramifications. However, ethical philosophies do not give much weight to individual rights because the societal wellbeing is of paramount importance. If the individual rights will cause more harm than good to other people then they should be violated according to the utilitarian theory. The attitude of the utilitarians is that individual rights are important but people should learn to have a moral motive in all they do. This positive motive will help them appreciate other people’s rights and act towards a greater good. Focussing on the greater good will ensure that selfish behaviours are reduced, as people think of the ramifications of their behaviours to others in the society. The Utilitarians believe that people must be encouraged to live morally by thinking of the consequences of their actions even when they fall under the scope of their rights.
How negative are the Utilitarian Principles to Individual Rights
Utilitarian principles are considered to be negative on the individual rights because they define morality on the greater good of the majority of people rather than the individual. In addition, the individual is prompted to think about the consequences of his action before acting in order to avoid diminishing the happiness of other people. The utilitarian principle is more of quantitative than qualitative because it focuses on the happiness of large number of people than that of the individual. Individual rights are important because they allow a person to enjoy self-identity. However, the utilitarian principles tend to violate the individual rights to benefit a large proportion of people. Forcing individuals to evaluate the consequences of their actions before doing something is quite irrational because the consequences are sometimes indefinite. The individual may give up too much of his or her rights and end up frustrated because the consequences turned out to be reverse of their expectations.
Example of a Violated Action
For instance, people have freedom of speech but this right could be violated in order to bring peace. People may slander others leading to fights that may affect other people or people may use their freedom of speech to shout and disturb other people. By violating this right, other people in the society are likely to have peace and quiet.
Rejection of the Utilitarian view of Right
I do not approve the Utilitarian view of right because it impedes on personal freedom. Every individual is a separate and unique entity from all other people. This shows that we have different needs and preferences that may not be accomplished simultaneously. It is not fair to forego one’s interests to suit the needs of other individuals that you may not even know. This theory expects too much from individuals in order to fulfil the whims of the society. The individual is likely to be frustrated by the decision to do greater good because his needs will not be fulfilled. As such, a frustrated individual will not be productive and it may culminate to bad deeds in the end. The principles highlighted in this theory are not practical in some circumstances. The application of moral and immoral is stipulated through assumptions of consequences and certain rules. The main problem emanates from the fact that the consequences are unforeseeable and this rules need to be broken in some special cases. Therefore, the utilitarian view is unrealistic based on the diversity of individual rights and their varied needs.
Changes to be made on the theory in order to avoid perceiving it negatively
In order to change the attitude of people towards the utilitarian view, it is important to create awareness on the importance of living in harmony. When people realize the importance of their actions, they may take into consideration the repercussions of their activities. The theory must also acknowledge the importance of individual rights and bend the principles in some circumstances. Morality should not be judged according to consequences because they are unforeseeable. Personal freedom is important because we are all individuals. The utilitarians tend to forget the importance of individuality and people cannot be happy to forfeit their happiness for other people. There must be a strategy to synchronize these needs so that people are not incapacitated by such rules in the society. Overall, it is important to encourage people to listen to their conscience when deciding to do right or wrong. They must also be encouraged to try their level best to live well with each other and avoid conflicts.