Every one of us have ask at some point of our life that what is the price of happiness and its value. Should it be achieved at the expense of others’ happiness? This type of question is called moral question and the study of moral is called moral theory. In this essay I’ll be mainly focusing on the sub part of moral theory called utilitarianism. As describe by John Stuart Mill utilitarianism is the view that dictates if an action is right or wrong by looking at the net out-come of the action (Schefczyk).
Or in other word if the action you have taken results in happiness then the action is said to be the right one and if it doesn’t then the action is a wrong. We all can agree that our final goal is to be happy and not to be any pain and to achieve that goal the path we take cannot solely be define as right or wrong according to utilitarianism.
Some people might agree with it and some might not but it doesn’t mean one of them is wrong because we don’t study philosophy to argue who is right or who is not but to understand the meaning of it logically and implement it to our daily life. If you ask me what’s my opinion on it, I disagree with the concept of utilitarianism because the result solely doesn’t define whether the action taken is right or wrong but the action itself should also be judge if it’s the right one or not because the happiness brought by the wrong action decreases the value of the happiness no matter how satisfaction it might be.
For this essay I will be proving my point with two simple steps, first by listing some examples and then understanding the meaning behind it and try to tackling it with logic. For the best way to understand utilitarianism, let us use the example of short story The one who walk away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. In this story, Le Guin describes the utopian city of Omelas during the festival of summer. The city is characterized as the perfect place where one can get what they want and everyone living in this city are happy except for one child. This child is chosen from the population to serve as a sacrifice allowing the rest of the city to live in peace and plenty. The child is placed in a small, windowless room having little to eat and is completely cut off from the rest of society except for the short visits from those who come to view the child. When the citizen of that city learn about the suffering the child is going through for the peace and happiness of everyone else, they are no longer capable of true happiness and they eventually leave on solitary journey into the unknown and never return (Le Guin). So, lets think about it, if you were the one living in the city of Omelas and you come to know about the child locked up in the dungeon for the sake of your happiness will you still live in that city knowing the child is suffering for your happiness? I hope probably not. And if you did decide to leave the city so that the child can live a happy life or you don’t want the happiness gain by the sorrow of others’ than you are going against the main concept of utilitarianism which state sacrificing something for the greater good is justified or the action is right if the outcome brings happiness.
For the next example I’ll be using the Batman story. Everyone of us have either read or watch the Batman movie and we know who Batman is and how he saved the city of Gotham from the evils many times. I’ll be just highlighting the main point in here like though Batman had several chances to kill the Joker, he never kills him, all he does is throw Joker back in Arkham because Batman has his own rule of ethics that he follows no matter what (Snyder). And we even know no matter how many times Batman locks the Joker, he eventually escapes and kills innocent citizen and when he does won’t it be a little bit of Batman’s fault cause if Batman had killed the Joker the first chance he got then the rest of the people Joker killed would still be alive? And what if Batman did killed Joker when he had the chance would you call the killing of Joker by Batman a justified action? If you do then here’s the million dollar question, who decide whose life is justified to take and whose not? Will you call the action of Batman a morally pure for not killing Joker’s life or morally evil for letting him live?
The third example would specially be for the manga fan. I’ll be using the Berserk manga as an example written and illustrated by Kentaro Miura. The setting of this manga is in the time of medieval where war has been broken in all corners of the world. In this manga one of the character, Griffith, has a dream of becoming a king one day of a kingdom of peace where none of his citizen has to worry about starving to dead or dying as a collateral damage of the war. To achieve his dream, he at the end sacrifice all his friends and the love ones who fought beside him during all the battels to the devil (Miura). If you think about it, Griffith had a noble dream of creating a peaceful country in a world where everyone is fighting for the territory, but the path he took, sacrificing the life of all his friends, would you call it the path he took the right path to achieve one’s dream? Similarly, Fyodor Dostoevsky has portrait similar situation on his book Crime and Punishment where one of his character says “If you killed her and took her money, and used it to devote yourself to serving all humanity and the common good (…) wouldn’t those thousands of good deeds wipe out that one tiny little crime?” (Dostoevsky 60). What do you think? Can killing ever be justified? If so, when and why? And if not, why not?
For the trekkies, lets us look at the action of Spock at the end of the Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Spock enters into a highly radioactive chamber in order to fix the ship’s drive so that the captain and other crew member can escape danger. During his last breath Spock says to captain Kirk “Don’t grieve, Admiral, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” and captain Kirk answers by saying “Or the one” (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan). If you think about it Spock was clearly implying the concept of utilitarianism. He thinks that, ending his life can save the life of other crew member and it’s a right course of action since it yields a greater amount of happiness in the long run.
At the end, though I gave all this example or more one can still argue that it is fine for one citizen of Omelas to suffer if all other people living there are having a good life or that Batman should have killed the Joker and not killing him was the act of evil on Batman’s side, and also the act of Griffith and Raskolnikov was morally justified since Griffith dream was to create a place of peace for the people in a world where war’s been broken in every nook and corner and Raskolnikov thought of serving humanity with the money he stole from the Alyona Ivanovna where both of the action are of noble cause and likewise, the action of Spock is justified since it is a logical approach that weighs the costs and benefits of courses of action and leads the one to act in a way that maximizes the net benefits of everyone involved. The most fun part of this essay is everyone’s opinion in all this case is right like I stated at the begging of my essay. Understanding which action is right and which one is not in philosophy is like the Kobayashi Maru test where there is no-win scenario and in philosophy the goal of studying the structure of arguments is just to think more clearly and logically.