Why Utilitarianism is Useless

Why Utilitarianism is Useless March 5, 2014

Here is my latest article for The Imaginative Conservative–on why utilitarianism does not bring the greatest good for the greatest number, but brings about the greatest evil for the greatest number.

when applied to social systems, utilitarianism is useless. The practical proposal of the utilitarian is to ask “what brings about the greatest good for the greatest number?” This motto was coined by the eccentric Englishman Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832). Bentham also observed, “pain and pleasure are the sovereign masters governing man’s conduct.”

“The greatest good for the greatest number. Motivate with pain and pleasure.” It sounds like it should work. However, the problems with utilitarianism become clear once you begin to press it a little. The first problem with utilitarianism is personal opinion. We might agree that we want the greatest good for the greatest number, but we can’t agree on what is good in the first place. Personal opinions vary.

Without some external and greater criteria, who is to say what is “good” and who gets to make the choice? We only have to look at Stalinist Russia to see a case history of certain people deciding what would be “the greatest good for the greatest number” and the result was a great good for a small number and a great evil for a greater number.

Read the whole article here.


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