"Justice for each individual is often "Justice for each individual is often rejected by utilitarianism." Discuss.

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist moral theory. This means that it determines the 'goodness' of an action by the consequences of it. In the case of utilitarianism, the aim of every action should be to maximise the goodness a situation creates. An alternative utilitarian view is that actions should seek to minimise badness. This is sufficiently similar to be grouped under the same term, yet is notably different. Utilitarianism does in fact have many forms, all with slightly different ideas about how to determine the best action. Hedonistic utilitarianism, the original form proposed by Hobbes, takes pleasure and pain to be the markers of goodness and badness, as well as taking it to be your own pleasure and pain. This egoistic element was rapidly removed by Bentham. The major objection to hedonistic utilitarianism was that it seemed to lead only to seeking physical pleasures. Thus, Mill suggested a modification of higher and lower pleasures. The higher pleasures were the intellectual ones, and being higher, carried more weight when determining the rightness of an action. Now, it is the quality of the pleasure as well as the quantity that is significant. There are two problems that weaken this argument. How can we determine which pleasures are higher without the use of another moral system, and how can we calculate the overall level of pleasure or pain produced, especially if we are trying to predict this amount. It seems that utilitarianism would have to have some sort of deontological segment attached in order to determine which pleasures we can call higher, and which lower. This would seem to greatly weaken the argument, since a consequentialist and a deontological viewpoint are incompatible. The matter of calculating the amount of pleasure gained or lost due to each action is perhaps even more problematic. The consideration of what value to give to one person's pleasure, and if there are different levels of pleasure that that one person can experience is only the beginning. There is also the question of where the consequences of an action stop. One could validly argue that each action affects every single action to come after it for the rest of time. This would leave us with the problem of interference from other actions. If someone plotted to kill someone, and you managed to stop them, thus stopping the creation of unhappiness, then one could well argue that the plotter was equally right in taking his action, since it was through him that you managed to take a morally right action. These problems of hedonic calculus are not fatal to the theory of utilitarianism, but they do cause large problems for it. One final problem in calculating the rightness of an action through pleasure is that if someone takes pleasure in harming others, then it may well be the case that the pleasure the attacker gets is greater than the victim's unhappiness. This would lead to the counterintuitive proposition that hurting people is right. We are left claiming best guess answers to these problems, a result that is not very satisfactory when we are trying to come up with a definitive moral system. Nonetheless, utilitarianism and its subsidiaries are still the best attempts to form a coherent reasoning as to why actions are right or wrong, without resorting to deontological theories.

Before we can begin to relate justice and utilitarianism, we must first determine what is meant by justice. Justice seems to be entangled in a person's 'rights', a term that is inappropriate for a utilitarian view, since there are no universal rights. According to utilitarianism we must determine the goodness of each action in isolation. Potentially one could argue that using the term "rights" is really only shorthand for saying ïn most situations the best course of action would be..." However, most people would view rights as some form of set in stone list of what is right and wrong, so we must try to separate justice from rights. There is some scope in the term justice for a consequentialist viewpoint, since justice seems to imply fairness, and getting what you deserve. Whilst this may be only a change of labels, it enables us to say, validly, that justice allows for an action that would under most circumstances be considered bad, to be classed as good, if the motives and the result were good. Most people would agree that this is a good way to implement justice, since it gives people a full range of options in a situation to try to gain the greatest utility.

This only deals with what we might consider 'criminal' justice, that is people breaking the codes of a society. This is perhaps the more clear-cut of the two types of justice. The second type is what could be termed 'social justice.' By that I mean not discriminating, personal freedoms and that style of thing. This is much harder to define, since not only does it cover a broad range of topics, it also seems to depend somewhat upon peoples perceptions. Unless one argues for an objective moral theory, then if everyone in a society is happy oppressing one particular group, including the oppressed group, then there would seem to be no scope for correcting what we would see as an injustice. Utilitarianism is actually quite benevolent towards the 'individual', since in its calculations of greatest pain and pleasure, each and every person counts as one unit, no more, no less. In this way, even the lowest members of society have some representation, so not discriminating against anyone is greatly favouritised by utilitarianism. Your ability to make a difference is strongly promoted by utilitarianism, as would be expected, since some of its original proponents were Bentham and Mill, with their included political beliefs.

The issue that the question desires us to address is the manner in which utilitarianism can lead to the overriding of one individual in order to benefit many. Perhaps the best example of this is in Peter Singer's "The Survival Lottery", which suggests a society where random people are killed in order to provide replacement body parts for many others. This may sound like a ridiculous idea, but it is a logical, if extreme, consequence of a utilitarian view. Indeed, should one examine the idea more rationally, it can come to seem less ridiculous. If ten people are all dying due to the failure of different organs, and one person is selected at random to supply them with new organs, then surely ten lots of life are able to outweigh one lot of death. The only real response to this is to claim that it is not the fault of the person who has to die to provide these organs that the people need the organs, so why should they take on other people's responsibilities. The response to this seems quite obvious. Society is surely all about taking responsibility for your fellow humans, and although giving up your life for them is an extreme example, it occurs even now, with people sacrificing their lives attempting to rescue people. This is seen as a good thing to do, and people can often be condemned as cowardly if they do not at least attempt to save the people. It seems very hypocritical to suggest that heroism is a good thing whilst the Survival Lottery is bad, especially since many people believe that heroism comes about through the fear of what people will think if they do not try, in other words, it is a compulsion too.

Essentially, utilitarianism does have a propensity to ignore individual rights, but only if greater happiness can be gained through doing so. It does not just idly oppress people. It does so in order to make the overall society a 'better' one. For the vast majority of those living in a utilitarian society, they would probably be more likely to be treated justly than in many other societies. For the utilitarian, all people are equal, and their happiness is always important. That would seem to be an excellent system for a society to be based upon.


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