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Mill's Utilitarianism: Sacrifice the Innocent For the


Common Good?
 When faced with a moral dilemma, utilitarianism identifies
the appropriate considerations, but offers no realistic way
to gather the necessary information to make the required
calculations. This lack of information is a problem both in
evaluating the welfare issues and in evaluating the
consequentialist issues which utilitarianism requires be
weighed when making moral decisions. Utilitarianism
attempts to solve both of these difficulties by appealing
to experience; however, no method of reconciling an
individual decision with the rules of experience is
suggested, and no relative weights are assigned to the
various considerations. In deciding whether or not to
torture a terrorist who has planted a bomb in New York
City, a utilitarian must evaluate both the overall welfare
of the people involved or effected by the action taken, and
the consequences of the action taken. To calculate the
welfare of the people involved in or effected by an action,
utilitarianism requires that all individuals be considered
equally. Quantitative utilitarians would weigh the
pleasure and pain which would be caused by the bomb
exploding against the pleasure and pain that would be
caused by torturing the terrorist. Then, the amounts would
be summed and compared. The problem with this method is
that it is impossible to know beforehand how much pain
would be caused by the bomb exploding or how much pain
would be caused by the torture. Utilitarianism offers no
practical way to make the interpersonal comparison of
utility necessary to compare the pains. In the case of the
bomb exploding, it at least seems highly probable that a
greater amount of pain would be caused, at least in the
present, by the bomb exploding. This probability suffices
for a quantitative utilitarian, but it does not account for
the consequences, which create an entirely different
problem, which will be discussed below. The probability
also does not hold for Mill's utilitarianism. Mill's
Utilitarianism insists on qualitative utilitarianism, which
requires that one consider not only the amount of pain or
pleasure, but also the quality of such pain and pleasure.
Mill suggests that to distinguish between different pains
and pleasures we should ask people who have experienced
both types which is more pleasurable or more painful. This
solution does not work for the question of torture compared
to death in an explosion. There is no one who has
experienced both, therefore, there is no one who can be
consulted. Even if we agree that the pain caused by the
number of deaths in the explosion is greater than the pain
of the terrorist being tortured, this assessment only
accounts for the welfare half of the utilitarian's
considerations. Furthermore, one has no way to measure how
much more pain is caused by allowing the bomb to explode
than by torturing the terrorist. After settling the issues
surrounding the welfare, a utilitarian must also consider
the consequences of an action. In weighing the
consequences, there are two important considerations. The
first, which is especially important to objectivist
Utilitarianism, is which people will be killed. The second
is the precedent which will be set by the action.
Unfortunately for the decision maker, the information
necessary to make either of these calculations is
unavailable. There is no way to determine which people
will be killed and weigh whether their deaths would be good
for society. Utilitarianism requires that one compare the
good that the people would do for society with the harm
they would do society if they were not killed. For example,
if a young Adolf Hitler were in the building, it might do
more good for society to allow the building to explode.
Unfortunately for an individual attempting to use
utilitarianism to make for decisions, there is no way to
know beforehand what a person will do. Furthermore, without
even knowing which building the bomb is in, there is no way
to predict which people will surely be in the building. A
subjectivist utilitarian would dismiss this consideration
and would examine only what a rational person would
consider to be the consequence; however, even the
subjectivist utilitarian must face the question of
precedent setting. Utilitarianism considers justice and
humane treatment to be good for society as a whole and
therefore instrumentally good as a means to promoting
happiness. Utilitarianism considers precedent to be
important, but does not offer any method of determining
exceptions. It is impossible to determine how much effect
on precedent any given isolated action will have. In the
case of determining whether or not to torture the
terrorist, one must consider whether it is good for society
to allow torture to be used as a method of gaining
information. If it is bad, one must determine whether this
action will create a precedent. If it will create or
contribute to the creation of a precedent, one must compare
the detrimental effects of this precedent with the other
consequences and welfare caused by the action.
Utilitarianism offers no method for comparison. The
problem is that a person faced with making the decision
cannot get the information. Even through experience, it is
hard to judge how much effect each action has on precedent.
More specifically, it is hard to determine whether an
action is worthy of being an exception to a rule.
Utilitarianism offers no resolution to this problem. 
 Utilitarianism also considers the Theory of Desert to be
instrumentally valuable to the promotion of happiness. It
is generally good for society to reward people for doing
right and to punish them for doing wrong. Using this belief
in the value of justice, a utilitarian would have more
trouble torturing the child of the terrorist than with
torturing the terrorist. The dilemma would be similar to
that of precedent. A utilitarian would ask how much it will
harm society's faith in the punishment of evildoers and the
protection of the innocent to torture the child. The sum
of the consequences would then be compared to the sum of
the welfare considerations to decides whether or not to
torture the terrorist and whether or not to torture the
child of the terrorist. In some way, these things must
therefore all be comparable and assigned weights; however,
Utilitarianism offers no method of comparison. There must
be some percentage of consideration given to the harmful
precedent set compared to the amount of pain caused by the
deaths, compared to the pain the terrorist or the child
being tortured feels, compared to the harm society will be
saved from by the deaths of people in the explosion,
compared to the good that society will be deprived of by
the deaths in the explosion. The overarching problem with
utilitarianism as a method for decision making is that not
enough of the necessary information is available and there
is no scale on which to weigh the various considerations.
Basically, the subjective utilitarian would probably
consider that the deaths of many is worse than the torture
of one. Depending on how much weight is given to the
detrimental effects of the precedent which would be set by
torturing the terrorist, the utilitarian could consider
this to outweigh the greater pain caused by the explosion
or not. Different people have different moral consciences,
which dictate different actions. These differences will
dictate where the person puts the most weight in the
utilitarian considerations, since utilitarianism does not
specify. Similarly, depending on how much weight is given
to the detrimental precedent of torturing innocent
children, the utilitarian could consider it to outweigh the
pain caused by the explosion or not. In the end,
utilitarianism does not help in making the moral decision.
The information necessary to calculate all of the
considerations identified by utilitarianism is not
available. Furthermore, what is required is a method of
comparing and weighing the considerations, and this method
is not defined by utilitarianism. In the end, the decision
maker is still left to make the decision based on internal
moral feelings of what is right and what is wrong which do
not come from utilitarianism. 


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