Mill\'s Utilitarianism

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
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
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.