Saturday, May 17, 2008
The Wages of Utilitarian Thinking
J.S. Mill (father of Utilitarianism)
I find atheists on message boards constantly asserting that the Utilitarian dictum "great good for the greatest number" is the only measure of ethical purity. Evne when they don't assert it so overtly, they still seem to assume it as their basic thinking. Deontological forms of ethics are deemed to be merely rule keeping and legalism, Utilitarian thought is looked upon as modern, beyond reproach, the only enlightened way to think about ethics. God is constantly castigated for not being Utilitarian; this seems to be the supreme point of departure for all questions of theodocy or the problem of pain or evil. It is assumed over and over that God must think like a Until as this is the only way to think and that God is so inadequate becasue he just can't see that it would be the greatest good for the greatest number just to forget about all that sin stuff let everyone in the pearly gates.
In the world professional ethicists, the situation is very different. Utilitarianisms is considered extinct, consequentualism is not that popular and John Rawls with his A Theory of Justice is said to be the man who drove the nail in the coffin. The problem is the consequences of consequential ism and especially Utilitarianism are just too negative to maintain the philosophy:
...like sin, are death. Utilitarianism is guilty of the following flaws:
1) it leads us to treat moral cases like a business ledger, which means that it ignores the moral sense of the individual and treats individuals as an agrigate.
2) It would allow or justify the sacrifice of minority for the relative comfort of the majority. The contra war could have been justified perfectly upon until grounds, as could the holocaust.
3) It places individual moral motions under erasure by eliminating the concept of moral obligation and replacing it with an ends justifies the means notion of moral equations which would allow one to accomplish one's ends at the expense of any individual or minority, thus forgetting completely the concept of morality.
4) act utilitariasm often forces immoral choices upon people thus doing violence to their indiviudal sense of moral motions.
5) it leads us to assess moral conduct only in terms of pleasure over pain thus obscuring the finer points of duty and obligation.
Of course duty and obligation are the bread and butter of moral thinking, without that there is no particular reason to act morally. Thus util is a ruse which has infected the modern mind with shallow understanding that cirrples our ability to relaize our own responsiblity in moral action.
6) In several threads around this and the apologetics board a lot of things about moraity are being debated. But so few really understand the issues. The worse things that Util has done is blind us to an understanding of theodicy which would make God's allowence of evil accessable to the modern mind.
If we assume that pleasure over pain is the only moral good, and that outcome is all that matters, than of course we are going to complie the simplistic equastion, "evil happens, so there is no God." But that is an absurd equasion which overlooks our own complicity in evil doing.
We live in a real world, we have to struggle with faith and doubt. People do evil things, and all of that has to be. Because without the abilty to choose there would be no morall agency. To have free moral agency is to risk the possibility of evil choices. But we make evil choices, God does not make them for us. So we must face our own responsiblity in making them.
There is more to life than just pleasure over pain. The point of creation in the first place, as near as I can figure is to have a place in which the drama of choice can be played out and free moral agents can choose the good and internalize the values of the good. If life were nothing more than pleasure with God stepping in evertime someone wanted to sin than there would be no development of actual moral agency and no internalizing of moral values. IN effect we would not grow as moral individuals.
The existence of evil cannot be used to argue against the existence of God. After all that requires reasoning from the nature of the world ot the existence of God (or lack there of). If you wont allow that in the design argument you don't get to do in the theodicy problem.