Compare and Contrast Utilitarianism with Christian Ethics The ethical teachings and values of utilitarianism and Christian ethics are similar in some aspects, yet however are diverse in others. Utilitarianism is a generally teleological ethical system, where the outcome is said to justify the act. The act is considered ‘good’ if it brings about the greatest good for the greatest number. Christian Ethics, however, can be quite different. Many aspects of its ethics are deontological, for example, the Decalogue and Natural Law.
There are other differences and indeed some similarities which will be considered throughout this essay. Christian ethics has many aspects which do not agree with the fundamental doctrine of Utilitarianism. Firstly, the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament are deontological, as it is law based and the action is considered good or bad intrinsically. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, states that an action cannot be right or wrong in itself, and it can only be evaluated when the consequences are taken into account.
The Bible implies that none of these laws should be broken, yet Bentham thought that any rules can be rejected should the person determine that the means can justify the ends. Bentham held that no one should take actions as right or wrong as a given, but should use empirical evidence to work out their effect and subsequently conclude on its appropriateness. Bentham’s empirical method of finding out whether the action is worthwhile was to use the Hedonic Calculus, a process of assessment which gauges the act’s outcome in several categories, such as its certainty, purity or extent.
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Natural Law is another example of the diversity between Utilitarian and Christian ethical attitudes. Although it teaches that humans should use reason to realise morality (which is similar to Bentham’s attitude), it fundamentally states that there are God given laws of the universe which eternally and constantly exist in nature. It is a Christian principle to live one’s life in such a way they strive to be like Jesus, and are motivated to follow Christian principles and rules in order to do this.
This however fundamentally goes against Utilitarianism, which states that humans are merely motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. This is how an action is considered good or bad in the Hedonic Calculus, if it brings pleasure for the most people or works to avoid pain. Furthermore, Christian ethics implies that one will find happiness by modelling themselves on Jesus and adhering to the teachings of the Bible. However, in Utilitarianism it is stated that one will find the most happiness when individuals are free to pursue their own ends.
The process of using the Hedonic Calculus aspect of Utilitarianism can also be likened to the Christian ethical principle of using one’s Conscience. For this point, it is important to note that this is not in reference to the specific detail in the Hedonic Calculus, but is about the underlying reason for its use. In the New Testament, Paul advocated that the Conscience should be used when one needs moral guidance, which is linked to the will of God. Even though in Utilitarianism the ‘God’ aspect is not included in terms of justifying an action, the principle of mentally judging a deed is similar.
John Stuart Mill developed his own approach to Utilitarianism called ‘Rule Utilitarianism’. There are some similarities with Christian ethics which lie in his doctrine. Firstly, Mill says that there should be general rules which people should follow in order to bring about the greatest communal good. This has two similarities with Christian ethics; first of all is the principle of law-making and secondly, the concept of the ‘greatest communal good’ can be traced back to the teachings of Paul in the New Testament, where he says that ‘a good should not be god for the individual, but for everyone’.
Mill’s proposed laws would be those based on general Utilitarian principles. Mill likened this principle to the Golden Rule of Jesus, which is the teaching that Christians consider to be of the highest importance. The rule states to ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’. Although this is essentially deontological, it is based on the principle of generating the most agape. Mill, like Jesus, held that general laws should be in place to help lead a good life. Situation ethics has also been pointed out as having similar principles o Utilitarianism. Firstly, both theories are examples of relativism, meaning that there are no absolute standard which apply to the rightness and wrongness of actions. Secondly Joseph Fletcher, the founder, argued that the Christian ethic of love can be labelled as ‘justice distributed’. ‘Justice’ is in reference to determining what the most loving thing is to do for everyone. This can be likened to Utilitarianism, which replaces the word ‘justice’ with ‘goodness’, meaning goodness distributed (greatest good for greatest number).
Negative Utilitarianism: An Overview
Most utilitarian theories deal with producing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Negative utilitarianism (NU) requires us to promote the least amount of evil or harm, or to prevent the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest number. Proponents like Karl Popper, Christoph Fehige and Clark Wolf argue that this is a more effective ethical formula, since, they contend, the greatest harms are more consequential than the greatest goods. Karl Popper also referred to an epistemological argument: “It adds to clarity in the fields of ethics, if we formulate our demands negatively, i. e. if we demand the elimination of suffering rather than the promotion of happiness. ”(Karl R. Popper,1945) Most forms of utilitarianism hold that we ought to do that which maximises the good and minimises the bad. There is some disagreement about what the good and the bad are-- whether the good is people being happy and the bad is people being unhappy, or the good is people getting what they want and the bad is people not getting what they want, or whatever--but most utilitarians agree that whatever the good and the bad are, we ought to bring about as much of the former and as little of the latter as is possible.
Negative utilitarians disagree. Negative utilitarians are concerned only with minimising the bad. They don't think we ought to maximise the good and minimise the bad, and that when we must choose between the two we must weigh the difference that we can make to the one against the difference that we can make to the other; rather, negative utilitarians hold just that we ought to minimise the bad, that we ought to alleviate suffering as far as we are able to do so.
Suppose that I have a choice to make: I can either make the happiest man in the world even happier than he already is, or I can alleviate some of the suffering of the unhappiest man in the world. Suppose further that the difference that I can make to the happy man is much greater than the difference that I can make to the unhappy man. Most utilitarians would say that in this case I ought to help the happy man. As I can make a greater difference to the life of the happy man than I can make to the life of the unhappy man, it is the happy man whom I should help.
Negative utilitarians disagree. Negative utilitarians hold that it is more important to alleviate suffering than it is to promote pleasure, and that I should therefore always choose to alleviate suffering rather than promote pleasure when forced to choose between the two. In most supporters of moderate NU the preference to survive is stronger than the wish to be freed from suffering, so that they refuse the idea of a quick and painless destruction of life. Some of them believe that, in time, the worst cases of suffering is defeated and a world of minor suffering can be realized.
The big problem with negative utilitarianism is that it appears to require the destruction of the world. The world contains much suffering, and the future, presumably, contains a great deal more suffering than the present. Each of us will suffer many calamaties in the course of our lives, before those lives finally end with the suffering of death. There is a way, however, to reduce this suffering: we could end it all now. With nuclear weapons technology, we have the capability to blow up the planet, making it uninhabitable.
Doing so would cause us all to suffer death, but death is going to come to us all anyway, so causing everyone to die will not increase the suffering in the world. Causing us to die now, though, will decrease the suffering in the world; it will prevent us from suffering those calamaties that were going to plague us during the remainder of our lives. Destroying the planet, then, will reduce the suffering in the world. According to negative utilitarianism, then, it is what we ought to do. That, though, is surely absurd. Negative utilitarianism, therefore, is false.
Utilitarianism and Abortion
Abortion is one of the most debated issues across the globe. People from different sects of the society have their own perception on the abortion. Some try to prove it morally wrong and illegal while others justify abortion on several grounds. There is no need to say that people have their arguments in favor as well as in against the abortion and both the views seem to be right in specific circumstances. Apart from different opinions, law of a society has its own views on the issue which cannot be ignored.This paper intends to discuss the issue of abortion along with examining what utilitarian scholars think on the abortion and several other related issues. Utilitarian view on abortion While examining the utilitarian’s view about abortion one should mull over the ethical aspect of the issue with perspective of greatest happiness. Utilitarian view believes that ethical value of any act is determined by the maximum amount of happiness of biggest quality for hugest number of general population which it creates.
John Stuart mill on abortion John Stuart mill is known as father of utilitarian view and it is not possible to understand the issue in Toto without seeing his view on the issue of abortion. John Stuart mill in his book utilitarianism, writes “Utility, or the Greatest Happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure”.
The idea given by John Stuart mill is popularly known as principle of greatest happiness. Right and wrong aspects of any action are decided on the basis of pleasure and pain in this principle of john Stuart mill. Happiness and pain are determined as per quality and amount in every incident though it is not that for easy to test the things unless someone has tested the amount of both pleasure and pain. John Stuart mill says that it is good to be an unsatisfied human being rather than a satisfied pig and it is good to be unsatisfied Socrates than a satisfied fool.
If a fool or a pig has different opinions, it is just because both of them know only their own aspects of the issue but others who are there for the comparison are acquainted with both the sides. In the light of above findings, it is difficult for the john Stuart mill to take any firm position on the issue of abortion because he, on no account experienced the excellence and amount of happiness which comes from every one situation. Though it good to suggest that mill would have made his stand by analyzing it and comparing the same with the principle of greatest happiness.
Application of utilitarian theory We analyze the issue of abortion in different situations and the first one is extreme pro life position which says that abortion is unethical and should be considered illegal in all the situations. People who believe in this theory endorse the opinion that fetus is a human being irrespective of its development. Greatest principle of happiness suggests that utilitarian theory does not endorse this view because as per this principle many people may be happy or unhappy by the decision of abortion but it is the mother whose opinion or pleasure matters.
Another scenario suggests that abortion is immoral but when life of a mother is in danger, it should be allowed. This view suggests that a mother’s life is more valuable because of her future ability to bear the child. Utilitarian theory does not endorse such theories because greatest principle of happiness suggests that abortion does not make most people very happy. In the third scenario, abortion is considered illegal because except in the exceptional situation of rape. When a female is raped and becomes pregnant then she should be allowed to abortion because sex was not pre planned.
Utilitarian would probably grant their consent for abortion, considering the exceptional situation of such cases. People who consider abortion illegal forget about the rights of the women who are pregnant. They may consider it offending and unnecessary interfering in their personal life if they are prevented or advised to not receive abortion. Utilitarian theory also supports this view on the basis of greatest happiness principle. A complete different scenario on the abortion is that it is absolutely moral and legal because it is the discretion of the woman to decide about her body and she should have the right of abortion if she considers it good for her.
Utilitarian theory would probably have no any problem with this view because of the greatest happiness principle. Mill believes in individual’s rights and advocates for such discretions upon own life. Conclusion After having observed the above mentioned detailed analysis of the subject, it is good to conclude that utilitarian theory advocates for the individual rights and further believes in the principle of greatest happiness. Utilitarian view criticizes abortion in very rare and exceptional cases where this is sheer wrong.
Utilitarian point of view endorses abortion on the basis of personal life, individual rights and principle of greatest happiness. John Stuart mill opinion about abortion is based on the principle of human’s greatest happiness. Mill suggests that an individual should always be at liberty to decide the things that give him greatest happiness. Abortion or any other issue should be decided by the individuals according to their own situation and interests, mill suggests. Mill’s opinion is widely appreciated and followed in North American countries in modern times as his views advocate for the human rights and liberty in a greater amount.
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