As I’ve covered previously, utilitarianism is a useful philosophy in explaining the social utility of freedom. However, it puts the horse before the cart in saying that utility defines morality. The distinction is important, because under this premise anything is morally acceptable if it can be proven it provides utility.
This, of course, begs a few questions.
On utilitarianism, Quintus Curtius at Return of Kings correctly highlights some of the grievous flaws in the arguments made by its founder, Jeremy Bentham.
The weaknesses of utilitarianism are readily apparent. Bentham, while claiming to despise ideologies, simply substitutes his own for the ones that preceded him. And how are we, in our limited perspective, to know what is to the greatest advantage to the group? Who judges? Is not history and tradition—for which Bentham had such little regard—the primary determiners of what works for the group and what does not? (emphasis added)
And is it even proper to evaluate everything from a utilitarian perspective? “Usefulness” itself may be more often in the eye of the beholder than we care to admit. Bentham’s knowledge of history and human nature shows surprising shortcomings: “utilitarianism” in practice can often degenerate into a cover for our own prejudices and preferences. He was vigorously attacked in his lifetime by conservative Tories for being an atheist, a materialist, and an impractical idealist.
One of the great ironies of utilitarianism, is that despite its rejection of Natural Law, it repeatedly proves the existence of Natural Law by its attempts to patch itself (emphasis added).
Raw-utilitarianism often comes to inconvenient conclusions: such as, if the murder of one person by 10,000 others results in a net increase in ‘hedons’, then that murder is justified – you can literally see this logic being employed by communist countries. Sensing that this is evil, utilitarians will endlessly try to patch their ideology (creating exceptions that forbid acts like this), but ultimately the patches never work, and the very act f patching shows that they’re trying to adhere to Natural Law.
Under utilitarianism, the end truly does justify the means. But who gets to decide what the end actually is? Therein lies the problem.
Read more of Curtius’ writings at his blog.