Criticisms of utilitarianism
The principle of utility is not justifiable. There is no obvious reason
why one ought to forgo personal pleasure and sacrifice oneself for others.
To say that such sacrifice is justified because it maximizes one's own
pleasure is to reduce it to egoistic hedonism. (Fagothey 1 and 4)
Utilitarianism is not the standard for right action. For, if it
were, then to ask whether an act was right would be the same as asking
whether it reflected the principle of utility. Therefore, the statement
"what maximizes the greatest happiness is right" would be true by definition.
But, surely, it is not true by definition. Therefore, the rightness
of an act simply cannot be determined by utility alone. (Moore)
In utilitarianism, the interests of a majority may allow overriding the
'rights' or 'legitimate interests' of a minority, or allow doing what one
feels to be wrong--for example, making punishment of the innocent or slavery
morally justifiable (and even obligatory).
Utilitarianism treats all pleasures as equally good or legitimate,
although some feelings or preferences seem clearly unjustified (e.g., the
pleasures that torturers get from their victims, the displeasure people
get from seeing disfigurement) and should not enter into the utilitarian
Utilitarianism refuses to allow natural affection, basic self-interest
and 'allowable' egoism to have a role in determining what one ought to
Utilitarianism insists that one aim at producing the greatest happiness.
Thus, for the utilitarian, any distribution of goods in society must promote
this aim. But this ignores the question of desert.
An effective way of maximizing the greatest happiness of the greatest number
would be to eliminate those suffering from incurable diseases or whose
continued existence would be a burden on others. And the most effective
way of doing this would involve despotism. Thus, either the utilitarian
advocates despotism or refuses to do something which would promote the
greatest happiness of the greatest number. (Fagothey 3)
a) It makes supererogatory acts
Utilitarianism is too demanding.
b) It dictates such things
as altruistic suicide.
c) It ignores the value
of an action that may have 'less-than-maximum utility'.
Utilitarianism looks for the morality of an act to be justified in terms
of its consequences in this world. This precludes, therefore, an act being
justified in terms of its worth for 'a future life'. (Fagothey 5)
If utilitarianism were true, human dignity, moral virtue and love would
be based only on usefulness to the common good. This is a shaky and unreliable
ground for dignity, ignores the intrinsic value of virtue and is a poor
model of love. (Fagothey 4 and 5)
Problems in application:
It is not clear how we can:
a) judge specifically how one particular quality or pleasure is better
b) determine what is to count as a 'unit of pleasure'.
c) compare one person's preferences or pains with another's.
There is no obvious procedure (e.g., voting) we can use to determine what
will produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Moreover, we
never can determine this, for this would involve knowing the effect
of an action on future generations. (Fagothey 2)
Despite its claim to consider everyone equally, utilitarianism
a) is indifferent to how pleasures are distributed. (Matters of affection
have no apparent role.)
b) ignores persons as persons--each is just a vehicle for utility. (Individual
ends, interests and affections are ignored, and utilitarianism seems indifferent
to, e.g., whether 10 people have X units of pleasure or 20 people have