Free «Utilitarian Theory of Ethics» Essay Sample

Utilitarian Theory of Ethics


The use of torture in terrorism interrogation has been a public debate for years. Many people argue that use of force to criminals, especially terrorists, may result in a stoppage of further criminal activities, however, it reduces human dignity, demeans human rights and the belief that one remains innocent until proven to be guilty. Since the path of achieving equality and killing discrimination on whatever bases has taken a long journey of sacrifice, it would be unfair to demean all efforts by putting pressure on other human beings. However, it leads to the question what would be more important between using torture to a terrorism suspect to get information that would save tens or even thousands of people, or preserving their dignity, which eventually endangers the lives of masses. Clearly, some evils need to be done, but the structure on which they are done should be scrutinized to ensure that innocent people do not suffer from the process.

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Utilitarian Theory

Utilitarian theory of ethical behavior is based on tenets that an action undertaken should have the good of the people in mind (Singer, 2003). The more happiness an action brings to people, the more acceptable it is. Further, the theory asserts that actions, which bring joy or happiness to more people, should be more desirable, thus, the motive behind undertaking such actions should not be considered in the aftermath. Utilitarianism ensures that the world is a better place and human beings should do what is of intrinsic value to the human race. Moreover, the theory insists that morality exists to guide actions in order to make the world better. It further demands of individuals to not put their interests before those of the society, and if people undertake actions that make them less happy but the overall society is happier, then the actions are worth undertaking. The theory is anchored on a very firm belief that the overall goal for humanity is happiness (Singer, 2003). It is believed to set very high standards for morality with one’s behavior being judged on self-sacrifice and consideration of the bigger picture for the highest good. The theory contradicts the Deontological theory, which argues that one’s actions and motives are more important than the overall results.

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The principles of utilitarian theory are often considered to be cruel to individuals. The personal sacrifice expected is beyond humanity since people are naturally egocentric and prefer their individual gains to those of the whole society. The use of torture on terrorists has been criticized, but the principle of the utilitarian theory seems to accept its use. A soldier receives orders to carry out the torture and the motive may not be to extract the information, but to ensure that he/she remains loyal to the commander. This means that the motive may not be to reduce terrorism, but the results would be (Singer, 2003). In this case, torture seems to be justified, as long as it protects the entire nation from future terrorist attacks. The happiness derived from such an exercise is not quantifiable, but remains significant, especially when one person is tortured for the sake of tens or even thousands of people. Utilitarian principles disregard the path that followed to get results, as long as these consequences are beneficial to more people (Kant, 2008). This theory is seen to be more favored by governments and not by individual citizens to enhance peace and harmony amongst the people.

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The focus on the consequences rather than on the methods employed as well as the motives of the methods is misleading (Mill, n.d.). It is for a reason that the theory does not provide a method of measuring the happiness that an act would have. Further, it tends to totally ignore the virtue of impartiality and equality among the members of the society. It further disregards personal rights, moreover, implies that such rights could be overlooked in certain instances. This leads to the question whether there is a need to have rules, if they would be overlooked in certain instances, just for the sake of the society. The theory draws inequality as some members of the society are sacrificed for the bigger society (Singer, 2003). A terrorism suspects maybe unacceptable in the society, but human rights dictate that everyone has freedom to say something or not (Kant, 2008). Furthermore, the process of determining the consequences of one’s actions may be hard to calculate, especially when a decision has to be made quickly. A utilitarian approach may slow down events and render the world immobile, if every action is calculated to determine its suitability and overall consequences. Opponents of this theory argue that it is contradictory and vague on some matters, such as the extent through which a person should sacrifice ones happiness for that of the society (Mill, n.d.). An army officer instilling pain on terrorism suspect may even become traumatized in the name of making the world better.

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The world comprises of diverse humanities, all of whom are ambitious and would like to become happy. However, there are decisions that require people to make decisions that are unpopular to themselves, in order to make the world a better place. Utilitarian advocates for such moves and decisions that are selfless to individuals, but are good enough to stretch human survival. Some decisions may contravene the law, but the threat to inaction may lead to disastrous holocaust and terrorism maybe part of it. Any information, as long as it is accurate, regarding terrorism is important and should be obtained through whichever means. Terrorism is itself inhumane, and if inflicting pain of one individual would lead to the safety of thousands, then such actions may be justifiable. However, it should be controlled very soberly to ensure that such measures are taken only when there is no alternative.

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