This is an essay that I wrote early on in the semester for a philosophy class. It's my personal objection to the philosophy of Utilitarianism.
John Stewart Mill was one of the most prevalent philosophers of the 19th century (Wikipedia, John Stewart Mill). He was known as a great proponent of utilitarianism and wrote a lengthy essay defending it. I myself find that I am not a proponent of utilitarianism and I, in fact, take issue with a lot of the teachings of utilitarianism due to my faith and belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the savior of sinners. Mill insists that God and utilitarianism can exist simultaneously, but I do not think that is the case. In this paper I will argue that the principles of utilitarianism are not compatible with the teachings of the Bible and that if one believes fully in the teachings of the Bible, they cannot consider themselves utilitarian.
Before I can get into my objections, I must first explain the ideas of utilitarianism as explained by Mill. Utilitarianism is itself both a moral and political theory. It is also consequentialist in that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the consequences that said action brings. Mill defines utility as the absence of pain and the presence of pleasure (Mill, Utilitarianism) and he claims that the absence of pain and the presence of pleasure are the only things in this world that can truly be considered good. Mill believes this to be the summum bonum or greatest good. In application to the law, any law that increases the happiness of the people is good and any that decreases the happiness of the people is bad. In evaluating whether or not an action is right, a utilitarian has to account for a few things. They must account for the intensity, the duration, the proximity, the certainty, the fecundity (likelihood of an opposite outcome in the future), the purity and the extent of the pleasure. Mill argues that the quality of the pleasure must also be accounted for to prevent humans from behaving like animals and only seeking out base desires. He claims that a high quality pleasure is one that people would choose even if it comes with some discomfort and that people will choose pleasures that appeal to their higher faculties. In other words, a person will not make a choice that will make him an animal (Mill, Utilitarianism). Mill also makes a distinction between being happy and being content when the objection is raised that humans are less content because we truly know the limitations of the world. Mill states that, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinions, it is because they only know their side of the question.” (Mill, Utilitarianism). In short, a person who has experienced both high and low pleasures is the only one fit to judge the quality of a pleasure. In response to the belief that happiness isn’t attainable, Mill argues that happiness is attainable if we are educated properly because selfishness is not a force that drives us toward finding happiness, but in fact the source of unhappiness. The last thing I’d like to summarize is Mill’s reconciliation of God and utilitarianism. Mill believes that if God is a being who cares about the happiness of his creation, then utilitarianism is one of the most religious doctrines ever taught. He also says that God’s truths of morality will fit into utilitarian principles. This is a brief summary of what utilitarianism is to Mill. It all basically comes down to the statement that a law or action is good if it increases pleasure and decreases pain and a law or action bad if the reverse happens.
As a Christian, I take issue with this doctrine. According to the Westminster shorter catechism, the chief end of man is “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1). In short, God does not care about our earthly happiness. Rather, he cares for our eternal joy in him. Mill will have you believe that the chief end of man is to increase pleasure and reduce pain. However, I believe as a Christian that God uses pain to make me and the rest of his followers stronger in our faith and more capable of rejoicing in his name. According to the scripture, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV). A Christian is not to take the path of least resistance. The book of James has this to say about suffering and pain, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV). Pain and tribulation are the fire in which our strong relationship with Christ is forged. Another reason why suffering is important to the Christian walk is that it reminds us of how glorious our eternal reward in heaven will be. Romans has this to say, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 ESV). Revelations also talks about this: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV). Once we reach heaven, the suffering of earth will be no more. However, how can we truly enjoy pleasure when we have not known suffering? This is something that I believe Mill fails to take into account even from a non-religious perspective. Utilitarianism is not compatible with true, Bible-believing Christianity. I am a Bible-believing Christian, therefore I object to the ideas of utilitarianism.
In conclusion, I find that utilitarianism clashes with my worldview and therefore I do not believe that utilitarianism is a sound doctrine. One cannot simultaneously hold the beliefs of a utilitarian and truly be a follower of Christ. The summum bonum for a utilitarian is more pleasure and less pain while the summum bonum for a Christian is the glory of God. It is my firm belief that utilitarianism focusses far too much on the earthly rewards and not at all on the eternal rewards. This life is temporary. What will become of all the earthy pleasures you tried to attain when your time here is done?
Here's another philosophy paper that I wrote wherein I took a look at a current event through the lens of Libertarianism.
Earlier this month, Germany’s lower house of parliament passed a bill that would require large companies to set aside 30 percent of the seats on non-executive boards to females (The Guardian). Some are calling this a triumph for equal rights. Some are saying that this is just reverse discrimination. However, I’d like to contrast this with the view of libertarianism. According to the tenants of libertarianism, Germany’s Gender Quota is an unjust government infringement on the rights of business owners. Before contrasting the two views though, it would be best to examine the bill and the reason why the German people may feel that it is necessary.
According to recent polls in Germany, women are highly underrepresented in the world of business. In fact, the executives of all 30 firms listed on the DAX index (The German stock index) are all male (The Guardian). According to a German newspaper, 59 percent of mid-sized companies in Germany have no women in leadership roles (The Guardian). The quotas will come into effect in 2016. As stated before, they will require that 30 percent of the seats of non-executive boards within companies be filled by women. If the companies are not within that quota, they are required to fill those seats with women or simply leave the seats empty. It is reported that this will affect over a hundred companies and that thirty five hundred other mid-sized companies will have to come up with their own quotas for their executive and supervisory boards (The Guardian). Germany seems to be happy with this bill. One politician claimed that it was “The biggest contribution to equal rights since the vote for women was introduced,” (The Guardian). Manuela Schwesig, Germany’s minister of women, family affairs, senior citizens and youth called it a “Historic step,” (The Guardian). Some conservatives in Germany are unhappy with the bill because it doesn’t address the actual reason why women are underrepresented, namely the lack of childcare and the short school day (The Guardian). However, conservatives may object to it for the same reason that the libertarian would object to it. They may object on the basis that they believe the government in overstepping its bounds.
One of the core tenants of libertarianism is the belief in the ownership of property. If one came about their property in an honest fashion without infringing on the rights of another, then they are legally entitled to that property and may do with it as they see fit with no intervention from anybody, including the government (as long as they aren’t infringing on anyone else’s rights). Property would include any business that one owns. Therefore, the owner of a business is entitled to run his business as he sees fit with no intervention from the government unless he oversteps his rights and violates somebody else’s. This would include staffing. The business owner has the right to hire or not hire any consenting adult. He also has the right to choose who is and is not in a position of leadership in his company. If somebody does not like that, then they don’t have to work for him or support his company in any way. One could plainly see why a libertarian would disagree with Germany’s quota system. To a libertarian, this is a very paternalistic law. Basically, the government is your mother telling you to include everybody. In the libertarian philosophy, a business owner should have the right to choose who is in a position of leadership so that he may assemble the best team around him and achieve the best result for his company. In a hypothetical situation, the owner of a business may be looking to fill a spot on a supervisory board. He has two options, a male and a female. In a world without gender quotas the owner may choose whichever candidate he wishes so he may select the most qualified candidate or the candidate who’s the best leader, etc. In a world with gender quotas he’s forced to pick the female candidate because despite either candidate’s qualifications, if he picks the male, he won’t have the 30 percent females required and will therefore be in violation of the law. To the libertarian, the second scenario would be absolutely unacceptable because somebody else would be telling the owner of the company what he should and should not do with his company. To put it all into a nice, short statement, the libertarian would object to Germany’s gender quota on the grounds of it violating a person’s right to his property (in this case his business).
German politics are vastly different from American politics and libertarianism is very much an American philosophy. However, these same sentiments can be seen in other countries and political systems. It makes me wonder if maybe some German conservatives also hold to a few of the principles of libertarianism. While the belief that the quota addresses the problem in the wrong way and maybe even something as extreme as sexism may influence the opposition to this bill, it would not be surprising if some saw this bill as the German government getting too involved in something it should not be involved in.