Utilitarianism Doesn’t Ask the Kinds of Questions I Care About

In a previous post, I noted,

Socrates believed that the good life and the truth were one in the same. If you knew the truth, then the good life would follow.

Since Socrates, we have been enamored with the question of the good life. What is the good life? How do we create the good life? What will the world look like when we implement the good life? Religion is an answer to this question, but at their core, each are questions about which.

Which values are good?

But these values are in constant flux. We have dialogues about them, and even so, it is hard to say that when we make decisions, we are basing these decisions on some sort of ethical/moral guidelines.

Utilitarianism doesn’t ask the kinds of questions I care about, because they are still historically contingent questions of value. In this sense, utilitarianism rests on values already embedded in society. It assumes that we can extrapolate out from causes to effects and assumes that our choice will affect, in some part, the entire operation of society. Ethics and morality, thus, will always be questions of virtue because they want to know what kind of virtues we should have, and in this regard, we cannot divorce ourselves from virtue based ethics. Which virtues and values are to be proliferated and which vices are to be quelled are the questions of virtue based ethics, and utilitarianism roughly answers through a calculation of pain and pleasure.

I want to know the hows and whys. Why do we have ethics/morality? How do ethics/morality work? What does ethics/morality provide?

Leave a Comment.