Friday, July 15, 2016

Utilitarianism and the Future of the Human Race

From guest blogger, Michael.

The mantra of utilitarianism is to maximize total happiness.  Since the quantity they are hoping to maximize is aggregate it does not depend on any specific time frame.  Meaning, when the utilitarian is deciding what actions they ought to take, they need to consider not only those who are alive, but also everyone who may yet be born.

Since more people being born leads to more happiness being contributed, the longevity of the human race is paramount to the utilitarian.  The scientific community has predicted many global extinction event may loom either in the near or far future for humanity.  Managing to overcome or avoid problems such as global warming, nuclear war, or even the death of our own sun would allow the human race to live on for countless more generations, and thus creating more happiness than could possibly be produced by just the population living today. 

So I guess the point I’m making is that the utilitarian ought to consider how their decisions will affect the longevity of the human race more critically than how they will affect people’s current level of happiness.


Bethany Vanderhoof said...

I think that you hit the nail on the head by mentioning the future of the human race's importance to Utilitarianism. Often, it seems that we have a fairly narrow scope when considering the consequences and effects of certain actions. However, shouldn't the ultimate test of any action be--according to Utilitarianism--how the action will affect the entirety of the human race? The implications of this point of view may be quite radical. For instance, since cleaning, taking care of our planet, and fixing past environmental mistakes will eventually become the problem of future generations, is it morally inpermissable to not recycle plastic bottles? Is it wrong to drive your car or to turn on the lights in your house because they consume fossil fuels that pollute the environment?

Another growing problem is population control. Some scientists have predicted that Earth will eventually run out of enough resources to feed all the people of the world, causing an extreme amount of suffering worldwide. Does this mean that the only moral course of action would be to limit or stop altogether human reproduction? Should a something like China's One-Child Policy be implemented worldwide?

We can push the idea of restricting population growth further by examining the implications of regulating births in general. In order to have a happier, healthier society, it would be our moral duty to lower the chance of certain genes being passed on to future generations. This could lead to the killing of children with developmental or cognitive disorders, disabilities, and any less desirable genetic traits. In fact, Utilitarianistic thought could lead to a world only now seen in science fiction books and movies such as Gattaca.

If we are truly thinking with a Utilitarian point of view, then the ultimate success, happiness, and prosperity of the human race becomes extremely important. Some of the cases that I described above would not only be morally permissible, but they would be the ONLY true moral courses of action.

Is creating a utopia the root of Utilitarianism?

Anonymous said...

Kara Rubashkin:

I wonder what could come from this argument by taking the negative-utilitarianism viewpoint. Negative utilitarianism focuses on minimizing harm instead of maximizing pleasure. If global extinction happened, there would be no more human pain, and an extreme negative-utilitarian may argue that this is the only way to truly minimize harms. However, this goes against basic human intuition, advocates for having no more humanity, and could have implications such as forced sterilization and family planning quantity caps.

This is because if having more people allows for more pleasure, then not having any people would result in having no pain, which is the moral goal for negative-utilitarians.

Michael, do you think that having current people limit their pleasures (drive less, have less Hummers etc) for the potential of our planet is the utilitarian outcome? Is implementing population control just if it inhibits the freedom of those wanting to reproduce? Where is the line drawn between maximizing future outcomes and minimizing current freedoms?