Utilitarianism and Consent

Ever since I first discovered utilitarianism, it has been my favourite model for morality. In case you aren’t familiar with it, I’ll give a quick outline now: utilitarianism says that, when faced with a decision, the actions which is the most moral, is the one which will cause the most happiness and that an action is only wrong if it causes suffering or unhappiness to others. I’m sure you can see why it’s so appealing. I especially like it because, by utilitarian reasoning, it essentially allows people to live life as they please, without judging them for their decisions (unless they want to hurt others). Maybe somebody wants to live a certain way which society would look down on, well, it would only be right to live that way because then it would make that person happy and increase the overall happiness!
    The problem people have with utilitarianism is that it does technically allow a majority to abuse a minority for the greater happiness. If, for example, a small group of people could be enslaved in order to provide luxury for the majority, that would add to the overall happiness and therefore be right by utilitarianism. So clearly, a rule is needed which can stop the exploitation of a minority in order to increase the happiness of a majority, without ruining the whole framework.
    I think the solution to this problem is consent. If a minority (however small) is in a position where they could be made to suffer in order to increase the overall happiness, they can’t be forced to suffer in order to make everyone happier, because they haven’t given their consent. I think adding consent to the utilitarian framework covers the problems it had before. If an action can only result in happiness, then yes, it is the one which must be taken, but if it will also causes suffering, then consent needs to be had first, before the action can be undertaken.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

(Also, be sure to read Bath Spa University’s 2014 anthology Writers Unblocked, featuring five pieces by me!)

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