Utilitarianism is a theory of normative ethics which states that the rightness of an action is determined by its ability to promote happiness. However, utilitarianism is a deceptive theory that has quite a bit of intuitive appeal as well as its share of problems. I personally find this account to be plausible. To begin with, utilitarianism is a good theory in dealing with some moral problems in different fields of life. For example, you are doctor who works in an intensive care unit in local hospital. You are suddenly called to the emergency room to see a patient who has been brought in and require speedy admission. In the ICU there are no empty beds and it will take time to transfer the patient to another hospital. However, you have patient B in the ICU who is making good recovery and could be transferred from the ICU in a day’s time. In Utilitarianism viewpoint, the best action would be to move patient B into another ward to give way for patient A to be admitted. This is because moving patient B and admitting patient A would produce the most good because it would give a chance for the two patients to be attended to. Despite the fact that utilitarianism would appear to have some plausibility in the above given example, it also raises a number of questions.
One of the key problems that would arise in the above example is that of impartial utilitarianism. The decision to transfer patient B from the ICU appears to maximize the welfare of the two patients. However, people should not mind whose welfare they are maximizing; the only consideration would be to maximize welfare (Mill 54). One major problem with transferring patient B from the ICU is that you have duty to care him because you undertook to do so when you admitted him. Despite the fact that patient A is in a despite state, he/she is not your patient yet and you are more obligated to attend patient A. This example shows that despite the fact that utilitarianism is a moral theory with a bit of intuitive appeal, it has its own share of problems. In this case, the problem is partiality. Utilitarianism fails to appreciate the fact that moral obligations are founded on the nature of specific relationships.
A good and plausible moral theory should require people to perform actions that are in conflict with their psychology. Based on this, utilitarianism appears to fail the integrity objection. This point can be explained by considering the following example. Presume that you are working in a war zone and you are kidnapped by one of the warring factions and demand that you help them to extract information from one of their captives. They threaten to behead other 100 prisoners they are holding if you fail to cooperate. Extracting the information from the said captive will involve torturing him. According to utilitarianism, the best thing under the circumstances is to cooperate in order to save the lives of the other 100 captives. However, inflicting torture on somebody is something that will haunt you forever. If the pain and suffering of one person can help save a hundred others, then the utilitarianism equation is balanced. However, the integrity of you as a person is totally ignored because utilitarianism assumes that moral choices are straightforward. The above examples show that utilitarianism is a deceptive theory that has quite a bit of intuitive appeal as well as its share of problems.