Worry About Yourself: Libertarianism vs Utilitarianism

January 18, 2018

Within our daily lives we are confronted by various moral dilemmas in which we must distinguish right from wrong, however, the way in which each of us does so varies greatly. There are many different moral codes and ethical philosophies that people choose to live by. Everyone has their own morals and their beliefs that influence their actions. In a society, this can create conflict due to there being so many different people living by their own rules, but when it comes to the laws and regulations that the government out of people, it creates a whole new mix. Some people want to be free of rules and having the ability to do as they please, while others want to have a regulation for every aspect of their community. People act differently because everyone believes that they have natural rights, but it depends on what they think of them and if they themselves should be limited. Some may see it that they are alright, but many regulations are necessary due to others being out of control. People who like regulations follow the belief of utilitarianism, while people who want to be free of regulation are known as libertarians. Utilitarianism is the belief that society should maximize utility, and in result of this, maximize happiness. Jeremy Bentham is a philosopher who lived from 1748 to 1832, and he believed that maximizing happiness is the most important thing to a person's life. His principles can be applied to all aspects of society, like laws. Also, he believed that making decisions for others is necessary in order to create a safe and happy society. Although utilitarianism may seem like a good idea, they are not based on any ethics or principles, making it flawed. On the other end of the scope, there is Libertarianism, which was founded by John Stuart Mill. Libertarianism is similar in the sense that the goal is to obtain and maximize the most happiness as possible, but libertarians believe that it should be obtained through themselves. By being individuals and having little regulations, people would be happier because they can be free to do what they want. There are many scenarios where these principles can be applied, where the ideas of utilitarianism are immoral and cannot be applied. In the philosophical book, Justice, Michael Sandel provides information and situations questioning what is right using libertarianism and utilitarianism.


The Runaway Trolley
“Suppose you are the driver of a trolley car hurtling down the track at sixty miles an hour Up ahead you see five workers standing on the track, tools in hand. You try to stop, but you can’t. The brakes don’t work. You feel desperate, because you know that if you crash into these five workers, they will all die. (Let’s assume you know that for sure.) Suddenly, you notice a side track, off to the right. There is a worker on that track, too, but only one. You realize that you can turn the trolley car onto the side track, killing the one worker, but sparing the five. What should you do?”(Sandal)
If you don’t switch the course of the trolley, the five will die, but if you go right, you murder an innocent life who had no association with the scenario. The utilitarianism belief is that switching the track, killing the one, is better for society and will make more people happy. When applying Utilitarianism to this situation, it takes the five lives and says that they are more important than the one, when in reality it is immoral. The issue that utilitarians believe is the fact that it makes the ideas of justice and rights a matter of calculation, rather than a principle. Utilitarianism does not follow a basis of principles as guidelines. Simply, utilitarians make decisions based on maximizing happiness, no matter the situation at hand. This brings immoral actions taking place and shows that there is no consistency in decisions made other than happiness. In contrast to utilitarianism, libertarianism has a basis of principles and ideas that are followed. These principles, when applied correctly, allow for decisions to be made morally. In this scenario, continuing forward into the five people is morally the correct action to make, for many reasons. At first take, it may seem the opposite, but the main fact of the matter is by changing the path of the intended route, kills a person who was not affiliated with this situation. Steering left would take about the person's ability to live and be an individual. It is not the choice of a person to make. Utilitarians would make the decision to change the path, but this is because they will do anything to maximize happiness in society, but when doing so it takes people's ability to be in control of their own life. Utilitarians would do anything to maximize happiness, which is not always morally correct, which a variation of this scenario proves this.


“This time, you are not the driver but an onlooker, standing on a bridge overlooking the track. (This time, there is no side track.) Down the track comes a trolley, and at the end of the track are five workers. Once again, the brakes don’t work. The trolley is about to crash into the five workers. You feel helpless to avert this disaster—until you notice, standing next to you on the bridge, a very heavy man. You could push him off the bridge, onto the track, into the path of the oncoming trolley. He would die, but the five workers would be saved. (You consider jumping onto the track yourself but realize you are too small to stop the trolley.) Would pushing the heavy man onto the track be the right thing to do?”(Sandal)


Once people who are an independent of utilitarianism and libertarianism read this variation, they immediately say that they will not push the heavy man. This is because when they are the trolley operator, they are not physically plowing through the people, the trolley is. In this scenario, they are pushing and murdering a being who is a bystander of the situation. Libertarians would stay with their original moral consensus of not pushing the heavy man, but due to utilitarians believing that they must do anything to make more people happy, they push the man. This proves that utilitarians don't have principles.


The Benefits of Lung Cancer
“Philip Morris, the tobacco company, does big business in the Czech Republic, where cigarette smoking remains popular and socially acceptable. Worried about the rising health care costs of smoking, the Czech government recently considered raising taxes on cigarettes. In hopes of fending off the tax increase, Philip Morris commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of the effects of smoking on the Czech national budget. The study found that the government actually gains more money than it loses from smoking. The reason: although smokers impose higher medical costs on the budget while they are alive, they die early, and so save the government considerable sums in health care, pensions, and housing for the elderly. According to the study, once the “positive effects” of smoking are taken into account— including cigarette tax revenues and savings due to the premature deaths of smokers—the net gain to the treasury is $147 million per year. The cost-benefit analysis proved to be a public relations disaster for Philip Morris. “Tobacco companies used to deny that cigarettes killed people,” one commentator wrote. “Now they brag about it.” An anti-smoking group ran newspaper ads showing the foot of a cadaver in a morgue with a $1,227 price tag attached to the toe, representing the savings to the Czech government of each smoking-related death. Faced with public outrage and ridicule, the chief executive of Philip Morris apologized, saying the study showed “a complete and unacceptable disregard of basic human values.”(Sandal)


Rather than giving the reader an option or an action take action theoretically, Michael Sandel explains a scenario that proves the ideas of utilitarianism to be immoral and lacking principles. In this case, the government is letting the people of the Czechs Republic die slowly, for the gain of themselves. The government is supposed to protect the people, but in this case, the government takes a utilitarianism stance. This situation puts a monetary value on a human life. This is immoral in so many different ways. The person was physically labeled and the government is keeping track of the money they are making off of them dying. The cigarette company and the government say they see positive effects in the smokers dying. They see dollar signs when really they should see a person. This is relatable to the trolley scenario, for it to lack's principle when being related to utilitarianism. This shows how the government rather see benefit themselves financially than help their people from dying. Looking at this case from a libertarian standpoint, comparing a human body to how much the government saved, is immoral. People deserve better than that after they have deceased. In the last sentence of the excerpt, the chief executive apologizes and says that his study showed “a complete and unacceptable disregard of basic human values”, which shows how decisions that are made with utilitarianism ideas, can disrespect people's basic human values. Again relating back to the trolley scenario, by pushing the heavy man in front the trolley, you are taking his natural human rights. The ultimate one I may add. A humans life is more than a price, more than the happiness of others, it is the basic of human rights to live free of harm and other people making decisions for you.


Throwing Christians to Lions
“In ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for the amusement of the crowd. Imagine how the utilitarian calculus would go: Yes, the Christian suffers excruciating pain as the lion mauls and devours him. But think of the collective ecstasy of the cheering spectators packing the Coliseum. If enough Romans derive enough pleasure from the violent spectacle, are there any grounds on which a utilitarian can condemn it? The utilitarian may worry that such games will coarsen habits and breed more violence in the streets of Rome; or lead to fear and trembling among prospective victims that they, too, might one day be tossed to the lions. If these effects are bad enough, they could conceivably outweigh the pleasure the games provide and give the utilitarian a reason to ban them. But if these calculations are the only reasons to desist from subjecting Christians to violent death for the sake of entertainment, isn’t something of moral importance missing?”(Sandal)


Utilitarianism is not based on any ethics or principles whatsoever. Utilitarians only care about happiness and not how it is obtained. If it entails that someone life is taken, they don't care because of that's all they want, happiness. This reasoning for obtaining happiness requires no morals and ethics for it dehumanizes people. The logic for this “values” are ones of a self-centered being. Similar to the deceased people being tagged with prices, this situation uses the human life as a way to be entertained. It is similar because in both scenarios the human life is being used for something else, which is against the basic human rights. The Romans had this as their source of entertainment. They applauded and cheered for the events taking place, a man being ripped limb from limb. The Christians are victims of the utilitarians, they had no consent to be treated this way. The utilitarians don't see the value in human life when they are looking to please himself and their happiness. The idea of sacrificing another human for happiness, profit, or society is inhumane.


Libertarianism is a better basis than utilitarianism when it comes to making decisions. It allows for individuals to live freely and find their happiness through themselves and what they like to do. Utilitarians are selfish and misunderstand the basic human rights. This is because they will do anything to find their own happiness, whether it is through sacrifice, profit, or entertainment. With a Libertarian lifestyle, people can respect other and can allow others to live the way they want, rather than a utilitarianism, which would be a life full of making decisions for other people for the gain of himself. Everyone deserves a life free of others, like in the case of the heavy man. He was minding his own business and it should stay that way. Unfortunately for the deceased smoker was played into a trap of profit, and as for the Christians tossed into the Colosseum, they were victims of the Romans and their need for barbaric human demoralizing entertainment. Utilitarianism is a philosophy that should not be practiced for it has no principles and ethics, which leads to selfish decisions where people are used for the gain of greedy happiness. In conclusion, Libertarianism is the best-fit ideology in relation to making good decisions and obtaining a life full of happiness.

Works Cited
Sandel, Michael J. Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? Langara College, 2016.


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