Utilitarianism or God, do we have to choose? During many years that question is being formulated and many scholars had a very difficult time to decide if it was possible to follow God’s will and the principle of utility maximization. The principle of utility maximization was a theory created by John Stuart Mill and presented in his book Utilitarianism (1863).
Societies throughout the years have argued that those theories are hard to combine, since Utilitarianism seeks for self-development and God’s teachings seek for community growth. This paper will start with a context on actuality of society, then it will try to clarify what is the Bible view of Utilitarianism by explaining the principle of Utilitarianism, what society has to change to avoid to forget God’s principles and only base their behavior on Mill’s theory, how society should accept both theories and combine them into one in order to create a better society.
An important part of this discussion is based on understanding what is happening with society nowadays. Societies all around the world are becoming more and more individualists, what is causing problems that can affect the whole world, problems such as terrorists attacks, war or even in a lower but maybe more important scale hunger. This is basically happening because every single member of every society is only looking after themselves instead of the group, they are only trying to progress individually, but most of these individuals forget that to really achieve the top you need help, and that help comes from other individuals. The following part of the paper will try to clarify the biblical view of Mill’s theory, the Utilitarianism.
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Utilitarianism has always been seen as an opposite theory from God’s teachings. That is not absolutely correct. Jesus gave us the major example of understanding Mill’s principle by dying on the cross. Of course it is simple to say that Jesus died for every human being and that is a proof of community spirit instead of individualism, however Jesus showed that He was following actually not His will but God’s will, what is showed on the passage before Jesus is captured by the roman soldiers: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26: 39).
What Jesus was showing is that every single human has the principle of utilitarianism inside themselves and how hard is to overcome it. Society has the economic view of utilitarianism, what is correct but not complete. It is easy just to look for what is good for us but, is that God’s will? God wants us to follow His principle and succeed, and to do that every single person has to follow also the principle of utility maximization. The principle of Utilitarianism is “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill 257).
That means that according to a set of rules everything that a certain individual do that would help him to achieve happiness worth. This point has to be understood under a specific view of a society with an already determined moral code since the .”..
utility maximization, by itself, is incomplete” (Leightner 20).
The utility maximization principle is just a component to a successful society and that is why Jesus understood that as an intrinsic characteristic of the human behavior. Jesus knew how hard is sometimes to follow only God’s will and how tempted the human society is to seek for self-realization; therefore society must fight and seek self-realization with the condition that doesn’t disturbs the main principle of a Christian life: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22: 37).
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Thinking about God’s teachings and looking at society today is becoming hard to see God’s teachings; the only thing that is clearly seen is Mill’s theory.
Examples of selfish behaviors are clearly seen every where around the world, everybody is really following the principle of utility maximization; the problem is that they are only following this principle. Countries are fighting against ghosts to make more money, instead of helping poor nations on Africa and South America. If instead of spending over $160 Billion on the Iraq war, the United States government uses this money to fight against the hunger on the world it would reduce the 400 million people that are hunger today by half (web).
It is not that hard to follow God’s principle; the only thing that society has to do is to think a little bit on people that don’t have the same kind of opportunity.
The major problem that modern society is that every single person only seek their on good, they forgot one of the major commandments given by God that states how society should behave: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22: 39).
Society is so focused only on their own good that even a recent fact that made a good part of the Catholic world very sad, the death of the pope John Paul II, was only broadcasted in such a huge scale because it would benefit the TV companies; and after that criticism was received from people complaining why the war against Iraqi doesn’t have the same kind of coverage? The answer is simple, because the war is not as profitable as the death of a man, whom for part of the world is a Saint Man. Society has to change this behavior and start looking at the past to see what a Man did for every body, this Man was Jesus. He allowed people, that didn’t understand whom He was, killed him; and He did that so every human being could understand and be clean again. Now it is time to “pay it back”, and the only way to do that is by following what He left for us: His doctrine.
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After looking at the Bible’s understand of utility maximization theory and what society is doing seems clear that the combination of these two could create a better society. Leightner says that .”.. utility maximization, by itself, is incomplete… .” (Leightner 20), and of course it is. There is impossible to create a society where the only rule will be the utility of maximization.
If that was made, a primitive society would be created; a society with no laws and no restrictions because every single member of this society would only seek for his or her own good and wouldn’t achieve any progress because would be no respect for the other. That is the part where the teachings from God become so important. God gave to us more than an example by sending His son, but He gave us a code, a moral code that should be followed. God gave us the Ten Commandments for a specific reason: that is the way He wants us to live.
Nowadays is hard to live according to God’s principles, since there are so many disturbing things going around, such as high rates of violence and lies everywhere, but this things show that society is actually only living based on the utility maximization principle. Society should put the utility principle aside a little bit and focus on God. If society wants to improve and provide a better quality of life for the majority of it, they have to go through Jesus, since He “is the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14: 6), and every Christian knows that God is the only One capable to give salvation to us. Looking through this analysis we achieve a main conclusion, society is progressing on the wrong path. As we looked on the biblical view of the Utilitarianism and showed what cannot be done; follow only the Utilitarianism; we get to the solution for society: combine the theories. It is very clear that God want us to achieve the best possible for our lives, but He shows that the only way to do that is by, besides looking for individual interests, the community interest.
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Summarizing, to be successful a society has to follow the Bible and the Utilitarianism. Works Cite do Rose, John T. , “Utility Versus Self-Sacrificing Love” Christian Scholar’s Review Fall 2004 o Leightner, Jonathan, “‘Not my Will… .’ : Further Thoughts on Utility Versus Self-Sacrificing Love” Christian Scholar’s Review Fall 2004 o NRSV Bibleo “FAO unveils global anti-hunger program” web Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism, Hackett Publishing Company Inc. , Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, Original Publication, 1861 Works Consulted Rose, John T.
, “Utility Versus Self-Sacrificing Love” Christian Scholar’s Review Fall 2004 o Leightner, Jonathan, “‘Not my Will… .’ : Further Thoughts on Utility Versus Self-Sacrificing Love” Christian Scholar’s Review Fall 2004 o NRSV Bibleo “FAO unveils global anti-hunger program” web Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism, Hackett Publishing Company Inc. , Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, Original Publication, 1861 o Harcourt, Edward, “Mill’s ‘Sanctions’, Internalization and the Self” European Journal of Philosophy; Oct 98, Vol. 6 Issue 3, p 318, 17 po Kant Immanuel, Grounding For The Metaphysics Of Morals, Third Edition, Hackett Publishing Company Inc.
, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1993, Original Publication, 1785 o Smart, and Bernard Williams. Utilitarianism: For and Against. Trowbridge: Redwood Burn, 1973 o Lewis, C. S.
, “Mere Christianity” Harper Collins Edition 2001.