Utilitarianism and Williams Essay

Submitted By CoCoLibre
Words: 1356
Pages: 6

Phil 301
Dr. Lassiter
Essay #2

In Bernard Williams’ critique of utilitarianism, he focuses on the individual to a great extent. The overarching theme of his essay is that the utilitarian places no emphasis whatsoever on the individual; utilitarianism only pays attention to the consequences or the outcomes of a situation and holds no regard to an individual’s moral feelings or their integrity. In reality, according to Williams, if everyone was living according to utilitarianism, there are an infinite number of scenarios in which an individual making decisions is either judged unfairly, forced to make an immoral decision, or forced to compromise their moral feelings somehow. Williams goes on to say that integrity is one of the most important parts of being an individual, meaning, that the way you live your life in accord with the commitments you make or the moral feelings you have, is far too valuable to simply and easily give up. Critics of Williams’ critique say that Williams is too individualistic and that there are indeed times when one’s personal goals or projects must give way to the people and possibly the maximum amount of happiness, but surely there must also be times when an individual’s well-being is all that matters. There are pros and cons to Williams’ critique of utilitarianism, so really, the critics of Williams are justified in some places while in other areas they are not. There are without a doubt situations in the real world where Williams’ criticism of utilitarianism must be considered the correct approach. There are two examples that can be used to illustrate this; the first being an example relating to an individual’s happiness. For instance, look at a family of lawyers; the mom and dad are lawyers, the aunts and uncles are lawyers, three of the children are lawyers already and one last boy, Max, is about to finish school. Everyone in the family expects this young man to become a lawyer, but secretly he wants to be a musician, but he knows that his entire family will be severely disappointed. This is hypothetical and maybe unrealistic, but the point is that the maximum happiness would result from Max becoming a lawyer. This is what the utilitarian would choose to do, but who is to say that Max’s happiness should play no role whatsoever, that his feelings are irrational. Whoever says that Max should choose what is best for his family and therefore the overall happiness of the world is probably not nor ever has been in a situation like Max’s. Williams would most likely suggest that Max should follow his projects and commitments regardless of what his family thinks, just as long as he keeps his integrity. A second example in which Williams appears to be correct is in some situations in which an individual’s integrity comes into play. Similar to the Jim and the Indians example in which Jim must shoot one Indian or else twenty will be killed by Pedro, but less severe, imagine a college party in which there are twenty people drinking alcoholic beverages and a girl named Lily stumbles into the party. Lily has lived her whole life sober and is very committed to continue down that path, but one of the boys, Homer, is pressuring her and telling her that if she doesn’t have a drink, he will call the police on the party and get everyone in some serious trouble. Obviously the maximum happiness would result from Lily taking a drink so everyone can continue to party, but Lily shouldn’t have to nor should she just abandon her integrity or her moral feelings on the subject just to save the party. In example Williams uses, twenty Indians end up dead and so Williams eventually acknowledges that the morally good choice to make would be to kill one to save nineteen. In this example, it isn’t like anyone is dying, so Williams would probably agree that in situations where the moral feelings of an individual can be preserved at the cost of others discomfort or unhappiness, then it should be. Williams’