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Utilitarianism and Plato
Philosophy is an ancient process. Since the times of Ancient Greece and Rome, people have taken it upon themselves to question the reality of their worlds and to postulate what it is that causes people to behave the ways that they do. The philosophical theory of utilitarianism has gained popularity in recent years because of the way that it explains government and the need for laws and authority. However, philosophy going back to the time of Plato dealt with many of the same questions currently posed by Utilitarianism. The theory of Utilitarianism and the writings of the great Plato can be seen to differ in the following ways: in the background metaphysical understanding of the universe and humanity's place in it, the theory of human nature that each supposes, the defect in human nature that allows beings to be unhappy or unfulfilled, and in the ways the philosophical theory would pose an ideal version of humanity and human existence.
Plato was taught by another famous philosopher, Socrates. Through his experiences with the older teacher, the thought processes of Plato were modified and modulated. When Socrates was accused of corrupting the minds of youth and forced to commit suicide, it impacted his student greatly. Plato came to believe that human beings believe what they see and hear without applying individual thought under most conditions (Kupperman, 2010, p.47). To accept authority without hesitation leads to the deaths of those who would dare to defy that ultimate authority. The job of human beings is to listen and to observe, but then to apply individual thought and, most importantly, to question. If authority and majority are allowed to rule unchecked, then nothing can be altered and society will not be bettered.
Utilitarianism has two forms: rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism demands that what has been determined to be the source of greatest happiness for the masses will more than likely become the law of a given community. John Stuart Mill (2002), founder of the philosophy, wrote in his book Utilitarianism:
The great majority of good actions are intended not for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals, of which the good of the world is made up; and the thoughts of the most virtuous man need not on these occasions travel beyond the particular persons concerned, except so far as is necessary to assure himself that in benefiting them he is not violating the rights, that is, the legitimate and authorized expectations, of anyone else (p. 19).
Act utilitarianism, on the other hand, deals with the actual actions which would create happiness for the individual person, rather than the group. These two forms work together and lead those in positions of authority to create laws to dictate behavior. Mankind's place in the world is thus to create its own system of morality to follow.
In the Republic, Plato asserts his ideas about what constitutes human nature. In that book he wrote about a civil war between two governing bodies for dominance of a region (Plato). He wrote that not only was the civil war and the creation of political factions the greatest danger to society, both its citizens and to the structure of the city itself, but also that peace which is achieved by the destruction of the foe rather than peaceful resolution can lead to further societal discord. Those who lose a physical altercation will be far more likely to feel anger about their loss and thus the more likely to eventually create a situation where there will be similar battle at some point in the future, whereas a peace which is led by mediation and compromise is more likely to yield a lasting armistice. His version of humanity is that individuals are punitive in their concerns. Often when angered or upset, they will be unable to perform actions which would benefit the majority, because they simply cannot see beyond their emotions. Plato's concept of nature had more to do with the individual than the whole of society. He postulated that the individual people needed to take ownership for their own actions.
Utilitarianism is a branch of philosophy which deals with the concept of ethics and morals, as many philosophical theories do. Specifically, this theory states that ethics are determined by the social group in which the moral determination is made (Mill, 2002, p. 4). In essence, what is seen as either ethical or moral in a given cultural context is determined by what makes a person or a group of persons the happiest. If a course of action brings the majority of people happiness, then it is ethical according to that culture. On the contrary, if a certain set of actions brings the majority population to feel unhappiness, then it is deemed unethical. Utility is thus the ultimate form of happiness and the best way by which to achieve happiness both for the individual and for the majority of the population within a given society.
Some human beings will find themselves in a position where their actions are counter to those of the designated social setting. Most governments utilize rule utilitarianism as a guiding philosophy. They tend to create laws which those in authority feel will provide for the best circumstances for as many of its citizens as possible. This may seem a simple situation, but when applied to the real world, it can become complicated if almost impossible to enforce. When applying utilitarianism to a government and to potential laws, the intentions of those in positions of power are to create a set of rules or laws which provide happiness for the greatest number of the populous. It will never be possible to create laws which will please all of the individual members of a population at the same time. According to Mill (2002), there are two types of obligation which force people to behave according to social restrictions: perfect and imperfect types. "Duties of perfect obligation are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in some person or persons; duties of imperfect obligation are those moral obligations which do not give birth to any right" (Mill, 2002, p.63). For some, the laws are inhospitable and the individual human will choose to subvert the dictums of the authority. Yet, strict adherence to the word of the laws as would be required through rule utilitarianism do not allow for situations where individual determination and discretion may not align with the rules of the government.
Individuality is not a problem for Plato. Rather it is the lack of individual responsibility and obligation that is the major defect in human beings. For example, Plato's The Apology, he fictionalizes the allegations and then trial of Socrates. There are three men who make the accusations against Socrates. Anytus, Meletus, and Lycon have each made their accusations not because of their belief in the guilt of Socrates, but because of their own individual issues and anxieties. Anytus accused Socrates because he disliked craftsmen and politicians, Meletus because he disliked poets, and Lycon simply disliked rhetoricians. The men had financial power and could influence the members of the jury because of those powers (Plato Apology). Human beings are easily corrupted by fear of punishment either physically or mentally. In order to avoid harsh punishment, they instead give in to pressure.
Utilitarianism is the philosophical concept that states that rules, morality, and ethics should be defined by what will bring the most amount of happiness to the largest population that is possible. British philosopher John Stuart Mill was a proponent for utilitarianism. He believed that the governing body of a population needed to establish rules and legislation in order to protect the rights of as many persons as possible. These rules must be strictly understood by the population…[continue]
"Compare And Contrast Either Utilitarianism Or Libertarianism With Plato Or Aristotle Or The Bible" (2012, October 27) Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/compare-and-contrast-either-utilitarianism-107874
"Compare And Contrast Either Utilitarianism Or Libertarianism With Plato Or Aristotle Or The Bible" 27 October 2012. Web.20 October. 2016. <http://www.paperdue.com/essay/compare-and-contrast-either-utilitarianism-107874>
"Compare And Contrast Either Utilitarianism Or Libertarianism With Plato Or Aristotle Or The Bible", 27 October 2012, Accessed.20 October. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/compare-and-contrast-either-utilitarianism-107874