They seek pleasure and avoid pain in their assessment of the situation. Therefore, consequentialism is hedonistc and egotism. Using this argument, one could say that utilitarianism is more altruistic than consequentialism. However, utilitarianism is not completely altruistic either. Utilitarianism is neither altruistic nor egotistic. However, it is difficult to call consequentialism altruistic. Some acts might have a hint of altruism, but there are few that consider the consequences of others before direct consequences for ourselves.
Hedonism requires the absence of pain, in most cases. When one is in pain, either emotional or physical, it is difficult to feel complete happiness. What is considered pleasure and what is considered pain is up to interpretation. This is an open question to which there are no clear guidelines. Utilitarians are hedonists in that they consider pleasure to be the intrinsic good. They consider pain to be bad. However, this concept can be challenged based on the intrinsic value that someone places on pleasure or pain. Hedonism can be qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative hedonism is concerned with the quantity of pleasure. Qualitative hedonism is concerned the type of hedonism.
What, other than pleasure, is valuable?
If an act requires hedonism to be utilitarian, then one must ask if there can ever be an act that is truly utilitarian. We discovered that there are many aspects to hedonism and that not all hedonism is the same. Pleasure is a matter of degree and its interpretation is far from uniform, even when one witnesses the same act. If an act can be judged as both pleasurable or as pain, then it cannot be considered truly utilitarian in nature. This leads us to the question of whether pleasure should be the only criteria for judging whether something is utilitarian.
Hedonism and utilitarianism are not always synonymous. Therefore, one must ask if an act can be utilitarian without being hedonistic. Let us go back to the subliminal messages in the commercial example. We discussed this example from a hedonistic point-of-view that is the amount of pleasure that one receives from its sale. We discovered that from the dealer's perspective, there is little to lose. The subliminal messages will increase his or her pleasure by increasing sales. However, from the customer standpoint, the increase or decrease in pleasure was dependent upon their own personally and opinions regarding cooking.
If we examine the same scenario from a purely economic sense, then we would have to determine that increased sales of the stove would lead to increases in the economy and that from that standpoint, it could be considered utilitarian. We have now found one example where pleasure was not the sole criteria for evaluation of utilitarianism. This furthers the concept that utilitarianism does not have to coincide with hedonism and there can be other valuation methods for determining utilitarianism.
Let us consider another example where a factor other than hedonism is used to measure utilitarianism. A national landmark such as Yellowstone National Park or the Washington monument. These items give Americans a sense of pride about the their country. They serve as uniform symbols of identity. They represent ideals that are purely American such as freedom of speech, the right to more tax dollars that could be used to build better roads and schools. These national monuments do have an economic value, but this value is not passed onto the individual in a way that is meaningful and difficult to measure. However, even though the economic benefits of the landmarks are far removed from the people, they are still there. In addition, we determined that the national treasures do have a particular social value. Therefore, we found that something could have value beyond pleasure and pain. Our national treasures instill feelings that do not clearly belong to the category of pleasure or pain. Therefore, we can conclude that utilitarianism can be based on something other than hedonism. An act can have utilitarian value other than hedonism.
Value can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic value includes those things that have value to us, but that are not expressed on the outside. Our feelings are intrinsic, whereas outward things, such as monetary reward are extrinsic. The stove has very little intrinsic value. It does not make and person feels a certain way. However, the national monument does not have measurable financial benefits. The national monuments have a significant economic impact on the individual, but are does carry a considerable amount of extrinsic value.
Issues of Utilitarian Impartiality
We found that whether an act can be judged as utilitarian depends on the perspective of the participant. If this is true, we determined that utilitarianism could only exist as theory. In reality, there are too many variables regarding individuals to call something truly utilitarian. In order to achieve true utilitarianism, there must be an element of impartiality to make this determination. We demonstrated that two different people might judge the same act as utilitarian and non-utilitarian. If this is the case, then one cannot achieve true impartiality. The judgment will always be subject to the person's perspective.
Law professionals, mental health professionals, and those in the judicial system are asked to make decisions based on the utilitarian needs of society on a daily basis. In order to make the best decision for society they must maintain impartiality. They are asked to make their judgments based on the facts of the matter, rather than their own personal feelings. The good of society is at stake with every decision. However, in light of this discussion, one must question whether it is possible to make a utilitarian decision.
Our original discussion focused on whether the ideal do a hedonistic act-utilitarian is plausible. When one engages in hedonism, they are acting to satisfy their own needs and pleasures. The idea of pleasure is subjective, therefore it is irrelevant to the idea of act utilitarianism. If one commits a utilitarian act, then it is utilitarian whether or not the person committing the act perceives it as pleasure or pain. It is the act itself that is utilitarian, not the person's feelings about it. Let us look at an example.
One might see the killing of an animal with a communicable disease as an act of utilitarian nature. The animal is relieved of its suffering and cannot infect other animals. The animal cannot transmit the disease to humans and endanger them. To let the animal live in such as state is dangerous to other animals and humans. It would cost society in terms of medical bills, quarantine, labor, etc. One example of this is the "bird flu" infected chickens in Asia. Killing the diseased animal would represent the utilitarian alternative in this case. The person performing the killing might find pleasure in the process, or they might feel compassion and deep regret for taking a life. However, regardless of their feelings they will kill the animal and commit the utilitarian act.
The most important point in the analysis of whether or not hedonism act-utilitarian is plausible must decidedly be answered with an affirmative. It is plausible to have hedonistic utilitarian acts. However, one must qualify this by pointing out that hedonism and utilitarianism are not synergistic. Utilitarianism exists with or without hedonism in any particular case. Both utilitarianism and hedonism are a matter of perception. One can exist without the other or they can exist together.
This exploration of hedonistic act-utilitarian approached the problem from an individual perspective, taking into consideration the intrinsic values of an act. However, Hurka and Copp (pp. 357-380) remind us that if we take a " whole organism" viewpoint, the scene looks quite different. There will always be individuals within the whole that have many extremes of experiences in the same circumstance. However, it is the organism that matters in the final analysis. It is difficult to make a statement that the entire organism is hedonistic. One could say that if a majority of the organisms experience pleasure, then the organism has hedonistic tendencies, but this says nothing about individual outcomes, as Hurka and Copp point out.
This theory also applies to consequentialism as well. When one thinks of consequences they are typically referring to the individual. However, we found that utilitarianism couldn't exist for the individual. One must look at the entire groups to find true utilitarianism. However, the opposite is true with consequentialism. Groups can receive consequences, but the effectiveness of the consequence if spread across the entire group. The individual feels little impact from either positive or negative consequences. The consequence is diffused among the members of the group. This also has the effect of removing the individual satisfaction from the job well done. Consequentialism combined with utilitarianism represents diffusion of rewards and punishments.
One of the most famous stories that are told in psychology classes regarding diffusion of responsibility is of the woman that was stabbed multiple times in public. There were hundreds of witnesses around, but none of them acted to…