This image was created by Existential Comics. Beware, the utility monster! Now for those who didn’t get the joke, it’s probably because you don’t know what “utilitarianism” is. The basic idea (to put it rather crudely) is that the course of action that oneÂ oughtÂ to take is determinedÂ by whether itÂ maximizes utility, which is often defined in terms of attaining the maximum happiness while reducing suffering. Peter Singer (Austrian moral philosopher) believes in this ethical system of thought but thinks it can also be applied just as well to animals because any boundary between a human and an animal is simply arbitrary. With that background information, you should see why it’s funny!Â
Not only is it funny but there seems to be an element of truth. I reject utilitarianism insofar as it reduces happiness to an emotional state rather than a state of flourishing as Aristotle or Aquinas would hold to. Biblically, I think there is good reason to reject this ethical reasoning because it leads us to believe that it is permissible to sin in order for grace to abound – which is contrary to what Paul says inÂ Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not!”. Practically speaking, it is just impossible to objectively weight the suffering and happiness in these emotional states. In fact, it is far easier to weigh your emotional suffering or happiness as higher than another person’s state for the simple fact that one cannot experience that person’s emotional states as if it was theirs.
Even if you could provide some objective measure of calculating happiness and pain, it still would most likely be too complex for the average person. Which may not be a problem because perhaps it may be the case that the truth is more complex than what the common person is accustomed to. Perhaps the real problem is that we can conceive of a creature that derives an excess of pleasure from a certain perverted act (in this case, let’s say rape) that would make it permissible for this creature to rape another even if the other is suffering because the suffering of the victim would be less than the greater pleasure that the rapist derives. Â This is clearly an ethically objectionable scenario that none of us should be inclined to accept. But even if you were to accept it, why should our emotional states determine what is right and wrong? That in itself seems arbitrary.