Discuss the challenges in utilitarianism.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Fundamentally, the ethical approach in utilitarianism prevents full embrace of anything emotional regarding the decision making process.  For example, human rights violations can be seen as becoming morally acceptable under the idea of "the greatest good for the greatest number."  The idea of constructing under the "largest good" is of fundamental importance in determining actions and policy can be done without paying special attention to the rights and narratives of individuals.  I cannot help but go back to literature in this instance.  Consider the story told by Dickens of the schoolmaster Gradgrind in Hard Times.  Utilitarian philosophy which stresses, "fact, not fancy" in its pursuit of providing for the greatest good for the greatest number is shown to be frail when providing an emotional sensibility in which one can effectively interact with the world.  Another example would be Pasternak's construction of individual narratives and the idea of the subjective brought out in Doctor Zhivago.  Yuri's passionate pursuit of the exploration of the subjective notion of the good is brought into a setting where "the greatest good for the greatest number" trumps all else.  These emotional approaches can help bring out the ethical challenges in utilitarianism.

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