On utilitarianism

A group of friends I was just with brought up the ever-interesting topic of utilitarianism, which for very long I have held close to my heart; and even at one point proclaiming convictedly that I was a utilitarian. The problem presented to the utilitarians is this: Suppose there are three patients in a hospital, one with an ailing heart, one with an ailing liver, and one with an ailing lung. And suppose further, that the three of them are brilliant scientists on the verge of discovering a cure to cancer. Now, a healthy mendicant walks in, and if we are to keep to the principles of utilitarianism, then we must allow that this man donate his three of his healthy organs to save the three scientists, forcefully or not. Naturally, our conscience tells us no. It is absurd, and downright outrageous, to force a man, a free man of society, to donate his organs – it is murder. What then is the utilitarian to say? He must agree to it.

The question then comes of whether a person can believe in a principle but not always act on it. And the more I think about it now, the more it seems that there is not one principle that we, as beings bound to a fallible nature, which we can unfailingly act upon. There will certainly always be times where we disregard it and act against it. That is simply our nature. No one can be a perfect being abiding perfectly to a principle. And hence, no one can be a true utilitarian. Neither can anyone be a true anything.

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