For the Good of Society: the Aristotelian view vs. the Utilitarian view

Marie Kadesky/ Summer School/ Mrs. Hansson/ Morning Class

Sometimes a person might have a reason for what they have done and in their own mind it might have been an action that was morally right and for the good of society, but someone else might not agree with them based on their own beliefs. What does it take for something to be considered ‘for the good of society?’ Is own individual’s single opinion or the society’s agreed upon decision made as a whole? Is it based on happiness or usefulness? The person might act or judge whether an action is considered good for society as a whole by using different point of views, like a Utilitarianism view or an Aristotelian view. Let’s focus on what is the good of society as a whole by looking at the Aristotelian view and the Utilitarian view. How do the views differ from each other and what are the views that they have in common with each other? There are reasons for why one might choose to act one way than choose the other option, and this action can either be done because it was done for one’s one personal desire or for the desire to do the act for the good of society as a whole.

In The Politics, Aristotle says that “every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.” Each person has their own beliefs and opinions on what is considered morally right and good. However, one person who thinks something is right in their own mind might not be something that is morally right in another person’s mind, but as a whole, the community and the people of the community strive to do what is good for everyone in the community.

In Politics, Aristotle also calls man a “political animal.” He says that a man cannot live without society and society cannot be without man. By nature, all men have a social instinct implanted in them. Yet, the man who first founded the state or community is considered one of the greatest benefactors. Aristotle also states that justice is for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society. 

Virtue was another topic that Aristotle discussed when he was describing what made a man happy. Virtue relates to what is good for the society as a whole because if a man had no virtue and did things for his own benefit, then it would not necessarily be for the good of society as a whole.  Moral virtue, according to the Nicomachean Ethics, relating virtue with passions and actions, which these admit that of excess and deficiency and the mean.   

According to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a man forms judgment about what he knows, and is called a “good judge” of what he is judging. If one considers himself a good judge, but is not well-educated in the subject matter, then people who are more educated in the subject will consider the “un-educated” person or lesser educated person is not a good judge of the subject matter. They will call themselves a “good judge.” The same goes for morally right choices. If someone believes that one thing is wrong and another person has different beliefs than that person, then there might be some conflict when deciding the better judge.

The Utilitarian view of what the good of society as a whole is that they believe that the proper course of action is that of one that maximizes utility, specifically reduced suffering and maximized happiness. According to Utilitarianism by John Mill, any person on occasions can be a public benefactor or called on to consider public utility. In the case of happiness, between man’s own happiness and the happiness of others, it is “required for him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.” Then, if actions are based on moral and virtue, then it could probably be good for the society as a whole. It also states that men often make their election for the nearer good, though they know it to be the less valuable; this no less when the choice is between two bodily pleasures, than when it is between bodily and mental. As they lose intellectual tastes, because of lack of time or opportunity for indulging in them, they lose their high aspirations. The utilitarian standard of what is considered right in conduct in which that the happiness forms is not one’s own happiness, but that of all concerned. In other words, what is considered right is not decided mainly on what makes a single individual happy and only helps him out, but what is considered right that helps everyone in the society as a whole.

The social feeling of mankind is part of the firm foundation for this utilitarian view of what is for the good of society; “the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, and happily one of those which tend to become stronger from the influences of advancing civilization. Utilitarian’s hold that the morally right course of action produces the greatest balance of benefits over harm for everyone affected. The satisfaction of personal preferences and monetary benefits over monetary costs are what utilitarian’s often describe these benefits as today.

Both the utilitarian view and the Aristotelian view of what is good for the society have these things in common. First, the talk of what makes a moral decision good and how man judges his decisions based on what he considers good for his individual needs and what is good for the whole of society. They both talk about how in order for an action to be morally good, then the person who is making that action should consider it to be good for the individual or good for the whole society. Secondly, they both talk about how one can go to become happy, both individually and for the good of the society as a whole. Thirdly, they both discuss ways in which one’s choices can affect the economy, especially the relationship between workers and business owners in the economy of a society.

We can tell the differences of the two views of what the good of society as a whole because of who wrote it and when it was written since those contribute to the authors beliefs on the subject they are writing about. Though they have similar topics, their views and beliefs and how they relate them to economy is different. Utilitarianism says that what is for the good of society as a whole is that maximizing happiness and reducing suffering is part of what would help make one consider whatever they’re doing to be either a morally good act that will help the good of society as a whole or just for the individual. The Aristotelian view says that political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship. After looking at the different views of both Aristotle and Utilitarianism, both of them have interesting points of view especially since they were written during different times and economic stature.

Bibliography:

1.) Velasquez, Manuel, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, and Michael J. Meyer. “Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics.” Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics. Scu.edu, 2012(?). Web. 24 June 2013.

2) Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill

3) The Politics by Aristotle

4) The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

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