I remember that in a class in college, the teacher told us a model:
As the ship hit the reef, 10 crew members were forced to come to the desert island. Without communication equipment, everyone could only passively wait for rescue. Despair and boredom enveloped everyone, and everyone had the possibility of a mental breakdown and suicide.
Suppose that the weakest of the 10 people is Jack, so the other 9 people start to try to abuse Jack and get vented, so as to spend the despair. Here, the question is coming, should I abuse Jack?
From the perspective of fundamentalist utilitarians, it is appropriate to abuse Jack. Abusing him can prevent 9 other people from committing suicide by avoiding a mental breakdown, that is, the increased total social happiness (9 people are normal and live) is greater than the lost total happiness ( Jack was tortured), so abuse should be. In other words, the unlucky Jack is a “necessary sacrifice.”
The above is a minimalist model about utilitarianism. The vividness of this case I still remember more than ten years later. Utilitarianism is a wave of thought that emerged in the West in the 18th century and spans fields such as economics, political science, and law. From today’s point of view, it has quite the taste of social Darwinism.
In thirteen years of Qianlong (1784), British economist and political philosopher Jeremy Bentham was born. He was a master of utilitarianism. Previously, the “thick black studies” dictionary of the governors must have such things as “necessary sacrifice”, but they lacked a sufficiently refined theoretical framework and value system. Bentham proposed the so-called “social total happiness” concept and immediately connected the system together.
Bentham’s theory is obviously very marketable, especially welcomed by the governors and kings. Because, according to his theory, if the government takes a measure that can increase the overall happiness of society, even if it hurts the happiness of some people (loots wealth and destroys the flesh), it will not hesitate.
In terms of economic development, utilitarianism does indeed sound very good, allowing those “necessary sacrifices”, which in turn increases the total welfare of society and allows most people to live a happy life. Ordinary people also welcome it. They are easily admired by powerful rule, and each of them will be overconfident, that is, the self-confidence “sacrifice” will not fall on their own.
In the second half of the 18th century, utilitarianism had its social background. At that time, the capitalist economy began to take off, and the social division was becoming more and more serious. On the one hand, the labor rights were not yet guaranteed, and the lower life was still poor. On the other hand, the nobles, capitalists, or both of the upper class society began to enjoy The welfare of social progress.
Obviously, from a macro perspective, society is indeed developing, and ultimately both the poor and the rich will benefit. For example, the problem of child labor, in the view of some economists at that time, if the underage children of the poor in Ireland did not go to mine (not bitcoin, it went down to the mine), then they might not even eat potatoes and would be nutritious Bad, even starved to death. Therefore, child labor actually saved these children and families, and also increased the total welfare of society.
In fact, elites such as Bentham put forward utilitarianism, which was the case in that era. Moreover, utilitarianism still has a certain “guidance significance” in the early stages of capitalist development. But utilitarianism also has obvious shortcomings, especially when the awareness of rights and interests is booming and people are more seeking a fair contemporary, its limitations will be exposed.
Because the measurement of welfare cannot be quantified at all. It is impossible to judge how much total welfare has been added and how much welfare has been lost. Whether the increased “net worth” of welfare is positive or negative can only be left to policymakers. In many cases, the lost “small portion of welfare” or “necessary sacrifice” is often deliberately underestimated. In the end, it may trigger unexpected welfare losses, such as the collapse of social consensus and the collapse of trust and confidence.
For example, in the minimalist model of that deserted island, everyone ignored the fact that Jack was the only person who could assemble the radio and send a distress signal to the outside world.
However, he is dead.