Thursday, July 1, 2010

Utilitarianism and Gun Control



Utilitarianism is the belief that morals should be governed in quantitative happiness; that one’s actions should be governed by asking yourself the question “What will bring the greatest amount of happiness to greatest amount of people”.  It makes morals a mathematical formula rather than a subjective religious or belief system.

When talking about utilitarianism, there are two names which are attributed to its' rise: Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)(above on the right) and John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)(above on the left), both British philosophers. Bentham in particular was a staunch believer in quantifiable ethics wherein happiness is paramount. It is the foundation of the belief that the good of the community is simply the sum of the pleasures of the individuals' that comprise it.

Bentham identifies seven categories of calculation when considering a choice: Intensity, Duration, Certainty, Propinquity, Fecundity, Purity, and Extent. To quantify happiness we can divide a a total of 10 points between dichotomous options. Each point represents a degree of happiness relative to the other option(s).

To demonstrate and define each of these categories I will take a current event and go through these categories to see what ethical action would be correct in the eyes of these utilitarian’s. The issue that I will be discussing is whether or not guns should be more difficult to purchase. Should we increase the training expectations and prerequisites of buying a gun? Let us look at the criteria and the point breakdown.

Intensity
            Intensity can be simply defined as pleasure, generally in a very sensual immediate way. To determine this, you can ask “how strong is the pleasure?”

In regards to gun control, many people use guns as a form of recreation and receive pleasure from using them. Guns also gives you a feeling of independence with the ability to defend yourself if needs be. For a small population, guns also increase access to rare food through hunting.Increasing gun control would lower the percent of people that would have this pleasure while not using them would not net you any additional pleasure at all. 

In opposition, shooting or owning guns does not give everyone pleasure and for some may puts added weight on their lives which could diminish potential future pleasure. Owning a gun has been correlated with increased risk of violent death (not necessarily caused). Owning guns also increases the change for firearm accidents. Also, while much debate has centered around gun control and gun crime rates, by comparing 1st world countries, there is a correlation between gun ownership and crime. Theoretically effective gun control should decrease crime.  Also there would be negative pleasure for people if you were to be shot by a gun, if your animals were killed, if the gun was used to take away pleasure from other people. Guns have been a chief tool of pain in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Keeping in mind we are looking at intensity, the potential happiness gained by owning a gun seems much lower than the potential decrease in happiness from owning guns (e.g. getting shot, higher crime). This category would most likely favor increasing gun control as there is more potential pain than there is pleasure to be gained.  Let us make the ratio 7/3 for gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3

Duration
            Duration can be defined as the length of the pleasure. So we ask ourselves, “how long will those pleasures last?”

            How long would the pleasure last of gaining more gun control than to not? The potential gain of further gun control could include peace of mind and security knowing that guns were under heavier moderation and potential depravities were less likely to occur, this would last indefinitely. It would also arguably firearm abuse and displeasure caused by them. Possibly the greatest factor is the displeasure that could be averted by the harms created by misappropriate use of firearms. The potential duration of such unhappiness is very lasting. 

          In opposition there is momentary pleasure revived from recreational gunmanship, there is also a long lasting potential safety and security of mind that owner’s, if restricted the number of participants would be reduced. All in all there is more happiness to be found, or unhappiness averted, in restricting gun control than in keeping it as it is. Let us make the ratio 8/2 in favor of gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2

Certainty
            Certainty can be defined by the question: how likely is it that the act will bring about the anticipated pleasure?

            This is a big issue for the anti-gun control argument as although antidotal evidence is available and cited in favor of gun control the certainty that this will happen is not very strong, furthermore it is argued that even if guns were restricted the depravities would still occur through different mediums, thus making gun control somewhat pointless. On the same hand there is great certainty that recreational gunmanship for everyone gives pleasure every time and that the peace of mind knowing you are have the means to defend yourself is a certain thing.

            On the pro-gun control side argument the point is that you can still have guns, you just must “jump through some extra hoops”, and this with certainty will give us all a greater peace of mind as we know that many of those that would abuse guns are deterred by this process.

            All in all we can say that there is more certain pleasure in gun control than the certainty of displeasure. Let us make the ratio 3/7 for certainty against further gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7

Propinquity
            Propinquity is a measure of how soon the pleasure can be enjoyed, the further away the pleasure the less power it has.

            As gun control is based largely on aversion of potential future unhappiness whereas those not wishing to have further gun control are enjoying their benefit now, I believe this category would be in favor of those not in favor of further gun control. They are currently enjoying their happiness while those in favor of gun control would gain only incremental happiness as gun control was eventually legislated and enforced. Let us make the ratio for this category 2/8 in against further gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8

Fecundity
            Fecundity can be defined by the likelihood that the pleasures or pains that it causes will be followed by similar pleasures or pains. If the chain effects of the action will likely be good than this that is positive for fecundity, where if they are negative than it’s negative.

            If this was law was passed it could potentially lead to a less violent society, it could lead to further weapon restriction legislation possibly leading to the abolition of deadly weapons in society, thus reducing death, both intentional and accidental. It would make it easier to track gun crimes, and thus better deter such crimes, particularly passion crimes. It could lead to a more peaceful society with less mortal confrontations.

            Another possibility is that this would allow criminals and those with ill intent to better prey on the people causing for an increase in predatorily crimes such as robbery, rape, or murder.

            For the greater amount of people there would be more potential fecundity happiness if gun control was heightened. Let us make the ratio for fecundity 8/2 in favor of gun control.  


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8
Fecundity
9
2

Purity
            Purity is a factor for the probability that the event will not be accompanied by unhappiness. An act that causes only pleasure is far better than one that causes some happiness mixed with pain. How pure is the emotion?

            The probability that gun control will bring you pure happiness is low; there will likely be those incidents and people that will suffer because of the choice. The same is true about the antithesis.

 I would postulate that the better happiness mix would exist in the pro-gun control emotions. Let us make the ratio 6/5 in favor of gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8
Fecundity
9
2
Purity
6
5

Extent
            The question here is “how many people will it affect?” where in more is better.

            For pro-gun control this is a very good category as the choice to increase gun control is aimed to better society as a whole. If further gun control was enforced there would be very few people that it would immediately affect negatively and only a few in the future. Increasing gun control would affect everyone in society in a positive way immediately as it makes gun misuse less probable. Let us make the ratio 8/2 in favor of gun control.

Conclusion


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8
Fecundity
9
2
Purity
6
5
Extent
8
2
TOTAL
43
27
          
           According to these thoughts about the gun control debate I believe the utilitarian morality would support a move towards further gun control.

            In conclusion I wish to share a personal story.  While I was living in Las Vegas I was in the house of a young man in his 20’s.  He told me that he had recently gone to a pawn shop that sold guns. He desired to buy a gun so the clerk give him some paperwork to fill out. When filing to buy a firearm in Nevada, it is required to ask if the person is a registered felon, if they are schizophrenic or suffer from mental conditions, if they have a violent history, and other such question. My friend instead of checking the ‘no’ boxes accidently checked all the ‘yes’ boxes.  They did not check his application and sold him the firearm on the spot.  Two weeks later they called him and asked him to return the gun. Although this is antidotal, it serves as an indication of how gun control legislation and mindset needs to be reformed in the United States.




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeremy bentham is on the right Mill is on the left

Carl C said...

Thanks for this -- I see a lot of gun nuts inexplicably (mis)using Jeremey Bentham quote on self-defense --- Bentham (& indeed the founding fathers of the USA) had no idea someday a lone idiot could buy a weapon advanced enough to single-handedly kill people in a church, theater, school etc.

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