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If surveillance results in fear from the majority of the public, will Utilitarianism reject surveillance of the public for security reasons? I'm assuming this because Utilitarianism calls an action moral or right if it increases happiness for the majority of those involved. If surveillance doesn't increase happiness of the public, then it would be immoral. Right?

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According to utilitarism your last implication is right "If surveillance doesn't increase happiness of the public, then it would be immoral."

But the problem is to determine which kinds of surveillance are to be considered and which additional effects - possibly increasing security - also result from surveillance.

Not until answering these questions one can decide, whether surveillance should be terminated or continued.

  • I'm looking at online surveillance. If online surveillance is not found to actually increase security and if it results in public fear and distrust, Utilitarianism would say it's immoral, right? – stevetronix Dec 3 '15 at 22:40
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    Online surveillance is a special case of surveillance. I tried to answer the general case, hence the special case is included. – Jo Wehler Dec 3 '15 at 22:42
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You used the happiness version of utility in your question. There are other interpretations of utility which involve the greater good, regardless of happiness - remember that those two are not necessarily the same.

To answer your question you would have to know is the public happy about the increased surveillance or not? If they are, then the increased surveillance is moral, if not then it isn't.

If you had chosen the interpretation of utility which involves the greater good, then the answer would change. One could then argue that increased surveillance is moral regardless of whether the public is happy about it or not, since the public doesn't always know what is good for them.

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    “…is the public happy about the increased surveillance or not? If they are, then the increased surveillance is moral, if not then it isn't.” Not necessarily, even under the interpretation happiness=utility. The public might be unhappy about surveillance, but it might be preventing something (e.g. terrorism) that would have made them even more unhappy, which would make it moral from the happiness-maximising point of view. The key question is not “are people happy with it”, but “are people happier with it than they would be without it”. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Dec 3 '15 at 23:23
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One of the four categories of Good/Harm in Utilitarianism is religious. Bentham refers to religion both as a category of good/harm, and as an avenue by which society can encourage individuals to behave in good ways instead of harmful ways.

Bentham lived in a Christian society. Christian doctrine includes two kinds of continual surveillance on every individual:

  • The individual's own conscience.
  • An omniscient, omnipresent God who is the ultimate judge.

Therefore, the alleged emotional harm (from even omnipresent surveillance) that the original poster asks about is not a problem in Utilitarianism. Instead, it takes it for granted as an influence on individuals' thoughts and behavior.

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