Throughout life there are many choices: do we eat something fast, or do we cook our own food? Do we skimp (or totally skip) healthcare/ dental coverage, or get regular checkups? Do we hookup with people, or do we have something steady with one person (or a few regulars)? Do we take the job that's physically demanding but pays well or the less demanding job with less pay? Do we cut corners to get a job done or do we work hard and ethically, even if it costs us more in the end?

Each one of these choices is a trade-off. You might get fast food, but it's not healthy. We might save money on our health initially, but then come up with a disease that is severe but manageable, or something incurable (such as certain STDs) and so on.

Even if it works for the majority, is it still right due to the consequences that need to be paid later on?

Also, does the fact that we know that these habits are unhealthy play a factor in determining right and wrong? If so, what part?

1 Answer 1


Jeremy Bentham's (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Bentham) "pleasure calculus" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felicific_calculus) lists seven elements to consider when making a choice between pleasurable or potentially pleasurable activities:

  • Intensity: How strong is the pleasure?

  • Duration: How long will the pleasure last?

  • Certainty or uncertainty: How likely or unlikely is it that the pleasure will occur?

  • Propinquity or remoteness: How soon will the pleasure occur?

  • Fecundity: The probability that the action will be followed by sensations of the same kind.

  • Purity: The probability that it will not be followed by sensations of the opposite kind.

  • Extent: How many people will be affected?

If you accept this system, the "propinquity or remoteness" criteria suggests that short-term pleasure is more beneficial, whereas the "duration" criteria suggests that the long-term pleasure is more beneficial. As with any philosophical system, Bentham's calculus doesn't tell you which choice to make (you have to weigh the two possible criteria yourself), but it does answer your question: if you accept Bentham's view of utilitarianism, yes, it's quite possible that propinquitous (immediate) pleasure outweighs long-term loss.

Your post strongly suggests that you prefer long-term benefits over short-term ones, since you use phrases like "skimp", "cut corners", "not healthy", "incurable", "is it still right" (suggesting it's not), etc. Here are some balancing thoughts for propinquitous pleasure(in no particular order):

  • Certainty: while most people agree that fast food, skipping health maintenance appointments and casual sex are "bad for you" and reduce your life expectancy, this is a vague and undefined risk. There's no guarentee that any of things will give you displeasure in the future and there are things you can do (eg, safe sex) to make future displeasure even less certain.

  • Intensity: the benefits of cooking your own food, health maintenance, avoid sexual disease, and perfectionism are fairly mild. Living a long and healthy life is nice, but that kind of pleasure is passive and not intense. Perfectionism for the sake of perfectionism may give you pleasure in knowing you did the job "right", but this, again, seems like minor self-satisfaction, not intense pleasure. In this case, I'd say it's a tie.

  • Intensity: Sexual pleasure is intense, even when repeated, but the intensity of avoiding sexual disease is very low, as above.

  • Fecundity: casual sex probably will lead to more casual sex as you build up a group of casual sex partners.

  • Purity: perfectionism may give you some pleasure, but perfectionism is often annoying to coworkers and employers, because perfectionists often inefficiently spend too much time working on a single project, focus too much on a small detail, don't accept help from others, or even come up with rigid designs that are hard to change in the future. Perfectionism is an impure pleasure because it leads to things that may cause you displeasure.

You note "even if it works for the majority", but I don't think that's an argument to "extent", and seems a little out of place. Utilitarianism deems something "right" if it works, almost by definition. Therefore, if something works for the majority, utilitarianism says it's "right" for the majority, which would seem to work against your arugment that it's not "right" under utilitarianism. However, I don't think what the majority does affects your decisions that much, nor vice versa, so it seems irrelevant.

In conclusion, I'd say you can make a strong argument that immediate pleasure can outweigh long-term benefits under the doctorine of utilitarianism, even though your question appears to be biased against that position.

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