I am having troubles understanding utilitarianism a little bit, and have posed this question to a number of people and been met mostly with bafflement about how I cannot see the error in my proposed claim. But, when they explain against it, I cannot see the soundness of their argument. So, I am willing to accept that there is an essential error I am making in my reasoning, and am making this post in the hopes that someone will be able to point it out.
People like to say against utilitarianism the idea of inalienable rights. We believe people should have them, not because they will increase pleasure/decrease pain in the aggregate, but for some other given reason. Despite the fact that 30 people being run over by a bus is a much more unpleasurable result than one person being run over, we still (some of us) do not think it right to push that person in front of the bus to save the 30. Not advocating for this, just as a proposed counter-argument.
My question is: if we say that inalienable rights are valuable, are we not just simply choosing a different kind of pleasure that we place value on? People should have inalienable rights, and the value of a society which upholds these rights (with that value being determined by the consummate pleasure that comes with having inalienable rights, as compared to not having them) we consider to be a greater point value (+100 points of pleasure) versus the 30 people surviving the bus crash (+50 points of pleasure).
Or, if I refuse to torture one person to save two people from being tortured. Some might call me a Kantian, or some other thing, but not a utilitarian. But am I not just saying that the point value of the displeasure that comes from taking it upon myself to torture the one person (perhaps I believe that humans do not have that right, only God does) is -1 trillion versus the (granted) still very large point value of saving the other 2 (-1 billion)?
I had someone say, ok, well that is no longer about the aggregate. That is about the one person saving their self the -1 trillion points value. But for the person making this decision, isn't the idea that a society in which these decisions are made by people (and not God, say) substantially worse than even half of that society getting killed off? Like, if I think there are personal moral laws that absolutely cannot be transgressed, I only think that because I believe acting in a contrary way will be extremely unpleasurable (be it spiritually, emotionally, or for the greater society). And perhaps I believe that a society of people that have license to kill off the one for the many is damaged in a way that is way worse for the aggregate than half of its population dying.
I almost wonder if this can't be distilled to: for any value claim, is there not a normative claim attached necessarily? I believe this is the is/ought debate, right? If I refrain from doing something that I think is bad, is it not always because I also believe that everyone doing that thing would also be bad, which means utilitarianism can't be escaped? Any normative belief I have is also a belief that the aggregate is better off (i.e. experiences more pleasure or less displeasure) for having this.