The paper 'Perspectives from John Taurek in Should the Numbers Count" is a perfect example of a Social Science Book Review. Utilitarianism is an approach to normative ethics that holds that the best moral action is one that achieves maximum utility. It takes an impersonal standpoint whereby one is required to determine which of a variety of courses of action can yield the greatest happiness to the largest number of people, and take action accordingly. However, in an article titled “ Should the Numbers Count? ” , John Taurek raises suspicion regarding the possibility of making such judgments that aim at yielding the greatest happiness for the biggest number of people.
In Taurek’ s view, when one has no personal tie to any of the individuals involved, all that he or she needs to do is flip a coin to determine whether to use some limited resource in such a way as to help one person, or five. Based on this line of thinking, the number of people to be helped does not matter since everyone deserves a chance to be happy. This essay will thus argue that Taurek views utilitarianism to be incoherent in some ways – that utilitarianism fails to appreciate the notion of fairness – even though it may be morally correct. Utilitarians maintain that in a situation in which there is a need to choose between alternatives that can help a certain number of people, it is important to consider the option that should save the greatest number of people (Peterson 357).
This is because doing so would lead to the maximum wellbeing for the people involved. For instance, in case two houses, one with one person and another with five people catch fire, then a person who does not have any personal relationship with any of the individuals in the houses on fire, and having limited resources, should make an effort to save the five people since this will amount to doing the greatest good.
The notion here is that a person with an impersonal view who is involved in the rescue effort (for instance a fire service) should be able to make a consideration that leads to saving the lives of as many people as possible.
In this case, the fire service personnel should consider rescuing the five people instead of one person since by doing so they end up making more people happy. However, John Taurek critiques such an approach, which he deems to be unfair to the minority groups (such as the one individual in a fire incident who according to utilitarianism should be left to die while saving five individuals). In “ Should the Numbers Count? ” , Taurek agrees that resource limitations make it difficult to help everyone.
As well, the author notes that there is always a need for people to choose between giving benefits to some people, or averting some forms of harm from occurring to them, and giving benefits to or averting harm from occurring to some people. As indicated by Taurek, it is rarely possible to do both (293). Therefore, the question that arises in such a situation where choices have to be made between helping some people and leaving others because of resource limitations is whether the relative number of people in question should be a significant consideration in determining the kind of action to be taken.
The conclusion made by Taurek is that the number of people involved should not be a consideration in making choices in regard to whom to save in a scenario where it is not possible to spare or prevent all people from being affected by harm (293-294).
Peterson, Martin. “The Mixed Solution to the Number Problem”. Ethics and Moral Philosophy. Ed. Thom Brooks. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2000. 357-370.
Taurek, John M. “Should the Numbers Count?” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6.4. (1977): 293-316.
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings. 10th Ed. Belmont, CA: Thomas Higher Education, 2008.