You Are a Utility Monster
Robert Nozick created his ‘utility monster’ thought-experiment to show a fatal flaw in Utilitarianism.
Utilitarian theory is embarrassed by the possibility of utility monsters who get enormously greater sums of utility from any sacrifice of others than these others lose…the theory seems to require that we all be sacrificed in the monster’s maw, in order to increase total utility.
This outlandish example wants to push your intuitions to reject such a ridiculous notion, by providing a ridiculous notion. The notion of such a happy monster does not really fly in the face of reality, it simply operates outside of our normal intuitions.
When I stop and really consider this problem in a genuine way, my first question would be how I verify such a monster. I don’t deny such a creature could exist, but I doubt I could verify such a creature. I am saved by Epistemology, while accepting Utilitarian theory.
Such a creature has, in truth, already been accepted by Utilitarianism. We are utility monsters.
Utilitarian theory accepts that chickens, and perhaps even ants have needs, and therefore utility values. We can’t say how much they count for, but they don’t count for much. Utilitarians who urge veganism don’t typically claim that we should value the life of a chicken, just as we do a human - they claim that the value of the habit of eating chicken sandwiches cannot make up for the industrial-level torture we put chickens through.
But life-for-life? All utilitarians agree we should value one human far more than any given chicken. And if some theoretical chicken wanted to staunchly enforce Utilitarianism, and had the ability to sacrifice itself for a 1% chance of saving a human life, then ‘yes, Nozick’ - the chicken should sacrifice itself.
Nozick does not present us with a real challenge to Utilitarianism, but a clumsy handful of bizarreness, designed to make us say ’no thanks’ without providing any argument that we should not jump into the maw of the utility monster.