an objection to utilitarianism?

Is utility a homogenous good that can be compared in discrete lumps like bricks or ounces of coffee?

Take this case. I could prevent you from having to pass a kidney stone (one of the most painful thing that can happen to someone, second to childbirth according to some) or I could prevent 100,000 people from experiencing a 10 minute long and relatively mild headache (assume there will be more total pain with the 100,000). Utilitarianism says that I should prevent the headaches, but it seems that our sympathies lie with the kidney stone victim.

What I think is interesting about this case is that pain or disutility can be so easily aggregated in the way necessary for utilitarianism. The headaches here contemplated, though they are painful, are just something people should endure, and thus, to reach the equivalent of certain pains requires more than just adding up a bunch of smaller ones.

This is kind of a shallow criticism of utilitarianism, but one that I can’t help thinking has something to it.


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