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Dallas Miller

12/7/14
PHIL 1000
Signature Assignment
Omelas is a town that embodies a perfect life. Ursula La Guin tells the story of an imaginary
town that is so perfect it could never exist. Everybody, nearly everybody, is in complete bliss as they live
in Omelas. La Guin tells us of all the characteristics that would make Omelas such a beautiful place to
live, and then invites us to add whatever we need to make Omelas the definition of a Utopia. There is
one downside to Omelas, and that downside is heavy. There is a young child locked in a cellar below our
Utopia. He is in absolute misery, not being physically abused but mentally abused and greatly uncared
for. He lives in a festering smelly environment, and is destined to live an entire life of misery as the rest
of his world dances in joy just above his head. Everybody in Omelas knows that this child is there, and
does nothing to stop his suffering.
The philosophical situation that La Guin creates with this scenario describes the difference
between The Good and The Right. The Good frame of mind would reflect on Utilitarian beliefs,
and as such is the better way to describe the town of Omelas. The entire town lives in bliss knowing that
the child is living in misery. By choosing to let the child suffer (which everyone in Omelas understands is
a terrible thing to do) they are choosing to let the greater amount of people be happy. On the other
hand, The Right would be making the choice to stand up for the child. The Right framework is tied
with Kantian Deontology, which tells us to make decisions based upon our moral values. So what would
drive a world to live in a society like Omelas? Would people choose to let the child suffer and live there?
Or would people decide to walk away from Omelas/save the child? To further understand we will look at
the dilemma from the minds of two philosopher, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

Immanuel Kant is a philosopher that believes and helped develop an argument for The Right.
One of the philosophies he is most famously known for is his idea of a Categorical Imperative. This
idea ties into his beliefs by saying that we are to consider the rest of the world in all of our actions. If we
are to make a decision, first we must consider whether it is fair and then consider the effect of our
decision. Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a
universal law (Pg. 88, Metaphysics of Morals). Kant uses the term maxim in his categorical
imperative. By maxim he means to a personal decision, or a moral rule that we use to justify a decision
we make. So now we consider the case of Omelas, how would Kant choose to react to the situation?
In order to make any decision, Kant says that we must first consider the categorical imperative.
We can assume that Kant would not live in Omelas, and that is due to the childs suffering dictating the
perfect society. Kant would ask If we are able to wish this ill-will upon a child, must we not wish this
same ill-will upon ourselves? How can we all stand by idle and enjoy our lives as we let a child suffer a
terrible life in order to make our lives what they are in Omelas? By thinking parallel to the ideas of
Kantian Deontology, Kant sees that there is an exception being made in this childs case, and that is not
morally the right thing to do.
How would John Stuart Mill look at the city of Omelas then? First, let us look at what it is Mill
believes to be key in decision making. Mill is a Utilitarian. In his work, alongside with Benthams work,
we see the development of what they call The three tenants for the Greatest Happiness. Tenant 1:
Maximize Happiness, Minimize Suffering. Tenant 2: Strive for the greatest happiness for the greatest
amount of people. Tenant 3: Mental pleasure ranks higher than bodily pleasure. This is the framework
that Mill uses in order to make/justify his decisions. Mill tells us Of two pleasures, if there be one to
which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any
feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the most desirable pleasure. (Pg. 8 Utilitarianism) Mill has
taught us that the ultimate goal is to make as many people as happy as possible.

So how would Mill look at the town of Omelas? He would be in full support of how things are
going, because there are so many people living there in absolute bliss. Mills philosophy would argue
that the less desirable existence of one child for the great pleasure of an entire society is very justifiable.
Mill would argue with Kant by saying something like I understand that the child is in misery, but that
has led to an entire society living in ultimate happiness! How can you choose the life of one child over
the lives of all of these happy people?
As we can tell, both philosophers have very valid reasoning. By sitting here and considering
whether or not I would live in Omelas, I stand conflicted. I would never want to be part of the reason for
a childs unjustified suffering, but I am all about living in complete bliss. Since the day we were born we
have been taught to think in both The Good and The Right. We are constantly weighing the
difference between our moral values and what we think will be best for more people in the end. The
twist at the end of the story of Omelas is that it is true to our world today. Most of us are living fulfilled
happy lives knowing that there is suffering in the world. Most of us choose to buy products at a slightly
lower cost knowing about the child labor on the other side of the world. When told the story of Omelas,
most anyone would stand for the childs rights, but would they really stand by their words?
We know that Mill would elect to stay in the town of Omelas. We know that Kants theories
would lead him to leave Omelas and never look back. My question is would Kant actually choose to
leave Omelas for a less pleasurable life? I would be interested to see if his moral values would actually
dictate his actions in a real world scenario. Much like Mill, I believe that we live in a Utilitarian society. I
personally am aware of all of the good fortune I have, and know that there is quite a bit more I can do to
help those that dont have it as good as I do. Even with this knowledge, I selfishly live day to day and
continue to do nothing about it. If I were ever asked why I dont do anything about it, I would respond
just like anyone else would. I know I can do more to help, but there are plenty of people out there that
are trying to help those in need, plus Ive made my own success through my decisions.

Would Kant really choose to leave Omelas for a less happy life? Probably. What if as he left he
was told that the town would still function the same, and nothing would change for the child? His pride
would still carry him forward, leaving the town swearing to never come back. But what if Kant ran into
hard times where he was not happy, or living in any sort of pleasure? This is the point that I think Kant
would have a hard time not returning to Omelas, and would most likely return. From my personal
experience I have found that we are a more Utilitarian society than not. We choose what is primarily
best for us, and as long as we are not directly causing harm to another then we justify our actions. We
find ways to say, well nothing would change with or without me, and so I might as well do what is best
for me. But its The Right side of your mind that makes me sound like a monster for saying that, isnt
it?

Work Cited
Kant, Immanuel, from Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, H.J. Paton (trans).
New York: Harper and Row, 1964.
Le Guin, Ursula. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Class issued paper. 7 December 2014.
Mill, John Stuart, What is Utilitarianism, from Utilitarianism. George Sher (ed.), 2nd
edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2001.