This semester I have the great fortune of taking an ethics course from one of my favorite professors (and, really, people as well). A few weeks ago, we slowly started to dissect the origins and basics for various theories and we came across a certain predicament within hedonistic utilitarianism. Here, the theory states that happiness reins all and that we should maximize it no matter the costs.
As a starting point, I seemed to agree. I like happiness. I think I should be happy. I think you should be happy. Heck, I even think my obnoxious neighbor with the booming Arabian dubstep should be happy (and, yes, as I found out that is a thing). But, does a line exist? My professor brought up the shower scenario. Say that I, in all of my true-to-form glory, step out of the shower in my apartment. My neighbor (not the one with the dubstep) sees this event and continues to watch for they are gaining pleasure. From this, the hedonist would say that the neighbor’s action is morally sound because he gains pleasure and there is no adverse effect on myself. However, that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Something doesn’t sit right.
Then, I applied this to one of my favorite past times: people watching. Here, I am gaining pleasure from analyzing the unsuspecting victims around me and they receive no adverse effects. This is oddly similar to the shower situation, yet so many of us still do this. Granted, we could take this to the extreme and say that the effects rise when stereotypes sneak into society, but let’s not go there. So, now, I am dumbfounded. Is it unethical to people watch? Should I end one of my favorite time killers? What shall I do?