Is slavery utilitarian? James Rachels described Utilitarianism as the action that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people (7). “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs paints her master Dr. Flint as a brutal an corrupt way. He is willing to use his slaves in any manner which he sees fit; he treats them as machinery.
In treating his slaves how he sees fit, he decides to use the character Linda Brent as his concubine, fueling her desire to rebel against the slave system. Brent’s independent and rebellions nature eventually lead her to sleep with Mr. Sands. She doesn’t sleep with him because she loves him, but because she wants to show that Flint does not have control over her.
So far, Dr. Flint forcing Linda to sleep with him has created no greater good. Not only has is caused an internal struggle in Linda, but now Mr. Sands has been brought into the situation, with no good coming from Linda sleeping with him.
One could argue that slavery did created a greater good because it boosted the economy and production of the South, but is economic prospering truly a greater good when thousands suffer?
Ultimately, Linda abandons her independent nature for the sake of her children. She knows that if she continues following her rebellious path, her children will suffer because of her actions. Inherently, this action seems utilitarian because it brings about more happiness for her children, but in my opinion, a true utilitarian would have kept fighting for a change that would have benefited a larger group of people. Had Linda kept fighting the illegitimacy of the slave system, her rebellion may have been able to make a difference, and would have been a truly Utilitarian action.
Until next time!