why referees are clearly utilitarians

This was not awarded a goal, it would have given Spurs their first win at Old Trafford since 1989

It’s often difficult discern the ethical theory a person subscribes to just by viewing their actions. After all people often do things that they know are wrong. However, I think there is one group who it easy to see are such committed Utilitarians they would make Peter Singer proud. This group? Referees.

First of all, for those of you who aren’t so philosophically inclined it is only right for me to outline what exactly Utilitarianism is. Utilitarianism is the view that in any given situation the correct action is the one that maximises utility. Or to put it simply, you should always act in a way that maximises happiness. Peter Singer, for example, argues that we should give up all our income (apart from what is required for us to live on) to charity, as the good that comes from saving the life of a starving child in Africa outweighs that good that comes from buying a denim shirt with ironic aztec print.

Now is about the time you’re starting to wonder how it is so clear to me that referees are Utilitarians. Well I can sum it up with a phrase football fans will be familiar with: “You don’t get penalties at Old Trafford.” As a Manchester United fan I’ve seen many a stonewall pen denied at the Theatre of Dreams over the years, and today it occurred to me that this is for the greater good. United is one the most well supported clubs in the world, therefore if a referee were to award a penalty to a less well supported club, it would be heartbreaking for hundreds of millions of people. Clearly they are just trying to maximise happiness in the world. It’s not just at Manchester United that benefit from these consequentialist whistle blowers. So-called “Big Teams” in sports all over the world get the rub of the green and with good reason, why cause suffering to the majority when with a shake of the head you could cause them unbridled joy.

So I salute you, referees, for sticking steadfastly to your moral principles. Long may you turn a blind eye to clumsy Johnny Evans challenges and point to the spot when Ashley Young swan dives to the hallowed Old Trafford turf.


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