The Greatest Happiness Principle

Gary Madine

This is a subject that I’ve debated whether to write about. I’ve seen a number of different articles about it and I’ve seen the arguments for both sides. Not for the first time this season Sheffield Wednesday fans have been divided by one lone man and whether they have a place at the club. In this case there are moral objections not just tribal supporter ones.

Gary Madine, was released from prison last week after serving five months of an 18 month sentence for Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). The length of his sentence was dictated by a previous conviction for ABH when he was a player for Carlisle United.

Madine wasn’t sacked by Sheffield Wednesday and the striker is due to have talks with the club this week about his future. This is where the moral debate has kicked in. Some fans believe he has paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance to re-establish his career. On the other side of the argument people are arguing that Madine’s transfer to the Owls was hailed as a second chance but the judge in his case branded him  as having ‘childish behaviour and a temper problem’ especially when there was drink involved. There is still the lingering doubt that a third chance won’t be enough.

Regular followers on here know my feelings about Gary Madine. To me he’s the epitome of what is wrong with overindulged modern footballers. His life seemingly consists of eating Nandos, talking about birds and drinking. He’s a ‘top lad’ with cash.

Any good opinion I had of him evaporated when his ego blocked me on Twitter me after I made a comment, which I didn’t send to him, about his lack of ability to control a ball. I admit it was rude to compare him to an incontinent old lady after many cups of tea but the comment was born out of frustration when Madine had attempted to control a ball, watched it roll away from him and then never attempted to rectify his mistake. My tweet came after the fifth time of this happening.

Gary blocked me and told me to get back to the kitchen and do some ironing because I didn’t know what I was talking about.

What followed was more interesting to me. Fans who were supporting Madine, which is their absolute right, gave me a torrent of abuse but one comment summed the scenario up for me the most, it said ‘Lol Gary at his best.’ It made me realise that a player’s personality, antics and behaviour does bring genuine happiness to some fans. They want their players to be cocky, confidence and where they can have some ‘banter’.

This is where we have to weigh up how happy fans are to see Madine return to the club and what side the majority sits.

There is a theory called the Greater Happiness Principle that looks at the moral consequences of decisions. You’ll be familiar with its concepts of pleasure versus pain and making decisions for the greater good.

Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher whose radical ideas about a godless pursuit of happiness for the majority were scandalous at the time but his arguments are still used today. He espoused that ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.’ It is political rhetoric even today because you can’t please all the people all the time you have to make decisions that will come at a cost to some people’s happiness to satisfy the majority.

The standard examples are about a starving family who steals food to stay alive is morally right because by stealing the food it only affects the shopkeeper’s profits but it keeps an entire family alive. In more recent years it’s been used to justify killing handfuls of innocent people in order to stop terrorist from murdering thousands.

I don’t want to flippantly compare starving families and the sacrifice of innocent lives but the reintroduction of a repeat criminal footballer into a family club has raised a moral dilemma for some fans.

Which is morally right? To give a person who has served their time for a crime another chance and put trust in their ability to change or to sack them for gross misconduct because they have breached their contract and the trust of the club?

In most jobs if a person is sent to prison their job isn’t held for them, it’s an instant dismissal. The morality of why footballers should be above this is brought into question. Could it be that clubs no longer view their players as human beings but as commodities that would be lost should a contract be terminated? After all if Wednesday do decide to sell Madine would this bring greater happiness to the club and fans because there would be funds to buy another potentially better player? If the striker was sacked the club would recoup nothing.

Bentham’s theory is proposed as an unselfish ideal because it’s not your own happiness that matters it’s the happiness of the majority. Would I be happy for Gary Madine to play at Sheffield Wednesday again? Not really. Would Madine be happy losing his employment after serving his debt to society? I imagine not, but if the general consensus is that his return would be for the good of the majority then that should be the decision that is taken.

So which would make the majority of fans happier?

Jeremy Bentham actually devised a formula for determining what the morally right course of action could be in any circumstance. If Bentham’s methods are taken at face value we should be able to calculate how much happiness Madine’s return should bring to fans. It would take a long and laborious study but under Utilitarianism (Bentham’s philosophy) we could determine an answer to the moral dilemma.

There are no set ways of measuring Bentham’s statements but I’ll look at some possible examples based on a decision to return Gary Madine to the first team.

Q1 How intensely the pleasure/pain is felt – for example at the Huddersfield Town game, following Madine’s release, there were fans singing positive chants about the striker but there were other fans who point blank refused to sing his name. The intensity of feeling towards or against Madine could be measured when he takes to the pitch to play. If the intensity is more apparent in one direction then this should be taken into account.

Q2 How long that pleasure/pain lasts – if a decision is made to keep Madine on and play him how long will people remain happy or angry about it? Would either emotion be a short-term experience? Would the doubters get over it quickly or will the pleasure erode over time if Madine’s performances aren’t up to standard? The duration of how long the majority would be happy or unhappy with the striker’s inclusion would be another indicator.

Q3 How certainly the pleasure/pain is to follow the action – How certain are we that Madine would bring us pleasure or pain. To me the calculation can only be based on previous experience so if you took pleasure in the player’s performances before the incident then you are more likely to be certain that he can continue in that fashion after the decision to keep playing him is made.

Q4 How quickly the pleasure/pain will follow – What sort of impact would Madine have quickly? Would he make an instant success or will his return to match fitness be a drawn out process? Would he also get the opportunity to play? Other players such as Chris Maguire have a claimed a stake in the first team that may hinder any Madine comeback.

Q5 How likely the pleasure/pain is to be followed by experiences of the same kind – I’ve seen Madine described in one article as a ‘confidence player’ if this is the case will he need to be a regular in the team in order regain his match fitness and his confidence to play. He could have an immediate impact but would he be able to replicate that in order to keep the majority happy?

Q6 How likely the pleasure pain is to be followed by the experiences of the opposite  kind – As above

Q7 How many people experience it? From this you can work out the majority.

Calculating happiness may seem dispassionate but with any sensitive subject maybe taking passion out of the equation is sensible.

Every decision has a consequence and for Gary Madine the act of bringing happiness to a majority of fans either means repaying the ones who supported him or falling on his sword to please the ones who don’t want him back at their club.

In the pursuit of happiness there are sometimes morally questionable acts that need to take place unfortunately in football the pleasure of the fans doesn’t count because it isn’t a democracy. The decision will be made to reinstate Gary Madine or not, by a handful of men, based on business not what makes us happy. Their task is to decide whether Madine will be a pleasure or will continue his pre prison painful ways. Let’s just hope the happy medium is tolerable and successful.


3 thoughts on “The Greatest Happiness Principle

  1. This is an interesting discussion, and I enjoy the idea of examining the ethics of football through the lens of philosophy. I’m not sure just using Bentham was the best method of doing this, though.

    I guess there are two issues at stake when we look at situations like that of Madine. Firstly – general – is it ‘right’ to reintegrate an offender into the professional working environment? Secondly – specific – is it ‘right’ to allow Madine back to SWFC?

    I would go with Kant’s categorical imperative, and pose question one universally: What would happen if we never allowed offenders the chance to reintegrate after the punishment is served? The obvious answer includes concerns such as re-offending, unemployment, drain on state benefits etc. (This does open a separate question of whether some crimes are so heinous that no punishment will ever be enough, but for the sake of argument here, I’m assuming a crime for which a standard sentence has been served.) If we were to not allow reintegration for offenders, does that apply to all offenders? Should someone who has parked on a double yellow lose their job? Some crimes are unforgivable – I would suggest people like Myra Hindley – and some clearly are forgivable – maybe double yellow parking – but they are extremes, and most crimes fall into a slightly greyer area, so exactly where would one draw the line between which crimes are forgivable and which not? It is impossible to find such a line… many have tried. I would suggest that if the time is served for a crime which is not at the evil extreme, we should go with the principle that the offender should be given an UNLIMITED number of chances to try again. After all, if the offender spurns the chance, our social mechanism should sent him or her back to prison anyway.

    Okay, is it ‘right’ for Madine to go back to SWFC? Again, I am basing this argument that his crime is in the vaguely forgivable category – no one died, no sexual assault, no children hurt, he was convicted and time was served. It is not the fault of SWFC or the supporters that Madine committed his crime. SWFC still hold his player registration. Tearing that up and effectively giving Madine a free transfer, allowing some other club to sign him for no fee, enabling them to pay him a higher wage… that could be seen as rewarding Madine for his crime. No, lets see if he can repay the club for standing by him by becoming a productive and responsible member of society. If he can’t, jail will surely beckon once more.

    Now that the philosophical argument is out of the way, a more personal opinion. I completely agree that Madine epitomise everything that is wrong with the modern footballer. I may think, logically, that an ethical principle means he should get his chance, but on a personal level I don’t have to like him.

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