The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

See update at: as well… – esp for discussion of the story in more detail..

Note: If you are a student looking at this to help with a paper/essay on the Omelas short story – that is great, we hope something here helps – but be sure to give a reference – and send me and e-mail to let me know if you find the material useful..

Dave W:

In the RPE101 (Philosophical and Ethical Arguing) class today, we talked about the Ursula Le Guin short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas – as a focus for concerns about Utilitarianism and responsibility…

There is a wikipedia piece at – which explains the story – but also see the essay at – whose conclusions I am not convinced by: but ask yourself the questions

1 – Would you stay in the city – knowing your happiness was at the expense of a suffering child?

2 – Do we not anyway enjoy an easy life at the direct expense of others in the developing world already? Are we not just at guilty as the Omelas-people who choose to stay?

responses welcome…


5 thoughts on “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

  1. I personally think utilitarianism is a confounded business. But let’s see if I can argue this successfully.Firstly, I disagree with the essay. I do not think the utopian society vs. the one suffering child is as far away from ours as the author may think. We hope for happiness and we strive for it, and we mostly think that we are not yet experiencing ‘utopia’. We nonetheless try to ‘collect’ happiness through distraction – shopping, getting things, activities, ‘falling in love’, friends, media – organising the temporal world with temporal busy-ness. These distraction leads to passivism and complacency.So, let’s say while we are achieving our linear goals, there is a suffering child. But let’s not think it is a real ‘child’. Maybe it is simply a symbol. So while we are haring about, right in front of us something is suffering in a miserable and distorted way. Something is forgotten, neglected and abused. In the story it is a ‘child’. What does a ‘child’ mean to us? To me it is potential leading to power. Following these thoughts, I would say, through distractions we are neglecting our potential or power.Our personal potential and power is the very thing we fear most.To achieve it we have to walk away from our distractions (addictions) to and of the temporal world.I also disagree with the essay on another point. The author says the Omelas story does not provide a convincing argument to leave because of Le Guin’s ambiguity. I think the unknown outcome is not ambiguous. It is a sharp truth. The outcome is unknown because it is irrelevant. Outcome is never a reason for moral decision. ‘Outcome’ implies ‘reward’. Moral decision is made without reward. Risk the wilderness.Mass exodus out of Omelas is the only moral decision available. And, really. What IS the draw of ‘beautiful nudes offering theselves like divine souffles’? How deeply tedious.


  2. Since this essay does not explain how the treatment of the child leads to the happiness of the town we can not know what the sentiment of the town was before this practice was adopted. What is to be assumed from this essay is either this is the only way the town achieves happiness or this is just the preferred level of happiness punishing the child gives the town. If you consider the former then this is a utilitarian view. If happiness to the many can only be gained by having the scapegoat then this is consistent with utilitarian ideals. With the latter, it is not a choice of the town to have total happiness while treated someone in this manner. This means that they can not have a scapegoat and must live at a lower level of happiness. This allows the greatest happiness for the many and the least amount of harm for the few. This is how the latter would be consistent with utilitarianism.


  3. The only crime in this scenario is that there seems to be no possibility of overcoming using the child, replacing it with another system.Given the situation: no murder, rape, robbery, war, etc. Ceasing to use the child in this manner will result in much greater harm to everyone involved if this town is at all representative if any real one.


  4. I think that this essay is comparable to the Bible. Utilitarinsm is the greatest good for the gratest number of people. the child in the basement of this home or building is much like Jesus. neither did any wrong doing yet they are punished for the rest of the Town/People of the world. in this sense God is a utilitarian! no it doesn’t sound great but he is / was doing the greatest thing to save the souls of people around the world.


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