Based on the chapter on consequentialism from Shafer-Landau's The Fundamentals of Ethics, utilitarianism, at its core, appears contradictory. Utilitarianism is based on the belief that the action that maximizes well-being or happiness is the only morally correct action to take; however, it's never really possible to know the final outcome of any action. Therefore, many actions have to be based on intent and expected outcomes. This is where utilitarianism seems to contradict itself. In making a distinction between actually making the morally "correct" choice and only intending to make the morally correct choice, the text states that, no matter how pure the intent, if the action doesn't maximize well-being, then it was immoral. The specific example used by the text was helping an elderly person cross the road. Here the intention is good and this action clearly appears to be the morally correct choice, but, unbeknownst to you and the elderly person, a truck is racing towards the two of you and kills both of you. According to utilitarianism, because the outcome didn't maximize well-being, offering the elderly person help was actually the morally incorrect action as neither of you would've been dead if you hadn't volunteered your help.
I find fault in this conclusion. Perhaps this wasn't the ideal outcome; however, there was no way of knowing that the truck was coming. In your mind, when you made the decision to help the elderly person, offering your help was the option with the greatest outcome as the elderly person could put the time they would've spent waiting at the crosswalk to something else and your day would've barely been impacted . Moreover, utilitarianisms itself acknowledges that it's impossible to know the true outcome of any action. If that holds, then how is anyone expected to make the correct choice if the future is full of unknowns and intent is an invalid reason? Does this mean that utilitarianism, and consequentialism as a whole, leaves morality to pure luck? If this holds true, then how is anyone expected to make the morally correct choice?