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Austin Community College The Ethical Theory of Utilitarianism Discussion

Austin Community College The Ethical Theory of Utilitarianism Discussion

Question Description


Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that maintains that right action is whatever produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Insofar as Utilitarianism is a Consequentialist ethical framework, Utilitarians maintain that what is morally significant are suffering and happiness, and that morality is therefore concerned with promoting the greater good by understanding the degree to which our actions will produce either suffering or happiness as a result. No action, in itself, is either right or wrong, but moral deliberation must instead take into account the “utility” of some action or general rule of conduct (defined in terms of pleasure vs. pain produced) in order to determine what is right or wrong. In Utilitarianism, all moral decisions are evaluated as a means towards the end of maximizing utility. However, critics of Utilitarianism sometimes highlight the extent to which persons may become treated as a means towards this end – and even may have to be themselves harmed in the process of the production of utility through no fault of their own. Using a particular example of a moral dilemma or decision, apply the principle of utility in order to determine what the correct Utilitarian decision to make would be. Then, on the basis of this example, discuss to what extent you either agree or disagree with the emphasis Utilitarianism places on the promotion of the greater good, and the definition of the greater good in terms of maximizing “utility” (net pleasure vs. pain).



James Williams

DILEMMA: The economy needs stimulation, and everyone wants to be in the high paying sector of the economy. A city needs a continuous cycle of labor to produce goods to sell and maintain a profitable atmosphere.

SOLUTION (Utilitarianism): To ensure the good for the majority, 10% of the population, likely those in poverty, will be put to continuous work to produce goods for the city. These individuals will work constantly, as these conditions ensure high efficiency for the economy. (This example is very similar to that of the Industrial Revolution.) 90% of the population will enjoy the fruits of 10% of the population’s suffering. This minimizes the suffering of the population while maximizing the good for a majority of the population.

SOLUTION (Realistic, moral.) The suffering of 10% of a population is egregious and grossly unfair. It is akin to slavery, even if this population is paid. A realistic solution to the necessary stimulation of the economy is offering work in production for: fair pay, fair working conditions, and basic worker’s rights. This would involve organizations we know today such as OSHA. Even though 10% of the population working rigorously to increase production would, in theory, maximize pleasure for the majority and minimize suffering for it as well, it is not a moral solution. A “greater good”, in truth, is a good for all people, not the majority of people. If we simply forgot about the fringe of society, we would be left morally bankrupt. In truth, a majority of people have sympathy, in some capacity, for the minority. This means that a utilitarian idea that utilizes the minorities (impoverished, homeless, ill) in a manner where it truthfully does create a situation in which a majority benefits and a minority is essentially crushed under its workload would be entirely disagreed on in practice. The systems in place today are in place because maximum utility is, generally speaking, typically immoral. The theoretical maximum yield in almost every field regarding output industries (clothing, food, etc.) is significantly higher than the moral output, which will forever clash in law because individuals who own businesses make more money the closer the output is to the theoretical maximum vs. how much they get at the current, accepted moral yield.

We would be wrong to try to put everything in the lens of “greater good” for the majority. As I said before, a greater good, in truth, is a good for all, not a good for most. The implications of a moral code that is based on the effects of a majority having the favor of the system would mean that one day somebody might be in the majority’s favor, and another, they would be out of it. It calls on themes of aristocracy, though the aristocracy would constantly change, and some alleged “aristocrats” would suffer at the hands of the “system”. It is much too inconsistent to even entertain the idea of. Individuals must understand that morality will be fluid, always, like a river. The maximum yield of a situation being the basis of morality would spit in the face of fluidity, as maximum yields for a potential system does not change, however, the views on fairness do. For this reason, we have never had a truly “utilitarian” society, only societies with themes of theirs.


Journal assignments are to be one page long, single-spaced, with default margins. You will identify a key topic or concept from the previous week and develop some arguments, questions, or reflections that occurred to you in thinking about that topic or concept. Citations of readings assigned in this course will be mandatory for all journal assignments.

Previous weeks reading will be attached!

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