Act of Utilitarianism and Consequentialism

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The focus of this paper will be on act utilitarianism and consequentialism. Act utilitarianism defines the morally right act, for a particular situation, as that which produces the greatest overall utility (Burner & Raley 337). While consequentialist ethics is defined as a general approach to ethics for which only consequences determine what is morally right or wrong (Burner & Raley 339). My source of inspiration for this paper came from the movie Avengers Infinity War. It was particularly the character of Thanos that inspired this paper. I find Thanos’ actions to align with some of the act utilitarianism and consequentialist ethics.

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I find that the best theory of moral values is within act utilitarianism. This theory consists of weighing one’s actions against the consequences and the utility of the pleasure, happiness, pain, or suffering your actions bring unto you and others affected by the action. When the consequences of something happen to be mixed, the amount of disutility is subtracted from the utility; if the utility is greater, then the resulting utility is still positive (Burner & Raley 112).

I feel the best question one can ask themselves when following the theory of act utilitarianism is as follows. In my current situation, what is the best course of action right here, right now? An example of this was in my week 5 personal case study. In my personal case study I explained how I completed a DNA test through www.ancestry.com. When I received the results back I found out that my dad wasn’t my biological dad. My dad and I already knew that it was a possibility that he wasn’t my biological father. I found that the best course of action was to not tell him due to the pain and suffering outweighing the pleasure and/or happiness it would bestow upon him. (White)
Act utilitarianism is about making decisions that will produce the greatest overall utility (Burnor & Raley 117). The theory will always be looking at how a particular situation affects a group. Recently my daughter had to work with a group of people on a school project. I was notified because her group received a zero on the project for plagiarism. When I spoke to my daughter she stated that one of the members of the group copied and pasted all of the information from a source without providing credit to that source and didn’t provide any original thoughts on the subject. She also stated that the member of the group wouldn’t show them the work they completed before it was turned in.

I spoke to my daughter about the importance of speaking to her teacher if a group member isn’t producing their part of the work and the importance of not plagiarizing someone else’s work. Her teacher allowed her and another group member who didn’t plagiarize to fix the project. The teacher’s decision to allow the majority of the group to correct the project brought overall utility to the situation by not allowing someone else’s decision to reflect badly on the rest of the group’s grade.

Mill’s version of utility appears to put quality over quantity when it comes to our experiences (Burnor & Raley 114). Let’s say one goes to the store and buys one brand named sweater for the price of 3 generic sweaters. The brand named sweater is made of cashmere and the generic sweater is made of polyester. The generic sweaters are itchy and they only last a quarter of the time that one brand name sweater lasts. Mill’s view would be that, one should buy the brand named sweater due to the utility it brings to one. It will bring the most utility to one due to its fabric quality and longevity when compared to the generic sweater.

Happiness, pleasure, pain, and suffering are all brought to light in this next case study. It is the case study that inspired this essay. In the movie Avengers: Infinity War, the character Thanos wants to wipe out half the population to end starvation and to prevent the destruction of planets by collecting 6 infinity stones. Gamora, Tony Stark, Thor, Dr. Strange, and many other Marvel characters are attempting to stop Thanos from wiping out half the population.

According to Gamora, Thanos wants to bring balance to the universe, just as he thinks he brought balance to her home planet when she was a child by killing her mother and half the population (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018). Thanos states, It was a small price to pay for salvation, people were starving and now they know nothing by full bellies and clear skies (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018). Thanos goes on to state, The universe is finite and its resources finite, if life is left unchecked it will cease to exist (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018). Gamora states, You don’t know that! and Thanos responds by saying, I am the only one that knows that or at least I’m the only one with the will to act on it (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018).

During a conversation with Tony Stark, Thanos reveals the decimated planet they are on was once his home planet. Thanos talks about how his planet and the people on it were starving and he gave a solution that would consist of a wiping out half of the people on his home planet with a random, passionate, fair, killing of the rich and poor alike (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018). His people called him a mad man (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018). His mission to collect all 6 infinity stones. During a conversation with Dr. Strange, Thanos talks about with all six stones and the snap of Thanos’ fingers it can all cease to exist and he calls that mercy. Thanos states, The hardest choices require the strongest will (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018). Then there would be no more starvation or planets on the brink of destruction.

If you haven’t seen the movie the next part is a spoiler alert. After some more fighting Thanos collects all of the infinity stones and snaps his fingers just as Thor is attempting to kill him. Upon the snapping of his fingers goes to an alternate reality where Gamora is still a little girl. Gamora asks, Did you do it? Thanos replies, Yes. She then asks, What did it cost? He responds by saying, It cost everything. (Russo & Russo, “Avengers Infinity War”, 2018).

In this case study I found that Thanos’ actions would be the right course of action. When I look at the utility I find that there are two scenarios to consider. The first being that Thanos doesn’t wipe out half of the population. If this happens the universe will cease to exist at some point in the future. The second scenario is that Thanos wipes out half of the population so that everyone doesn’t die.

If we continue to take from universe but sacrifice nothing in return to help it grow there will eventually be nothing left to take. Look at it this way, I grow watermelons and take one from my garden to eat. Now imagine this is my source of food to stay alive. Now I can make one of two choices. The first choice being to plant the seeds to grow more watermelons. The second choice would be to carelessly throw the seeds in the trash. If I continue to throw the seeds in the trash at some point my resources are going to run out and I will starve to death. The overall utility here would be to continue to plant the watermelon seeds to sustain my life.

With act utilitarianism we find that it justifies bad actions to produce good results. The theory says it’s okay to lie to your loved one so you don’t hurt them. It’s okay to not hold a student accountable when they should have come forward when their partner was not producing the required work for the group project and not teach them a lesson about accountability. Finally it’s okay to sacrifice half of the universe so the entire universe won’t cease to exist. This theory does allow for some pain and suffering. However, we find with this theory that there can be less pain and suffering. No matter what morals we have we all have to make decisions throughout our lives. We never know the true results of the action until after it is taken. It can take years for one action to have an influence. It is apparent that act utilitarianism can allow for any action to be deemed moral depending on the circumstances.
The objectivity of this theory is just one of its advantages. This theory takes into account the effects of our choices. It weighs the pleasures and happiness against the pain and suffering an action has the potential to cause. As shown in my case studies, it is better to not tell my dad that his isn’t biologically related to me because it wouldn’t bring him any happiness or pleasure. It allows was the correct action of my daughter’s teacher to not punish her or the other person in her group for an act another member of the group committed.

Finally, we see one of the most difficult choices one may have to make in deciding the fate of the universe. It is better to have life than no life at all. If we have the power to let the universe live or die, we should allow the universe to live as long as the sacrifice doesn’t bring about disutility. In this case, I found that by wiping out the half the population did bring utility. With the population before the wipe out the resources of the universe would cease to exist. The utility is brought in by allowing the universe’s resources to be sustainable again and therefore allowing life to continue. Since it didn’t bring disutility then wiping out half of the population is the correct action. There are going to be times in our lives where we will be required to make sacrifices that cause ourselves pain and displeasure but, if you know the action will bring about far better circumstances then the action was worth the pain and displeasure.

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Act Of Utilitarianism And Consequentialism. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved November 27, 2022 , from
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