Application of Utilitarianism to Various Case Studies

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Utilitarianism is a simple ethical theory to both explain and assess. It requires the consideration of the overall happiness of an action. It is necessary to think about not only the positive outcomes, but also the negative outcomes; and, how an action affects other people, directly and indirectly. Utilitarianism can be represented as a simple mathematical equation. It is the total happiness of an action subtracted by the total unhappiness of that same action. Though assessing utilitarianism is done so by using this equation, it is difficult to quantify the amount of happiness. In a sense, we can say that utilitarianism is assessing the consequences of an action as well. We have to keep in mind of both short- and long-term consequences produced by our actions, but most importantly, we have to treat each person’s happiness equally. We can’t prioritize one’s happiness over another when we are doing this assessment.

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There are two different types of utilitarianism, Act and Rule. Act utilitarianism states if an action brings out the greater amount of net happiness than a different action, then that action is correct. If not, then it is wrong. However, if two separate actions produce an equivalent amount of net happiness, then both actions are considered a right action. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, doesn’t assess the action of a person. Rule utilitarians believe that they can create “rules” to create the most net happiness of all people. They believe that these “rules” would determine what is right or wrong. Utilitarianism is considered to be consequentialist, universalistic, additive, and maximizing. It is considered consequentialist because as mentioned before, utilitarianism assesses the consequences of an action, both short- and long-term, as well as both directly and indirectly. It is considered universalistic because utilitarianism assesses not only the person doing the action but also how other people are affected by that action. It is considered additive because, as mentioned before, it assesses both happiness and unhappiness of others to determine whether or not the action is right or wrong. It is considered to be maximizing because the “goal of utilitarianism is to maximize human well-being.” (Shaw, n.d.)

Throughout this paper, I will be assessing the case studies, “Hacking into Harvard,” “Nestle and Advertising,” “Challenger,” “Working Conditions in Amazon,” and “Mylan Hit with Racketeering Suit Over Big Price Hikes of EpiPen.” I will provide the background and summary of each case, an ethical analysis of each party involved, and a conclusive argument whether or not each action is morally correct. Hacking into Harvard In the Case Study, “Hacking into Harvard”, many people were rejected by the best business schools in the country. They were rejected because of their actions; however, is it their fault? According to the study, an anonymous person posted directions on how to check whether or not they were accepted into those schools. The top business schools that were a part of this case were Harvard, Dartmouth, Duke, Carnegie, Mellon, MIT, and Stanford. They all used the application website, ApplyYourself Inc., which had a flaw in its system.

According to the anonymous “hacker,” (n.d.) the students were able to change the URL to find out the decision of the business school that they applied to. Knowing this, Harvard and MIT immediately rejected those who saw their decision. Stanford gave students who were involved, an opportunity to explain why they did what they did. Duke and Dartmouth accepted those who accessed the site. The students who wanted to know the status of their application were eager to know. It is possible to say that some of the students were curious to see if changing the URL will allow them to see their status. The students’ parents or spouse could have done the hacking. The question is whether the student or the schools are at fault. As mentioned before, it is necessary to consider every person involved. We need to think about the happiness of the students who hacked the website, as well as the business schools. The students who were accused of hacking the website were unhappy with the outcome of their proclaimed action. The family members of those students, most likely, had a similar reaction towards the schools’ decision. Those students and their family didn’t know that changing a URL was considered hacking, or that doing so would reject their application. They both blamed the schools and ApplyYourself for not being aware of this in advance.

The business schools involved were a neutral party in this case. They weren’t happy that they rejected the students; however, they weren’t unhappy with it either. They were unhappy with the fact that those students were hacking into their website. The students who were considered the schools’ “second choice” were happy with the outcome of this situation. Since the hacking students were rejected because of their action, other students were accepted to fill their spot. There are also many bystanders who we can consider. Some bystanders would be unhappy with the schools’ decision because some might believe that changing the URL wasn’t considered hacking. Some might be happy with the outcome because they believe that it is still wrong to access confidential files from the schools. Considering the overall happiness of the students, their family members, the business schools, the “second choice” students, and other bystanders, the decisions of the schools were morally correct. Those who are unhappy with the outcome are the hacking students and their family members, as well as some bystanders. Those who are happy are the “second choice” students and other bystanders.

It is difficult to quantify the number of people happy and the number of people who are unhappy, but it is safe to say that there were more people happy with the schools’ decision than unhappy people; therefore, we can conclude that the decision of rejecting the hacking students is morally correct. Nestle and Advertising In the case study, “Nestle and Advertising,” the Nestle Corporation, known for their food and drinks, were under fire for their advertisement of their baby formula in a third world country. According to the case study, the author, Chris Ragg (Ragg, n.d.) states people from the third world country, are not as fortunate as those living in the United States. The baby formula created by Nestle requires water. The water in a third world country is most likely contaminated with other materials or chemicals. The parents who bought the formula would have to use that contaminated water in order to feed their babies. The formula then becomes contaminated, causing their babies to be sick, which can result in death. The question is if Nestle was wrong for doing the action of advertising their product in a third world country. We need to consider the happiness of those involved in this case study.

It is important to consider the happiness of the Nestle Corporation, the families who lost their babies, and the bystanders who have an opinion on this case. The Nestle Corporation was most likely happy with their action. From a utilitarian view, Nestle focuses more on their positive outcome rather than their customers’ outcome. They believed that they were helping those in a third world country rather than hurting. Although they didn’t know what their action would cause, they were satisfied with the amount of profit that they made. Nestle The families who lost their babies were unhappy with the action of Nestle. The people in the third world countries didn’t know that their baby would die because of the contaminated water needed for the formula. They might have thought that it is a cheap alternative to feed their children. Family members were furious of Nestles’ action. It is safe to say that many bystanders who heard about Nestle’s advertisement were unhappy with it as well. These bystanders were affected indirectly in this case.

Although they didn’t lose a loved one, they were still enraged with what Nestle did. Considering the overall happiness of the Nestle Corporation, the families who lost their babies, and other bystanders, Nestles’ action of advertising their baby formula in a third world country was ethically incorrect according to a utilitarian point of view. The parties that were unhappy with Nestles’ action were the families who lost their young and many bystanders who had an opinion on this case. The only party who was happy the outcome was Nestle because of the profit that they made. It is safe to say that Nestles’ action was ethically incorrect because the amount of people who were unhappy is greater than the number of people who were happy with the outcome. Challenger In the case study, “The Challenger,” seven astronauts were murdered due to an explosion of the space shuttle named “The Challenger.” Prior to the launch date, the engineers of Morton Thiokol discovered faulty O-rings on the shuttle. Once the engineers were aware of this, they reported it to their managers.

Although the managers were aware of the faulty O-rings, they proceeded with the launch and killed seven people. Morton Thiokol was pressured to proceed with the launch because there was a high amount of anticipation watching a teacher and a civilian go into space. The question is if Morton Thiokol’s action is morally correct for proceeding with the launch. For this case, it is important to analyze the overall happiness of the family members of the passengers, NASA, Morton Thiokol, and bystanders who have an opinion about this case. The family members of the passengers were unhappy with Morton Thiokol’s action. Of course, losing a loved one will result in an unhappy person, but knowing that the manager of Morton Thiokol knew that it was unsafe to launch, would make them furious. If they didn’t know about the faulty O-rings, there would be a possibility that the family’s feelings towards Morton Thiokol would change, but this isn’t the case. NASA, the company who hosted the launch, was excited about this big event because two members weren’t astronauts. Unfortunately, with the pressure amounted onto Morton Thiokol, the company decided to proceed with the flaw, which, in result, caused NASA and many others to be unhappy.

Although NASA would have been unhappy with Morton Thiokol delaying the launch, safety should be considered the top priority. It is safe to say that, at the time of the launch, NASA was happy with what Morton Thiokol did; however, NASA wasn’t happy with the results. Morton Thiokol had the same feelings as NASA towards what they did. They were initially happy at the time of the launch because of how much pressure NASA was giving them; however, after the fact, Morton Thiokol would be upset with themselves. Many bystanders watching the launch were saddened with the outcome of Morton Thiokol’s action. Those bystanders are affected indirectly by the action. Although they didn’t lose a loved, they felt saddened witnessing the death of seven astronauts. Those bystanders, at the time of the launch, most likely thought that the explosion was an accident; however, once they found out that the rocket was launched knowing it was unsafe, many people became enraged. Those bystanders are affected indirectly by the action because Considering the overall happiness of all parties involved, it is safe to say that Morton Thiokol’s action of proceeding with the launch, knowing that it was unsafe, was morally wrong from a utilitarian point of view. Morton Thiokol and NASA were initially happy at the time of the launch; however, they both were unhappy killing seven people.

The parties who were unhappy with this Morton Thiokol’s action were the astronaut’s families and many bystanders witnessing the launch. Since the number of unhappy people outweighs the number of happy people, Morton Thiokol’s action was ethically incorrect. Amazon In the case study, “Working Conditions in Amazon,” Amazon wants their workers to bring out the best in them. Amazon wants them to strive for greatness, but is it morally correct to do so while making their workers cry? Amazon makes their employees criticize coworker’ ideas relentlessly; however, some former employees mentioned that doing so made them a better worker. Many workers described the working atmosphere as “purposeful Darwinism,” (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015) meaning that only the fittest survive. Unfortunately, Amazon didn’t allow those who were recovering from injuries or had any “personal crisis,” (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015) to work with them. The question is if Amazon’s actions of making their employees criticize other employees’ ideas harshly are morally correct from a utilitarians point of view. For this case, it is important to analyze the overall happiness of all parties involved, such as Amazon, their employees, and the “quarter of a billion customers.” (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015)

As mentioned before, Amazon wants their employees to strive for the best; however, Amazon is merely thinking about themselves as a business. They want their business to succeed and be number one in the world. Amazon would be happy with their action of making their employees criticize each other’s ideas. Having their employees doing so, they get the most inventive idea that would boost their profits. Amazon employees are both happy and unhappy with Amazon’s action. At the time, when they are giving their ideas, every person harshly criticizes them. For some employees, they end up crying. In the long-term, the employees benefit from all their critics, making them think harder about their ideas, and to be more innovative. The “quarter of a billion customers” (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015) benefit from Amazon’s action. Every customer was satisfied because they still get what they ordered. The only time any customer will be unsatisfied is when they don’t receive their order on time or at all. Either way, with or without Amazon’s action, each and every customer would be satisfied if they received their order. There is a possibility that some customers will be unhappy with this action because they believe that any person with a “personal crisis” (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015) should be allowed time to recover instead of getting replaced.

Considering the overall happiness of Amazon, the employees, and the customers, it is safe to say that Amazon’s action of forcing their employees to relentlessly criticize other ideas is morally correct from a utilitarian point of view. The parties who were happy in this case were Amazon, most of the employees, and most of the customers. The parties who were unhappy in this case were some of the employees and some of the customers. Since the number of people who were happy is greater than the number of people unhappy, Amazon’s action is morally correct. Mylan In the case study, “Mylan Hit with Racketeering Suit Over Big Price Hikes of EpiPen,” Mylan wanted to make more profit by increasing the price of their EpiPens. EpiPens are a device specifically for those with “life-threatening allergies.” (Mangan, 2017) Knowing that many people need the device, they still wanted to make more money off of them. Prior to the price increase, the EpiPen was only $90 dollars.

Now, a two-pack is $600 dollars. Some pharmaceutical stores could be at fault for this action as well. Some of those stores serve citizens who have health care insurance. It is a possibility that those stores participated in the action of increasing the prices for the EpiPen. The question is if Mylan’s action of increasing the price of EpiPens was morally correct, speaking from a utilitarian point of view. For this case, it is important to analyze the overall happiness of every person involved. It is important to think about Mylan, some pharmaceutical stores, many customers, and other bystanders who have an opinion about this case when determining whether or not Mylan’s action of increasing the prices on their product is morally correct. Mylan, most likely, would be happy with their action because of their increase in profit. Some pharmaceutical stores, including “CVS, Express Scripts, and Optum Rx,” (Mangan, 2017) would also be in favor of Mylan’s action. Both Mylan and some pharmaceutical stores are businesses, and their main priority is to increase profit. These customers who need EpiPens to save their lives are extremely unhappy with Mylan’s action. There are many people with “life-threatening allergies,” (Mangan, 2017) and most of those allergies relate to food consumption. It is understandable that people should know whatever they consume; however, there are cases in which they don’t know. Before the price increase, the cost of an EpiPen was expensive, but it was reasonable.

Now, it is unaffordable. Bystanders, consisting of those without “life-threatening allergies,” (Mangan, 2017) or those without allergies, might have an opinion about this case. These bystanders are affected indirectly in this case because they don’t have to buy EpiPens, but they are still enraged about Mylan’s action. Considering the overall happiness of Mylan, some pharmaceutical stores, many customers, and other bystanders, it is safe to say that Mylan’s action of increasing the price of EpiPens dramatically is ethically wrong from a utilitarian point of view. The parties who were happy with Mylan’s action were themselves and some pharmaceutical stores. The parties who were unhappy with Mylan’s action were the millions of customers needing EpiPens to save their life, as well as some bystanders who have an opinion about this case. Since the number of people unhappy outnumbers the number of people happy, Mylan’s action is morally incorrect. Conclusion Utilitarianism assesses the overall happiness of all individuals affected by an action, both directly and indirectly.

Observing the number of people who are happy with a certain action and the number of people who are unhappy with that action, we can determine whether or not that action is morally correct. From the case study, “Hacking into Harvard,” it is safe to say that some business schools’ decision to reject those students who access confidential information is morally correct. From the case study, “Nestle and Advertising,” it is safe to say that Nestle’s action to advertise their product in a third world country is morally incorrect. From the case study, “The Challenger,” it is safe to say that Morton Thiokol’s action to proceed with the launch, knowing that there was faulty equipment, was morally incorrect. From the case study, “Working Conditions in Amazon,” it is safe to say that Amazon’s action of forcing their employees to relentlessly criticize coworkers’ ideas is ethically correct. From the case study, “Mylan Hit with Racketeering Suit Over Big Price Hikes of EpiPen,” it is safe to say that Mylan’s action of increasing the price of the EpiPen, knowing that it is necessary for people with allergies, is ethically incorrect.

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Application of Utilitarianism to Various Case Studies. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved December 9, 2022 , from
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