Utilitarianism and its Basic Concepts

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Utilitarianism concentrates on the outcome of an action, which means that it determines in what is right or wrong based on the consequences of what this action brings about. If the action is the proper one then it maximizes utility/happiness and reduce suffering according to the typical conception of this principle of classical utilitarianism. As mentioned, the main goal of this ethical framework is to maximize happiness of the largest amount of people, but this goal has brought a lot of controversy between different groups. It has impacted societies, communities and governments around the world for centuries; even the life and ideas of a simple man in the streets have been also affected by this moral concept. Unquestionably, this ethical framework has not been dismissed from discussions and debates that concern not only to moral philosophers but society in general because of all the positive and negative aspects involved in the decision making of different alternatives, as well as the dilemma of the right vs. the wrong of the decision made. That is why it is crucial to analyze these positive aspects such as the increase of overall pleasure/happiness and the contemplation of circumstances as well as the negative ones such as the complexity of calculating the amount of happiness produced, the lack of foresight, the time uncertainty and the one that personally concerns me the most which is the balance of this utility/happiness over harm.

It is undeniable that happiness has an inherent huge worth, we cannot say that there is something negative about happiness. So, utilitarianism helps us to understand and accept that the right line of action is the one that guide us to accomplish the highest level of happiness and the minimum level of suffering. It also guide us to conclude that for example stealing is a wrong action for the damage it causes to everyone involved no matter in what part of the world or what culture since it is a universal principle. Additionally, this ethical framework offers a single and clear criteria to justify our beliefs and moral decisions, so before making any decision we can bring up the question of what global amount of utility it is going to contribute to make our own calculations and to compare with the different alternatives we have to finally decide what is right and what is wrong.

Despite the positive aspects previously mentioned about the ethical doctrine of utilitarianism, we have to recognize and acknowledge that this principle has received lots of negative criticism. First of all, the calculation made to achieve the global happiness/utility produced by the different alternatives for decision making is a tremendously difficult task since these alternatives are composed of certain events which we do not know in reality if they are going to occur or not. We do not have a high level of certainty of what is going to happen in the future since it is an unpredictable ethical theory.

For example, if we imagine a hypothetical situation where someone is in need of any type of benefit, let's say a financial one, and this individual or applicant decides to bribe the financial company manager in need of a good credit score to apply for a loan or a mortgage, so in this case how we can measure the happiness that the money will cause in the manager and the happiness that will cause in the applicant or how we can compare them; or what if the bribe is discovered and made public, or how we can balance the happiness or unhappiness that many other people will feel because of the loss of confidence and honesty of the financial company staff, the applicant and possibly their families and friends. And the last one, which personally is the one that concerns me the most which is the balance of utility/happiness over harm. There is a well-known saying or common quote from Machiavelli which says that the end justify the means which kind of makes reference to the impersonality in the distribution of happiness, since to maximize it, it really does not seem to matter how it is going to be distributed, some individuals can obtain a lot of happiness/utility and other can obtain very little or some can obtain it at the expense of other people, perhaps violating basic human rights or sacrificing innocents.

Utilitarianism has been accepted for so many people, cultures, communities and societies around the world simple because it seems to be relatively simple to apply in the process of decision making as well as the dilemma of the right actions vs. the wrong ones. However, personally I feel it would be great if another principle can be widely applied which not focuses only on the results but also on the rules or the process to make it happen, since as I mentioned previously with the example of the saying of Niccolo Machiavelli where a good outcome simply will kind of excuse any wrong action.

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Utilitarianism And Its Basic Concepts. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved May 19, 2024 , from

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