The Utilitarianism Ethical Theory. | My Paper Hub

The Utilitarianism Ethical Theory.


According to Marianne Jennings (2008), ethical theories provide guidelines that justify an action or a decision to be right or wrong when settling a conflict between the conflicting parties ("Ethical Theory And Its Application To Contemporary Busi...Read More


~Posted on Jan 2019

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According to Marianne Jennings (2008), ethical th...

According to Marianne Jennings (2008), ethical theories provide guidelines that justify an action or a decision to be right or wrong when settling a conflict between the conflicting parties ("Ethical Theory And Its Application To Contemporary Business Practice"). There are various theories in ethics; however, the one to be applied in this case is the theory of Utilitarianism. The utilitarianism theory is a consequentialist theory that defines morality regarding maximum expectable utility for everyone affected by the action or the decision. There have been various forms of Utilitarianism put forward and debated on since time memorial. However, the modern one mostly associated with John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher is the one widely used. The fundamental principle of this theory as stated by Mill is that an action or a decision is right to the extent that it will promote the greatest good and happiness for the largest number of people involved (Kay). The theory of utilitarianism, in this case, condemns the decision of the businessman since his acts leave the greatest number of individuals unhappy as compared to those happy which is just himself.

It is, however, unclear about the constitutes of the “greatest good.” A philosopher by the name Jeremy Bentham believed that it is the tendency to increase or diminish pleasure or happiness with no distinction made between persons or pleasure where all measures are stringently quantitative. Mill, on the other hand, defines “good” regarding well-being and elaborates not only quantitatively but also qualitatively between different forms of pleasure. They both, however, insisted that the greatest number consists of all those affected by the action or decision in question while counting “each as one and no one as more than one.” The results of utilitarianism are easy to apply while allowing for a degree of wrong or right and a clear cut in the choice of action which is that with the greatest utility. The difference in the philosopher’s definition of the principle is that Bentham describes benefits and harm in terms of pleasure and pain, while Mill concerning not only pleasure and anguish but also regarding the intensity of the pain or pleasure (Kay).

Utilitarians in the modern days also differ on the views about the kind of question to ask when making an ethical move. A group of them suggest asking the effect of making a decision in a particular situation on the balance of good over evil in general before making the decision. The other group known as rule utilitarians suggests asking the effect of everyone doing the action and the results in the general balance of good over evil. Regardless of these differences, most utilitarians hold on to the general principle which states that morality has to depend on balancing the harmful and beneficial consequences of a decision or an action ("Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach - Ethical Decision Making - Ethics Resources - Markkula Center For Applied Ethics - Santa Clara University").

The theory, however, has several objections which make it reliable solely in making decisions. The first objection is that the theory requires the assigning value to harms and benefits resulting from an action and comparing them to others emanating from other decisions. It is always almost impossible to compare and measure these benefits and harm. For example, it is impossible to put the value on life, time and human dignity. Secondly, the outcome of a decision is neither always clear nor is it possible to determine the parties to be affected. Hence, not easy to anticipate beforehand. The other objection is that utilitarianism fails to take into account issues with justice. Using the Utilitarian theory would in some situations produce greater benefits but would be unjust. Which in other words fails to acknowledge individual rights that could be violated while pursuing the greater good (Kay).

The principle of utilitarianism proposes a consideration of immediate and later consequences of an action. The theory asks to look beyond personal interests and consider impartially the interests of all other people affected by a decision ("Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach - Ethical Decision Making - Ethics Resources - Markkula Center For Applied Ethics - Santa Clara University"). In this case, therefore, the utilitarianism theory would be against the businessman's resolution. Instead, it would propose that the entrepreneur considers the misery it would cause the people in the community. The greatest number of people would be harmed by the decision, hence suggesting a reconsideration.

Applying the theory will mean disregarding the businessman's rights to do whatever he pleases with his property. The implications of this would be an injustice to the businessman just because he is one against the greater number of people. I would, however, agree with the theory in this case because the businessman already earns steady profits. It is greed that drives him to make this decision, not considering that the community which has been his source of income is going to suffer. The greed will only drive the community to find other means, and in the end, he might find that not so many people are buying water from his ponds. The following results would be him losing his ponds business. Following the theory in the reconsideration would mean that business man would not increase the price of water-rights, resulting to farmers not becoming bankrupt. The decision would also mean prosperity for the members of the community, but nothing changes for the business man. However, nobody loses anything, hence achievement of the greater good.

The principle of utilitarianism as discussed earlier has its faults like not considering justice and undoubtedly hard to put a value on various aspects like human dignity. Therefore, if moral decisions are to regard justice, utilitarianism cannot be the sole guiding principle in making them. The theory would need other approaches to make a just and appropriate decision in the situation. However, in the today's era characterized by many as the age of self-interest, the principle of utilitarianism is a single policy that reminds people to look beyond their selves and consider the "good" of all ("Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach - Ethical Decision Making - Ethics Resources - Markkula Center For Applied Ethics - Santa Clara University").

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