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Utilitarianism

The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number The idea of utilitarianism is tightly coupled with the philosophy of consequentialism. The philosophy of consequentialism is based on the belief that the moral and ethical value of one's action should be judged by the consequence of such action. Utilitarianism states that the morality of an action is
best judged by the utility or usefulness of such an action.

1. The Basic Idea: The Greatest Happiness Principle


Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness John Stuart Mill Happiness = pleasure, and the absence of pain Unhappiness = pain, and the absence of pleasure

2. Background
English philosophers John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) were the leading proponents of what is now called classic utilitarianism. The Utilitarians were social reformers. They supported suffrage for women and those without property, and the abolition of slavery. Utilitarians argued that criminals ought to be reformed and not merely punished (although Mill did support capital punishment as a deterrent). Bentham spoke out against cruelty to animals. Mill was a strong supporter of meritocracy. Proponents emphasized that utilitarianism was an egalitarian doctrine. Everyones happiness counts equally.

3. Definition We cant live without it, can we?


A general term for any view that holds that actions and policies should be evaluated on the basis of the benefits and costs they will impose on the society.

4. Traditional Utilitarianism
Founder Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832): An action is right from an ethical point of view if and only if the sum total of the utilities produced by that act is greater than the sum total of utilities produced by any other act the agent could have performed in its place. Why is it attractive? a. Influences maximising utility (net benefit produced by an action) b. Matches well with moral evaluation of public policies - choice of government policies and public goods.

c. Intuitive criteria Explains why persons have moral obligation to perform some actions. d. Helps explain why some actions are wrong and others are generally right. e. Influences economics basis of the techniques of economic cost-benefit analysis. Economists were able to demonstrate that a system is perfectly competitive markets would lead to a use of resources and price variations that would enable consumer to maximize their utility. f. Advocates efficiency Efficiency means operating in such a way that one produces the most one can with the resources in hand. If we consider desired output as benefits and resource input as cost utilitarianism implies that the right course of action is always the most efficient one.

5. Criticisms:
Measurement Problems: a. How can the utilities different actions have for different people be measured and compared? b. Benefits and costs are difficult to measure. Can one measure the value of health or life? c. Many cost and benefits of an action cannot be reliably predicted. d. Lack of clarity on what is to be counted as benefit and what is to be counted as cost varies among various cultures, societies, businesses etc e. Utilitarianism forces to assume that all goods are tradable. Non-economic goods such as life, love, freedom, beauty etc cannot be accurately measured or equated to another good precisely. Rights and Justice: a. Utilitarianism can lead to going against the moral rights. Eg: If killing a murderer is more beneficial to the society then killing the person is a right action. b. Can go wrong when applied to social justice child labour can be beneficial to a larger group of associated people; utilitarianism principles can let child labour prevail on the grounds of greater good.

6. Counterargument
How to measure: a. When quantitative data is not available, one may legitimately rely on shared and commonsense judgements of the comparative values things have for most people i. intrinsic and instrumental goods. ii. Distinction between wants and needs. iii. b. Monetary values - Value of a thing can be measured by price the person is willing to pay for it. c. Rely on votes, surveys, broader level consensus etc.

Rights and Justice: Bring in rule a. Utilitarians proposed an alternative version called rule-utilitarianism. The theory has two major principles: i. An action is right from an ethical point of view if and only if the action would be required by those moral rules that are correct. ii. A moral rule is correct if and only if the sum total of utilities produced if everyone were to follow that rule is greater than the sum total of utilities produced if everyone were to follow some alternative rule.

7. Limitations:
a. Difficult to use when dealing with values that are difficult to measure quantitatively. b. Inadequate with situations that involve rights and justice.

8. Examples:
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki One of the most debatable example of utilitarianism is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II. Many debate that this force of action was unnecessary. However, the Japanese were working towards developing a similar weapon that could have been used on the United States unless intervened. By doing so, we were able to save thousands if not millions of Americans. This also helped America to build a reputation during the war which caused many other countries to fear our capabilities. Airline Industry We all know that business class passengers pay a premium price to get all the luxuries of that class that the airline offers. Now, if you know the huge difference between the price of an economy class ticket and a business class ticket, do you think that the extra amenities that are being offered to the business class travellers, travelling for the same amount of time as the economy class, really worth the exorbitant price? Now, once you come to delve deeper into this, you'll realize that the premium price charged from the business class travellers - the ones who can easily afford it - are actually used to ease out the burden of deficit that the airline would have to bear if it is to allow the economy class passengers the opportunity for air travel at a lower price. The principle also plays in case of discriminatory pricing strategies of companies when pricing products for different customer segments having different income levels.