Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is the greatest good of the greatest number. It takes
the view that an action is right if it is likely to produce the best
consequences compared to all the other possible actions. The best
consequences are those which involve the maximization of what is good
and the minimization of what is bad. The worst consequences are which
involve the maximization of what is bad and the minimization of what
is good. The basic premise is the idea that the greatest good comes
from creating happiness for the greatest number of people. Pleasure
and freedom of pain are the only things desirable as ends. In
Utilitarianism it is the greatest happiness of everyone involved which
is right, so one must be impartial to one's own happiness.
Utilitarianism takes the view that if needed, you should sacrifice
your own happiness for greater pleasure of others. For Utilitarianism
bases action on pleasure and pain. It clearly takes pleasure to be
desirable as it recommends producing greatest pleasure and minimal
pain. If something is intrinsically good, it is god in itself no
matter what its consequences are. If something is instrumentally good,
it is good because of its consequences. A Utilitarian would say that
pleasure and only pleasure is intrinsically good. For example they
would argue that health is only good as it makes us feel good and it
is that which causes us pleasure, whereas being unhealthy makes us
There are a few minor problems with the application of the Utilitarian
argument. First of all how can one measure happiness and decide which
action would result in the greatest happiness for everyone involved?
Then there is the question of scope. How far does someone look in
deciding who is involved and who would be affected by the action?
Along with these problems, there are many arguments for and against
Utilitarianism and whether it provides an adequate basis for making
An argument against Utilitarianism is that there is no agreement about
what is the 'good' that is to be maximized for all concerned in
different situations. Who decides what is good for whom? And whose
interests are primary in these decisions? Furthermore does someone
have authority over anyone else in making these decisions?
Also, a Utilitarian would not judge the rightness or wrongness of the
actions but rather in the consequences or what has resulted from the
actions. This means they take the view that it is okay, and therefore
right, to carry out an action which is wrong in itself as long as it
has good consequences for the majority of people. An example of how
this could be wrong is; in a society with a lot of rape and no rapists
being convicted, the general public may be threatened and unhappy with
the thought of a...