Utilitarism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility: that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people. It is easily sumed up by saying 'the greatest good for the greatest number of people'. The utility to be maximised by utilitarian acts has been defined generally as happiness or pleasure but remains a subjective choice for those using the framework.

Negative Utilitarianism Edit

Negative Utilitarism requires us to promote the least harm, the least amount of suffering to the greatest number. People argue this framework is more successful as the negative impacts are more consequential than the possible positive impacts.

The founder of NU referred to an epistemological argument: “It adds to clarity in the fields of ethics, if we formulate our demands negatively, i.e. if we demand the elimination of suffering rather than the promotion of happiness.” (Karl R.Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, London 1945).

There are numerous criticisms of NU ethics the first suggested that the ultimate aim of NU would be to engender the quickest and least painful method of killing the entirety of humanity, as this ultimately would effectively minimize suffering. NU would seem to call for the destruction of the world even if only to avoid the pain of a pinprick

Strengths Edit

Utilitarism can solve complex real world problems when several invoilable situations collide.

Utilitarianism is championed in many Western societies for its objectivist appeal. It is the only ethical framework capable of monetising the outcome of decisions.

Cost Benefit Analysis Edit

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is designed to identify all the benefits received and costs borne by affected stakeholders. For each cost or benefit, a 'discount rate' is applied to translate future values into present values; the 'discount rate' can be thought of as a weighting coefficient. A pursuit is viable if it has a net benefit; however, the most desirable course of action is the one with the greatest net benefit. In cirumstances where all decisions carry an overall cost (i.e. when trying to mitigate fallout), the best decision is the one that carries the lowest cost.

Criticism Edit

Despite its obvious common-sense appeal, utilitarism turns out to be a complicated theory, and doesn't provide a complete solution to all ethical problems.

Two problems with consequentialism are:

  • it can lead to the conclusion that some quite dreadful acts are good
  • predicting and evaluating the consequences of actions is often very difficult

Aggregating utility Edit

It is questioned if you can meaningfully count individuals utility together.

Predicting consequences Edit

That the basis of the framework is being able to understand the consequences, which in many cases is difficult if not impossible.

Importance of intentions Edit

Many people consider the importance of the intended outcome to be of importance, as an act which is intended to be evil can inadvertedly have a positive outcome and is deemed a moral act by utilitarism. Also by only using the outcomes to judge an action, utilitarism becomes a method to judge an action rather than a method to guide individuals.