Utilitarianism: The Greatest Utility for the Greatest Number

Utilitarianism is a theory proceeding primarily or exclusively from the principle of utility and the possibility of obtaining direct benefits for solving socio-political problems. The moral is estimated regarding benefits, so-called utility. The latter can be identified as happiness, pleasure, well-being, the satisfaction of desires, preferences, or the realization of the individual’s interests. The good is measurable and summable; the assessing utility can be performed at the level of a person or groups of different scales, including humanity in general or the whole of living beings.

Reflecting consideration leading to utilitarianism, the principle of calculating utility suggests that an increase in benefit for one person can offset a decrease affecting another. As applied to people, each portion of utility is of equal importance, regardless of the individual receiving it. Awareness of such aspects is crucial in determining the summed utility. In addition, the increment of added benefits makes the world a better place. Choosing between availability to perform alternative actions and systems of norms claiming to be recognized, the person needs to proceed from the understanding of which of them provides the most remarkable increment of the benefit. This results in a principle that requires the promotion of the greatest happiness for most people.

Utilitarian philosophers proposed their solutions to several fundamental metaethical problems, including the nature of morality, the source of obligatory moral requirements, and the specifics of right motivation. The strength of utilitarianism is its flexibility – the ability to transform and fit into various cultural contexts. Therefore, the ideas are easily correlated with the economic theory of marginalism in the concept of general and marginal utility. Moreover, the doctrine serves as a theoretical basis for a wide range of professional and ethical codes; it can function as an effective regulator of various kinds of interethnic and intercultural interactions. Unlike deontological theories, utilitarianism provides greater freedom in choosing the means to achieve the targeted results. Flexibility also manifests itself in the finding of counterarguments to any critical arguments put forward against the theory.

Another strength is that utilitarianism is relevant to the most serious topics. Morally right action achieves the best gain regarding all possible alternatives. For example, the theory is used in bioethics, where the principle of maximizing the common good addresses intractable challenges in terms of culture and nature. Utilitarian ethics substantiates such phenomena as the protection of animal rights and passive euthanasia. One of the reasons for the applicability of the theory in bioethics is the possibility of various interpretations of utility. In particular, in medicine and health care, this term can be applied for such benefits as health, positive outcome of treatment, patient satisfaction, decrease in the incidence of the population, and increase in life expectancy. In general, the utilitarian approach in bioethics is best displayed in situations where it is possible to approach some reasonable decision according to refined estimates or calculations. These can be tasks of locating medical resources and assessing patient preferences. In these cases, utilitarian ethics turns out to be a clear advantage, striving for measurability and accuracy.

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