Ethics and Utilitarianism

What is Utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is an ethical framework for effective moral action. It’s a philosophical concept that holds an action to be held right if it tends to promote happiness for the greatest number of people. The essence of utilitarianism is in its concept of pleasure and pain. It defines the morally right actions as those actions that maximize pleasure or happiness and minimize pain or evil. Utilitarianism is all about making the right choices that will consequently promote the greatest amount of happiness.

It can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, but the name most frequently associated with utilitarianism is that of Jeremy Bentham. According to utilitarianism, we should evaluate an action by looking at is consequences, weighing the good effects against the bad effects on all the people affected by it. If the good outweighs the bad, it tends to be a good action; if the bad outweigh the good, it tends to be a bad action. DeGeorge 45) Ethical principles and theories are the foundations of ethical analysis because bring significant characteristics to the decision-making process. Every single theory shows different points such as predicting the outcome and following one’s duties to others in order to reach an ethical decision. But an ethical theory can only to be useful if the theory is directed towards a common set of goals. Ethical principles are the common goals that each theory tries to achieve in order to be successful.

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These goals include beneficence, least harm, respect for autonomy and justice. Using utilitarianism in ethical business practice would consider the good and bad consequence for everyone the action would affect, treat everybody as having equal rights, with no bias towards self, and would use it as an objective, quantitative way to make a moral decision. Utilitarianism should be employed in all business decision-making process to maximize effects and minimize negative outcomes. Businesses seek to make a profit.

The cost-benefit analysis is a form of utility calculation. Most business often use cost-benefit as a decision making tool. Companies attempt to find out how much something is going to cost them before taking any actions that should result in consequences favorable to everyone involved. Just simply put, the company could make a profit while the consumer benefit from the product. To understand the definitions and concepts of the theory, in relation to business ethics, I will use the Ford Pinto Case as an example.

The Ford Pinto was sold with dangerous design faults in the fuel tank in which management knew the problem existed. (bizcovering) In a roll over, the fuel valve had a tendency to leak fuel. That did not stop design and production, they rushed to assemble the vehicle and costs were kept low in order to sell the auto for $2,000. It was successful, until one year four people died and one little boy horribly burned and disfigured. Then there were many other incidents that resulted in Ford being sued and had to pay millions in compensation.

The cost-benefit analysis demonstrated an abuse of utilitarian principles to suit their needs, because the engineers were aware of the flaws, yet the company continued to sell the car without safety modifications. Utilitarianism, far from being a self-serving approach to moral issues, demands careful, objective, and impartial evaluation of consequences. This philosophy is based on the belief that the moral and ethical value of one’s action should be judged by the consequence of such action.

But utilitarianism states that the morality of an action is best judged by the utility or usefulness of such an action. During the 1980’s, Oliver North had to explain why he lied to congressional committees about his role in the Iran-Contra affair, the sale of U. S. arms to Iran for the release of hostages that were held by Iran, he replied, “Lying does not come easily to me. But we all had to weigh in the balance the difference between lies and lives. North’s conduct was an example of utilitarianism, his method of justifying his acts of deception is a form of moral reasoning.

So long as a course of action produces maximum benefits for everyone, utilitarianism does not care whether the benefits are produced by lies, manipulation, or coercion. Utilitarianism was once a radical philosophy. It attempted to set forth a moral system apart from divine revelation and biblical morality. Utilitarianism focused on results rather than rules. But now has been embraced by so many simply because it seems to make a good deal of sense and seems relatively simple to apply. It provided for a way for people to live moral lives apart from the Bible and its rules.

Logic rather than obedience to biblical principles guides the ethical decision-making of utilitarianism. While Jeremy Bentham developed his ethical system around the idea of pleasure and built it on ancient hedonism which pursued physical pleasure and avoided physical pain; John Stuart Mill modified this philosophy and developed it apart from Bentham’s hedonistic foundation. Mill used the same utilitarian calculus but instead focused on maximizing the general happiness by calculating the greatest good for the greatest number.

Whereas Bentham established act utilitarianism, Mill established rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarian holds that each individual action, in all its concreteness and in all its details, is what should be to the utilitarian test. (DeGeorge 47) Rule utilitarian holds that utility applies appropriately t classes of actions rant than to given individual actions. (DeGeorge 48) According to Mill, one determines what is right by comparing the consequences of all relevant factors of diffeerent rules for a specific circumstance. In conclusion, utilitarianism is all about making the right choices that will consequently promote the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Work Cited

DeGeorge, Richard T. Business Ethics. 7th Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 2010 “Applying Utilitarianism to Business Ethics: The Ford Pinto Case. ” Annie Lundy February 6, 2009 “Utilitarianism. ” utilitarianism. com. Henry R. West. n. d. “Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics. ” Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez. n. d.

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Ethics and Utilitarianism. (2017, Feb 18). Retrieved from