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Utilitarian Ethics in Philosophy Essay

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


Ethics is an important aspect of humanity that distinguishes people from animals. However, an analysis of multiple issues related to the subject of ethics may raise uncertainty and confusion. Deciding what is right or wrong is not clear-cut. Thus, several philosophers developed several frameworks from which one could understand the subject of ethics.

As a result, the principle of utilitarianism falls among the most important frameworks in which one can apply ethics. Utilitarianism is both a practical and a logical approach of viewing the subject of ethics. This paper defends the principle of utilitarianism as an important perspective to use when applying ethics.

A utilitarian views a right or a wrong action from a practical threshold, which holds that if some acts bring benefits to most people, they may be considered as the right ones, while if some deeds result in negative outcomes to the majority, they are meant to be wrong (Hammond 38).

One can clearly see that utilitarian ethic is both practical and simple in use, when compared to other types of ethics (Hammond 40). Other types of ethics, such as virtual ethics, are obviously ambiguous in several respects (Hammond 43). For instance, people hold different and sometimes opposite views on ethics (Hammond 48).

Consider, for example, the issue of euthanasia. While some people think that it is absolutely wrong to take away somebody’s life, others believe in the opposite calling it “good death”. Since it gives a person an opportunity to determine according to one’s views if such an action can bring good to people, utilitarian ethics eliminates ambiguities that originate with other types of ethics (Hammond 35).

Another important argument for the application of utilitarian ethics lies in its capacity to avoid a need to determine an absolutely right or wrong principle, which is often unattainable in fact (Hammond 45).

The vanity of attempting to classify an action as right or wrong is evident (Hammond 31). Governing laws in several countries recognize the room for giving exceptions to some offences depending on circumstances. For example, some countries that do not allow abortions make exceptions for the unique circumstances, when the unborn child can kill the mother; due to such a threat, a doctor can do abortion.

Likewise, soldiers should apply utilitarian ethics in the battlefield; otherwise they will face the guilt of murder of another person (Hammond 50). The examples above are just a few among a database of utilitarian moral principles that shape laws and guide the general life of the society (Hammond 42). In some cases, everyone should adopt utilitarian ethics in his/her daily activities.

Besides, utilitarian ethics gives a clear framework for deciding on an important choice when faced with a dilemma. Such a case is especially true for leaders, or those in positions that lay heavy responsibilities with them. Consider an army commander who is to make a decision if it is necessary to use an annihilating force against an enemy that poses a potential threat to the country (Hammond 50).

When such a commander applies utilitarian ethics to evaluate his/her decision, he/she will need to consider if utter annihilation of the enemy force will lead to more benefits for his/her nation and the world; thus, a person will have a clear platform on which the one can base his/her moral actions (Hammond 56).

Importantly, utilitarian ethics brings a sense of responsibility to people and can build an honest personality as well. It allows to judge morals from a perspective that does not consider the benefits that such an action will bring to people. A person who applies deontological or virtual ethics may practice a type of morality that has an origin in one’s childhood or environmental background.

Often, such an influence does not take into account the dynamics the one is facing. Such a direction can limit the choices and make individual practice right morals. Since a utilitarian considers the issue at hand, he/she bases his/her decisions on his/her sense of responsibility and honesty, while applying his/her ethics.

Some philosophers point out an unclear line between happiness and sadness as an inherent weakness in utilitarian ethics (Hammond 41). Since pleasure depends on multiple factors, which include culture, beliefs and psychology, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether an action will benefit most people. Here, the utilitarian perspective stands that while people may disagree on several components of advantage or disadvantage, it is clear that some actions may bring a degree of general comfort and enhance well-being of most people.

For example, an action that will reduce poverty within the society is generally acceptable as a right action in the perspective of utilitarianism. However, as it clear from western societies, reducing poverty, although it eliminates some form of suffering, does not itself guarantee a construction of happy society. The society then concentrates on the other needs, which determine its overall state of satisfaction with life.

Still, one cannot blame an initiative of solving the issue of poverty for the emerging needs of a wealthy society. One should not stop to dream of a society free of violence and crime because managing such an issue can lead to more challenges (and needs) for future societies. Moreover, one cannot stop attempting to decide on an action that can potentially be advantageous to the largest segment of the population simply because the society may evolve new needs (Hammond 39).

The lack of a universal set of moral standards in utilitarian ethics may create concern for some philosophers (Hammond 57). Since moral decisions are often left at the discretion of people (or small parties) to decide what is potentially good for the major part of the community, there is a potential risk to make wrong choices. Still, it is unfair to judge utilitarianism from such a perspective since other type of ethics, such as deontological ethics, falls in a similar category.

Even a supporter of virtual ethics will admit that he/she often regrets for some moral decisions he/she has made. Similarly, when making a decision, one cannot remain absolutely certain that whatever he/she does will benefit the largest segment of the community (Hammond 47). However, since such a person makes moral decisions based on his/her own view, one cannot avoid bias and an opportunity to be wrong due to one’s limitations and lack of knowledge.


The issue of ethics needs an evaluation that considers crucial dynamics in our society. Here, the conflicting ethical values within communities and the unique nature of situations that require individuals to make moral decisions are the specific factors that one needs to consider when reviewing ethics.

Besides, varying cultural, religious, educational and social dynamics within countries make it difficult to develop universal ethics (Hammond 50). Utilitarian ethics provides a foundation for addressing the above mentioned trends that arise in society. When applying utilitarian ethics, the most important consideration, which is a common interest for everyone, is the benefit it may give to the general population (Hammond 42).

Works Cited

Hammond, Peter. Consequentiality Theory and Utilitarian Ethics. California: Stanford University Press, 2000. Print

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IvyPanda. "Utilitarian Ethics in Philosophy." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/utilitarian-ethics/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Utilitarian Ethics in Philosophy." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/utilitarian-ethics/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Utilitarian Ethics in Philosophy'. 12 August.

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