Examples of Utilitarianism in Real Life

Utilitarianism is a concept of philosophy and ethical theories that supports actions of happiness and well-being actions for an individual while rejecting all the thoughts and actions that create a state of unhappiness. It is considered to be one of the most important and well known moral theories applicable in real life. The concept of utilitarianism works on the basis of various other forms of consequentialism and relies on the notion that an action can be labelled as a right choice or wrong choice on the basis of the effect of the action. The belief of utilitarianism is to make life better by encouraging the good deeds that bring pleasure, joy, and happiness to a person’s life and suppressing the actions that make an individual unhappy or stressed. Utilitarians tend to discourage or reject the pre-decided customs and moral codes created by society, leaders, and supernatural beings and consider an action to be true or justifiable if the act leads to a positive contribution to an individual’s life or the nature. Jeremy Bentham who was an English philosopher and political radical and John Stuart Mill who was an English philosopher, political economist, Member of Parliament and civil servant are considered to be two of the most important utilitarians and social reformers to date. The theories and ideologies introduced by them were applicable to most of the economic, political, and social aspects of society. In the past, the notion of utilitarianism was highly criticized and opposed by a number of people; however, in the current scenario, the theory has gained huge support from the people and knowledgeable philosophers. The only discrepancy in the idea of utilitarianism is that the determination of whether or not the moral theory is correct is a complicated process as the understanding of the theory varies from person to person. This creates multiple versions of the theory. The disagreement between the believers of different theories of utilitarianism prohibits the declaration and establishment of a unified and fundamental theory of utilitarianism for the common people. In simple words, utilitarianism can be defined as the concept that describes an action made by an individual in any situation as good or bad by observing the type of result produced upon the implementation of the choice.

Types of Utilitarianism

Primarily the theory of utilitarianism can be broadly classified into two categories, namely, act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. The definition, key differences between the two types of utilitarianism, advantages, disadvantage, and application of both types of utilitarianism are discussed in the following sections:

Act Utilitarianism

Act utilitarianism primarily focuses on the effects of the actions of an individual. Act utilitarianism aims at maximizing the overall utility by enhancing the utility of every action made by an individual. If each action performed by an individual has the potential to bring out the maximum possible utility than any other possible choice of action, then it can be said that the utility is currently at its peak or highest possible level or value. If a person chooses to make a decision that has produced less utility than the utility that could have been achieved if any other decision was made in place of the current decision, then the total utility of the actions turns out to be less than the ideal utility value. The notion of act utilitarianism implies that the principle of utilitarianism should be applied to the acts individually and not to the types of actions. Act utilitarianism condemns the traditional moralities that tell ‘thou shall not do x’, where x is any form of action or deed such as kill, steal, lie, hit, etc. Instead, act utilitarianism tends to establish a better version of the morality code by assigning an exception to the rules or traditional theories such that the original theory gets modified to ‘thou shall not do x except in a, b, or c circumstance, where x is the deed and a, b, or c are the specific circumstances. For instance, one must not kill anyone except in case of self-defence or as an act of punishment. The concept of act utilitarianism helps a person open up his/her viewpoint and improve his/her critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. In simple words, the believers of act utilitarianism or the utilitarians oppose the rigid rule-based traditional morality systems and tend to categorise the list of actions as right or wrong by observing each of them individually and considering all the aspects of the current situation on the decision-maker. Act utilitarians encourage the individuals to discard or deny a pre-existing moral code or rule in case better can be done by making an alternative choice in a particular condition or situation. The righteousness of a decision in the case of act utilitarianism basically depends on the basis of the amount of well being of the people involved or affected by the decision. The only difficulty that tends to disrupt the application of act utilitarianism in real life is the lacking ability of the people to judge or classify the critical aspects of the scenario. This leads to the plausibility of a wrong decision to be interpreted as right or the best of the available decisions. To solve this problem, Jeremy Bentham who was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer came up with the notion of a model called a hedonic calculus that simplifies the process of critical decision making. He is also known as the father of modern utilitarianism. The hedonic calculus primarily lists the factors that can or should be used to determine the amounts of pleasure, joy, pain, suffering, and the state of happiness or unhappiness caused by the implementation of a decision in a particular condition. This listing of the factors helps the individual to categorise the choices well and attempt to make the decision that would lead to the most favourable result for the living or the non-living things involved in the situation.

Rule Utilitarianism

Rule utilitarianism focuses on the result caused by the implementation of different types of actions of an individual.

Examples of Utilitarianism

1. Two patients suffering from a similar kind of mis…

To understand the concept of utilitarianism in real life, consider a scenario in which there are two patients suffering from a disease and you have sufficient medicine to cure the disease or relieve the pain of one of the patients only. In such a case, the decision making becomes critical if you stick to the rigid traditional moral code. Here, the traditional theories dictate distributing the medicine to both the patients in half, while the utilitarianism theory suggests the person judge which of the patients is in critical pain or which of the patients has the more tolerable medical condition and give the medicine to the person who needs it the most. By doing so, one can easily observe that the potential to do good improves if you make use of the utilitarianism theory of philosophy or morality rather than the traditional morality codes. To be specific, here the decision made on the basis of utilitarianism mainly relies on the concept of act utilitarianism. The only disadvantage to choosing act utilitarianism, in this case, is the difficulty to judge the intensity of the discomfort of the patients.


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