Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that holds that an action is right if it produces, or if it tends to produce, the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people affected by the action. Otherwise the action is wrong. This cost-benefit analysis is a form of utility calculation. People in business theory use utility curves to plot the results of various actions, choosing those that maximize whatever it is that they wish to achieve. This utility approach is not foreign to most people. It is widely used in many forms of general decision making and can be applied to moral issues as well as to strictly business issues.
A defense of utilitarianism as an ethical theory is that it describes what rational people actually do in making moral decisions. It explicitly formulates for them the procedures they intuitively and spontaneously use in moral reasoning. The theory renders explicit what is implicit in the ordinary moral reasoning and argumentation that we ourselves use Utilitarianism adopts a teleological approach to ethics and claims that actions are to be judged by their consequences. According to this view, actions are not good or bad in themselves. Actions take on moral value only when considered in conjunction with the effects that follow upon them.
ACT AND RULE UTILITARIANISM Act utilitarianism holds that each individual action, in all its concreteness and in all its detail, is what should be subjected to the utilitarian test. Rule utilitarians hold that utility applies appropriately to classes of actions rather than to given individual actions. Thus, by looking at the general consequences of breaking contracts in the past, we can determine that breaking contracts is immoral. OBJECTIONS TO UTILITARIANISM One objection claims that utilitarianism is ungodly because it proposes utility, rather than the Bible or God, as a basis for moral judgments.
A second objection frequently brought against utilitarianism is that no one has the time to calculate all the consequences of an action beforehand. A third objection to utilitarianism is that we cannot know the full results of any action, nor can we accurately weigh the different kinds of good and evil that result. The calculation is artificial and not practical. APPLYING UTILITARIANISM 1. Accurately state the action to be evaluated. 2. Identify all those who are directly and indirectly affected by the action. 3.
Consider whether there is some dominant, obvious consideration that carries such importance as to outweigh other considerations. 4. Specify all the pertinent good and bad consequences of the action for those directly affected, as far into the future as appears appropriate, and imaginatively consider various possible outcomes and the likelihood of their occurring. 5. Weigh the total good results against the total bad results, considering quantity, duration, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, and purity for each value (kind of good and kind of bad), and the relative importance of these values.
6. Carry out a similar analysis, if necessary, for those indirectly affected, as well as for society as a whole. 7. Sum up all the good and bad consequences. If the action produces more good than bad, the action is morally right; if it produces more bad than good, it is morally wrong. 8. Consider, imaginatively, whether there are various alternatives other than simply doing or not doing the action, and carry out a similar analysis for each of the other alternative actions. 9. Compare the results of the various actions.
The action that produces the most good (or the least bad, if none produces more good than bad) among those available is the morally proper action to perform UTILITARIANISM AND BRIBERY Bribery in business is an interesting kind of action to examine from a utilitarian point of view, because those who engage in bribery frequently justify their actions based on something similar to utilitarian grounds. Utilitarianism, far from being a self-serving approach to moral issues, demands careful, objective, and impartial evaluation of consequences. It is a widely used—but often misused—approach to moral evaluation.
A powerful tool of moral reasoning, it is a technique well worth mastering. CASE SUMMARIES An Airplane Manufacturing Case An airplane manufacturer has spent a great deal of money developing a new airplane. The company badly needs cash because it is financially overextended. If it does not get some large orders soon, it will have to close down part of its operation. Doing that will put several thousand workers out of jobs. The president of the company bribes a foreign minister to insure the purchase of the planes, arguing that the good done overall justifies the use of bribery.
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