Is Utilitarianism outdated within this 21st century?

We all love happy endings, some may not, but most people do. Humanity at the current 21 century has reached a peak of population density where none policy or even legislation would fulfill the desires of each individual. However what matter in the eyes of any politician is he did the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens. Such philosophy is known as Utilitarianism. It is a belief that the sole standard of morality is determined by its usefulness.

In the beginning of Utilitarianism, the idea was simple, either pain or pleasure. Mankind have always under the influence of such judgement. It allows us to make the choices to proceed in our life. But, on the other hand, it also determine the standards of right or wrong, the consequences of each action will soon determine the end result. Jeremy Bentham the founder of Utilitarianism believe that this foundation could provide a basis for social, legal, and moral reform in society. Thus, the key to such ethical system is the principle of utility. That is, ” What is the greatest good for the greatest number?”

However, there are a few problems about Utilitarianism. One of it is that it leads to an “end justifies the means” mentality. If any person, especially the rich and the powerful, can justify the means, the true ethical foundation will be lost. In another words, a particular act cannot be judged as good simply because it may lead to a good consequences. But the means must be judged by the main objectives and also maintain the consistent standard of morality. This means, there is always a “core” value in whatever the means needed for justification.  For example, Hitler justify the Holocaust because he wanted the greater good, to purify the whole human race. Stalin slaughter millions because he was trying to achieve a communist utopia. What kind of “greater good” means, when the process involve in killing and genocides?

Secondly, Utilitarianism will not be able to protect the rights of minorities, if the goal results in the greatest good for the greatest number. For example, during the 18th century, slavery is so common that the majority of the American population benefited from the slavery consequences.

Lastly, the problem with Utilitarianism is that consequences themselves must be judged. Even though a result may occur, people will still ask whether if they are good or bad result. Utilitarianism doesn’t not prove any objective and consistent foundation to measure a judgement because the mechanism of Utilitarianism is used against itself.

In a conclusion, Utilitarianism cannot always determine a future of a society. It cannot keep up with the immense growth of the current population. The judgement of right or wrong cannot be understood with Utilitarianism, this is because an event must occur only able to judge whether if it is right or wrong. It is a “depend on” kind of situation on the results. As far as it can go, Utilitarianism attempts to provide a moral system apart from any religion teachings, but in the end, it does not succeed.




  1. I believe utilitarianism is a generally flawed idea, but all morality is relative. The standard measures of judgement are only a person-by-person basis and objective morality is nonexistent. Utilitarianism is necessary for making some decisions. For example, it might be best for Columbus to build a public transit rail system even if it means forcing some people to move or have their lives interrupted by construction. This would be an example of a utilitarianism decision that most would agree would be greatest good for the greatest number of people.

    I lived in Los Angeles for a few years and there was an interesting example of this at play. One thing that is interesting is that sometimes utilitarianism follows more of the suit of populism as opposed to as you mentioned above (the people in power deciding what is the greatest good). In LA, they started to build a minor subway network back in the 90’s-ish when the city started getting really bogged down with traffic and they were planning out the routes. I am going to guess you aren’t familiar with the typography of the city but the west side (some cities on the west side: Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Bel Air) all vehemently fought the construction of subway stops in their respective cities because they were worried that it would encourage “trouble-makers” from areas like south central to get to their are easier. They had more power and money and were able to fight the populist/utilitarian idea of building the subway out in their direction and now, 20 years later, are electing to get it built in their direction. Traffic is so bad in LA that these people now want a mass transit option. If the utilitarian hand was forced, even when they “knew” they didn’t want it, it would have worked out for the best.

    Definitely against everything Hitler and Stalin did but I think in some situations utilitarianism shouldn’t be written off, and should be considered as an effective ontology.

  2. Hi frank,
    You are right about the cons of Utilitarianism. Like i have mentioned in the begging of the topic, it is only a basic fundamental for determining a large mass of population “greatest for the greater good”. However, the problem is that population today have extreme moral values, some may be beneficial but some may be not. Such inconsistent shift in moral value, i fear that the humanity shouldn’t be depending on this belief. Other than that, Utilitarianism is still a very dependable ontology to begin off with.

  3. I did not know a lot about Utilitarianism till this post. This is very informational and provokes me to think about a lot of its issues. The one thing that really stood out to me was “a particular act cannot be judged as good simply because it may lead to a good consequences”. The examples were compelling and really made me rethink my thoughts on Utilitarianism.

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