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Utilitarian Morality

People perform a lot of activities daily. Inherent in these activities are decisions made on the basis of principles and, at times, done at whim. Actually, one’s worldview – a person’s collections of ideas and learnings and beliefs – basically are the principles that drive that person whether he/she knows it or not. The same is true in the working environment. Utilitarian morality according to the definition available is “the belief that value of a thing or an action is determined by its utility” (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition).

This belief or theory was originally proposed by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. They believe that “all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people” (www. answers. com). These definitions tell us why Utilitarianism places no value on rules. First, it is directed towards an expected end in mind. What matters is the outcome, and everything, all resources – human or devices or gadgets – must be weighed on the standard of what it is contributing to the achievement of set goals.

Understood thus, no rules are really important. What is important are the usefulness of things. Second, if the goal is “to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people,” then, essentially, the real goal of Utilitarianism is its rules. Actually, a lot of what is being practiced today in the workplace – work ethics and what is deemed as effectiveness – are motivated by Utilitarian principles. Everyone is familiar with the saying, “The end justifies the means.

” This has become an acceptable adage to many who do things with only their goals in mind, nothing more and nothing less. Two examples may be cited here to illustrate Utilitarianism. Here is a story of two shop owners. The first shop owner was greedy and a cheat. He runs his business using dirty tricks to earn higher gains. He evades taxes and uses his employees to attain to his aspiration. Everything in his store – his workers and his products – was programmed to accomplish his target.

The second shop owner, on the other hand, was one who keeps honest and fair prices in his store. However, this shop owner maintains honesty and fair prices in his store only because he wanted to gather and attract and retain his customers. He also wanted to be respected by his customers. The actions of this second shop owner may appear good and better than the first one. Nevertheless, since his motives are only for selfish reasons and not for the sake of honesty, he is still the same as the first one who operates on the principles of utilitarianism.

He may have contributed some nice things to his consumers, but the truth of the matter is, he’s just acting out of necessity. His leanings are toward that direction because it suits his own purposes. Actually, this is how it is in the utilitarian worldview. This is as far as it gets in the principle of utilitarianism. This is its morality.


1. Dictionary definition of utilitarianism. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company( in www. answers. com).

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