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Utilitarianism as a theory

In the field of ethics, utilitarianism as a theory has been defined as “the theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its usefulness in bringing about the most happiness of all those affected by it” (“Utilitarianism”) . According to this theory, the rightness or wrongness of a thing or action is dependent on its ability to bring happiness to a greater number of people. This springs from the belief that since the ultimate objective of every individual is to attain happiness, then that which makes a person happy is most useful and helpful.

The renowned philosophers who have endorsed this theory are Jeremy Bentham, David Hume and John Stuart Mill. As can be seen from their works, happiness is considered as their yardstick for determining utility and rightness of a certain thing or action. The views of said philosophers have influenced, not only the thinking of other people, but also the formation of different laws and regulations. His ideas on utility and happiness do not only affect philosophy, but also implementation of certain rules and guidelines affecting society.

As correctly stated in an article about the life and works of Bentham entitled “Jeremy Bentham: His Life and Impact, His ideas formed the foundation for the Napoleonic code, the type of law used by most countries–but for the Britain and colonies. Bentham campaigned for social and political reforms in all areas, most notably the criminal law. He formulated the principle of utility, which approves of an action in so far as an action has an overall tendency to promote the greatest amount of happiness. For Hume, some principles on morality cannot simply be defended or justified.

Some of said principles have been accepted because it felt right or appeared right for them to be accepted due to the fact that said principles promote the interests of many and they bring greater happiness to the people in general (“David Hume”) . John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, advances the theory that happiness cannot be considered in its general sense. This is in opposition to the view of Bentham that all kinds of happiness should be treated with equality. John Stuart Mill believes that certain forms of happiness should be placed in a higher scale than the others.

Hence, the rightness or wrongness of a thing should be based on the level or importance given to a certain form of happiness. The theory advances a sound idea yet it must be borne in mind that application of said theory has its own consequences. For instances, a certain act may have the ability to make a number of people happy, yet it can also bring negative feelings or emotions to other people. So also, the importance given to a certain form of happiness may vary from one person to another.

Hence, it is not easy to determine whether a certain act is absolutely capable of bringing about happiness. Ultimately, it is difficult to establish if a certain act is right or wrong. If the measure of the ethical correctness of an action is solely its ability to make people happy, then answers would vary dependent on the classes of people one would deal with. Hence, in doing a certain act, one group of people would thing that the same act is right and ethical, while the others upon whom no happiness was brought by the act would probably judge that the action was wrong and unethical.

The theory of Utilitarianism has a large significance in the principle charity. People who give or share to those who are in need are those considered charitable. Charity can be displayed in number of ways: giving donations to charitable institutions; lending a helping hand to a friend in need; providing services free of charge to those who need it. In general, being charitable is regarded to as a moral act, one that is correct and right. This principle is in accord with the theory of utilitarianism.

Truly, an act of charity brings happiness to the beneficiaries of said act; happiness is connected with utility and rightness. Thus, it is believed that to be charitable to other people is equivalent to be good and ethical. Those who give to the poor are good and those who refuse to share what they have with other people are considered morally wrong. In essence, the theory of utilitarianism centers on the idea of happiness. An act would be ethically approved if it has the probability of bringing happiness to a greater number of individuals.

In the theory of utilitarianism, the ethical acceptability of a certain action is to be judged by its capability of bringing about joy in the other people affected by said action.


“David Hume”. http://mywebpage. netscape. com/AAVSO7550/david-hume-utilitarianism. html “Jeremy Bentham: His Life and Impact”. http://jeromekahn123. tripod. com/utilitarianismtheethicaltheoryforalltimes/id4. html “Utilitarianism”. 2007. http://www. encyclopedia. com/doc/1E1-utilitar. html

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