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Advantages and Shortcomings of Utilitarianism

Advantages and Shortcomings of Utilitarianism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify the intuitiveness, advantages, and shortcomings of utilitarianism

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/29ZntMM

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this is the ethics tutorial on the advantages and shortcomings of utilitarianism. As we go through the tutorial, please keep in mind the following points-- the definition of utilitarianism, how utilitarianism is akin to the sciences as focusing on evidence from the results and consequences of actions, utilitarianism also shows a great deal of systematicity, and how utilitarianism has many commitments in how we treat people's happiness, valuation, ignoring intent, and how we speculate on possible consequences.

In this tutorial, we will be focusing on the intuitive and counter-intuitive results of utilitarianism. Intuitive results are ones, let's remember, that makes sense to us. And counter-intuitive ones are ones that don't seem to make sense. These both rely on the idea of common sense.

And although the dictates of a particular ethical theory might point us to a specific conclusion, sometimes they go, oh, yeah, that makes sense. And sometimes we go, oh, no, that doesn't seem right. So that's always what we're looking at when we think about intuitive and counter-intuitive.

Two examples that will help us-- for an intuitive result of utilitarianism, we can say that a chef working for a wedding banquet is committed to providing food that will satisfy and please as many guests as possible, and not just the wedding party. So taking into consideration food restrictions, allergies, preferences, and so forth, the chef tries to accommodate everyone as much as possible for the wedding banquet. And of course, this just seems to make sense. Why would the chef do anything else?

Another example-- and this one would be counter-intuitive-- and maybe you have encountered it, I certainly have-- if you're working for a corporation that abides by a policy that treating everyone fairly necessarily means treating everyone identically, this could lead to counter-intuitive results because although the premise seems to work-- if we want to be fair, well, then we should treat everyone exactly the same-- it does not take into consideration the different lives that people lead and the different needs that people lead.

So in the specific context of, let's say, time-off policies, if we treat everyone identically with the idea that that will be fair, well, then that won't take into consideration things like individual factors of pregnancy, family leave, medical history, disability, weather, commuting distance, transportation abilities, transportation costs.

All of these factors will affect us differently. And unless we take them into consideration, we'll be stuck with the idea that treating everyone exactly the same is the right way to go. So that leads to the counter-intuitive result.

So in this brief tutorial, we have seen both intuitive and counter-intuitive understandings and results of utilitarianism.

Notes on “Advantages and Shortcomings of Utilitarianism”

(00:00 – 00:46) Introduction and Things to Keep in Mind

(00:47 – 00:57) Content of Tutorial

(00:58 – 01:33) Review of Intuitive and Counterintuitive

(01:34 – 03:26) Examples of Intuitive and Counterintuitive Results

(03:27 – 03:42) Summary