Online College Courses for Credit

3 Tutorials that teach Support for Utilitarianism
Take your pick:
Support for Utilitarianism

Support for Utilitarianism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify common arguments in support of utilitarianism

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

311 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 27 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on support for utilitarianism. Let's keep in mind the definition of utilitarianism as we go through this tutorial.

In this tutorial, we're going to look at a couple of forms of support for utilitarianism. We'll look at how utilitarianism is similar to science. We will look at how the good of the group is a natural way of thinking for us-- and so we are naturally inclined towards utilitarianism thinking-- and also how utilitarianism translates well into our understanding and implementation of civil laws.

First, let's consider the similarities between utilitarianism and science. Yes, philosophy and science are different practices. However, they often ride the same bus together and sometimes even sit in the same seat.

In this case, they are sitting in the same seat. Utilitarianism, like science, focuses on observable and predictable consequences and uses these possibilities as methods of interpreting what is the best course of action. Both of them are operating under degrees of probability and really kind of working in the world of theory.

Given all the evidence, this is the best course of action. Like in science, given all the evidence, this is the best explanation for it. So in terms of ethics for utilitarianism, when we have more information specifically about possible consequences as they would adhere to the principle of utility, we can make better ethical decisions.

There's a natural way of thinking in utilitarianism that draws us in. And that is that many of us would tend to agree that the good of the group, the good of the overall, the good of the society really outweighs the good of the individual. Yes, this line was used over and over again by Spock in Star Trek, right? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. And while Spock kept iterating that as an instance of logic, really what he's doing is utilitarian ethics.

So it does seem intuitive, however, that the needs and the wants and the good of the group outweigh the needs of the individual. So it also helps us focus, therefore, on future generations because it's not simply immediate need. Even the immediate need of the group, we need to consider possible future generations how our progeny will fare, how our affections here and now will affect the happiness and lives of future generations. This is one of the reasons why utilitarianism is particularly helpful in environmental ethics and thinking about the environment that we want to create and maintain for future generations.

Third, maybe we can see that utilitarianism is particularly useful also in promoting our understanding of the legal system, particularly of civil laws, the ones that are designed to help us get along with each other. Utilitarianism is an ethical system; it is not a legal one. However, we can see how rule utilitarianism in particular is useful in understanding our relationship to civil laws.

Here's a couple of examples. Traffic laws-- you may not like all of them. I may not like all of them. And I may choose not to follow them all the time.

But that aside, we can agree that these laws are in place because of the idea of promoting public safety and ease of driving. Speed limits, stop signs, yield signs, right of way rules-- all of these serve the function of maximizing total utility for the society. If we abide by them in general, as a rule, then we will promote a greater safety in driving, and it will be better. It will just simply be better.

Another example of how rule utilitarianism relates to civil laws is in the Fair Housing Act. It is not legal to discriminate against someone in terms of becoming a tenant because of their race, their age, a disability, HIV status, their sex, and so forth. It is intuitively wrong to do this because these factors are irrelevant in someone being able to be a good tenant or to be a responsible tenant. So we can see that, in general, rule utilitarianism is useful in understanding some of the bases for many of our civil laws, which are designed to help us get along with the greatest amount of good for all of those considered in a particular society.

And in summary, we have seen how there is a lot of support for utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is comparable to science in its methodology. It is natural for us to think of the good of the group over the good of the individual and thus promote greater happiness for all considered. And there is a strong connection between utilitarianism, and specifically rule utilitarianism, and the construction and implementation of our civil laws.