Sociology Index


Utilitarianism is the theory that individuals are best able to define their needs, desires and goals, and where they have freedom to make choices the result will be the greatest possible satisfaction for the greatest number. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.

Utilitarianism and Egalitarianism are both forms of Consequentialism. Consequentialism holds that one must act so as to maximize the overall intrinsic value of some population. Consequentialism holds that one must distribute resources within some population so as to maximize its overall intrinsic value.

In Philosophical thought utilitarianism is the doctrine that the greatest good of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.

Utilitarianism is an individualistic perspective because it claims that individuals making free choices necessarily leads to a society where satisfaction and happiness are maximized.

Utilitarianism theory overlooks the potential for one individual's choice to constrain or remove the choices of others.

As a justification for punishment utilitarianism asserts the utility of the act of punishment or the punishment of a particular offender.

The utility of punishment refers to any future benefit for the society (or the greatest number) which can be derived from the act.

Justifications in terms of deterrence (individual or general), rehabilitation, incapacitation, and crime prevention are all aspects of utilitarianism.

In utilitarianism, utilitarian justifications are contrasted with retribution.

Teleology and Utilitarianism - James R. Heichelbech
Graduate School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado at Denver, Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.
Abstract: Teleology and utilitarianism describe approaches to ethical thinking that are goal oriented and focused on consequences. Teleology is specifically concerned with purposes or goals, while utilitarianism is the view that an act is ethical to the extent that it satisfies interests or increases happiness. Together, teleology and utilitarianism are contrasted with deontological conceptions of ethics, which are focused on obligations and motives.

Utilitarianism and the Disabled: Distribution of Resources
Mark S. Stein, Yale University - Department of Political Science - Bioethics, Vol. 16, 2002
Abstract: Utilitarianism is more convincing than resource egalitarianism or welfare egalitarianism as a theory of how resources should be distributed between disabled people and nondisabled people. Unlike resource egalitarianism, utilitarianism can redistribute resources to the disabled when they would benefit more from those resources than nondisabled people. Unlike welfare egalitarianism, utilitarianism can halt redistribution when the disabled would no longer benefit more than the nondisabled from additional resources.
The author considers one objection to this view: it has been argued, by Sen and others, that there are circumstances under which utilitarianism would unfairly distribute fewer resources to the physically disabled than to nondisabled people, on the ground that the disabled would derive less benefit from those resources. In response, the author claims that critics of utilitarianism have fallaciously exaggerated the circumstances under which the disabled would benefit less than the nondisabled from additional resources. In those limited circumstances in which the disabled really would benefit less from resources, the author argues, it does not seem unfair to distribute fewer resources to them.

Distributive Justice and Disability: Utilitarianism Against Egalitarianism
Mark S. Stein, Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center, Yale University Press, 2006
Abstract: Theories of distributive justice are most severely tested in the area of disability. In this book (Introduction available for download), Mark Stein argues that utilitarianism performs better than egalitarian theories in dealing with the problems of disability. Egalitarian theories either give too little help to the disabled or too much, depending on what is sought to be equalized. Utilitarianism achieves the proper balance by placing resources where they will do the most good.
As pure egalitarian theories fail to address disability issues in a plausible way, egalitarian theorists are driven to incorporate elements of utilitarianism into their theories. Sometimes this incorporation of utilitarianism is done relatively openly, as by Amartya Sen; sometimes is it done in an obscure fashion, as by Ronald Dworkin.
Stein concedes that utilitarianism faces particular difficulties in the distribution of life-saving medical resources. Under one interpretation, utilitarianism would require us to discriminate against the disabled in the distribution of life. Stein opposes such discrimination and marshals utilitarian arguments against it. He also points out that whatever problems utilitarianism faces here, egalitarian theories face even greater problems. Often it seems right to distribute life-saving medical resources to those who will most benefit, in the sense of gaining the most life years, and egalitarian theories cannot do so.
Stein also discusses the proper use of examples in moral theory. Many examples used by the opponents of utilitarianism, such as Robert Nozick's famous utility monster, evoke utilitarian intuitions and then turn those intuitions, deceptively, against utilitarianism.
This is the first book-length assessment of how competing theories of distributive justice deal with the problems of disability. It also offers what may be the broadest critique of egalitarian theory from a utilitarian perspective; Stein addresses the work of egalitarian theorists John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Amartya Sen, Bruce Ackerman, Martha Nussbaum, Norman Daniels, Philippe Van Parijs, and others.

Utilitarianism’s Bad Breath? A Re-Evaluation of the Public Interest Justification for Planning - Heather Campbell, University of Sheffield, UK, Robert Marshall, University of Sheffield, UK, Planning Theory, Vol. 1, No. 2, 163-187 (2002)
The legitimization of planning has, in the period since the Second World War, rested on the proposition that the state’s intervention in land and property development is necessary to safeguard the public interest against private and sectional interests. What constitutes the public interest has always been contentious but its value as a legitimizing concept has increasingly been called into question in the recent past for the reason that it cannot be given operational meaning either by those who make policy or by those who evaluate it. The purpose of this article is to explore the ‘public interest’ justification of planning and whether it has outlived its usefulness in an increasingly fragmented society. Following an introduction, the argument is presented in three stages. First, we explore the concept of ‘interests’ in the modern period. Second, we consider the way in which the ‘public interest’ has been regarded in the planning literature. Third, an evaluative framework is established which distinguishes deontological as well as consequentialist conceptualizations of the public interest through which we seek to demonstrate that it remains the pivot around which debates concerning the role and purpose of planning must revolve.

Utilitarianism Shot Down by Its Own Men? - TUIJA TAKALA
Docent of Practical Philosophy in the Department of Moral and Social Philosophy, University of Helsinki, Finland and Visiting Academic at the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, University of Manchester, England.
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics (2003), 12:4:447-454 Cambridge University Press
I think that utilitarianism is a good moral theory, and definitely better than its rivals, deontology and teleology. For practical purposes in multicultural contexts, at least, I think that no one should overlook a theory that is able to take into account a variety of ethical views and accommodate the ever-changing facts of the material world. But utilitarianism has a bad reputation in bioethics. It is often seen as the inhumane theory that allows the sacrifice of minorities, the killing of the innocent, and simplistic calculations on the value of life. Hardly anyone cares to remember that most formulations of the theory do not allow these actions. The economic doctrine sometimes labeled as utilitarianism could be guilty as charged, but ethics and economy are not interchangeable words. Also as a theory that can actually propose answers to no-win situations, utilitarianism has been an easy target for criticism.

Beyond Utilitarianism: A Method for Analyzing Competing Ethical Principles in a Decision Analysis of Liver Transplantation - Michael L. Volk, MD, Anna S. F. Lok, MD, Peter A. Ubel, MD, Sandeep Vijan, MD - Medical Decision Making, Vol. 28, No. 5, 763-772 (2008)
Utilitarian foundation of decision analysis limits its usefulness for many social policy decisions. The authors examine a method to incorporate competing ethical principles in a decision analysis of liver transplantation for a patient with acute liver failure (ALF).
The results of the decision analysis vary depending on the ethical perspective. This study demonstrates how competing ethical principles can be numerically incorporated in a decision analysis.

Medicaid Eligibility Policy in the 1980s: Medical Utilitarianism and the "Deserving" Poor - Sandra J. Tanenbaum, Ohio State University - Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 1995 20(4):933-954; Duke University Press
Between 1981 and the early 1990s, the Medicaid program grew substantially, in part because, for the first time in the program’s history, eligibility for medical assistance was severed from eligibility for income-maintenance payments. Program participation had always been reserved for the "deserving poor," and these were originally defined as persons excluded from market relationships through no fault of their own. The Medicaid expansion of the 1980s, however, created a new constituency of poor, and not-so-poor, persons whose actual or predictable medical problems promised a calculable return on program funds.