Utilitarianism… what it is and what it isn’t…

Thinking Cat (1)

So, so, so many of you will make the same basic mistake — and it makes me a bit crazy — so, read up!!!

Utilitarianism is NOT accurately described as “the greatest good for the greatest number of people” — that’s close, but it’s not accurate… yea, I know that’s what other people say, but you’re my student, so listen up!

Imagine a choice between two situations, in A) you can give 100 people $1.  In B) you can give 1 person $1,000.

The conditions are such that you can’t do both — and in both cases everyone involved is in need of money, isn’t going to do “bad” stuff with it or whatever… and your goal is to be a good utilitarian by your actions. Nobody is going to be hurt by either choice etc…

The problem is, that if utilitarianism IS the ‘greatest good for the greatest number of people’ you don’t know which to do — the greatest number of people is in A — and the greatest good is B.

Intuitively, you’d probably pick B — and you’re right — because Mill actually says that you should do the greatest overall good, all persons considered.  SO — that would leave you with B.

So, if you go on to other ethics/ philosophy courses and you see that definition — challenge them with the example.  Your professor will think you’re a smartie… you’re welcome :).

ALSO — and this is a big mistake many folks make, his name is MILL (no s at the end!).  If it’s one of his ideas, you’d say “Mill’s main theory is…” — otherwise, when you put the s on the end without the ‘ — you’re talking about more than one Mill — and that’s just kinda stupid.


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