What is the main goal of utilitarianism


1. Term: Concept that bases ethical judgments about actions and / or rules on the benefit they bring: Desired non-moral goods (e.g. happiness, wealth) qualify those actions or rules that maximize these goods as "morally good". Utilitarianism is therefore a teleological conception of ethics (ethics).

2. Provisions of the "Benefit: Utilitarian conceptions differ, among other things, in what they see as "benefits". The spectrum ranges from pleasure, happiness or bliss (Bentham) to lust, further knowledge or love (Mill, Moore) to the open concept of utility in modern economics.

3. Theoretical problems of utilitarianism: The theoretical problems of utilitarianism lie in the axiomatic foundation (especially consistency and completeness postulates) as well as in measurability, interpersonal comparisons of benefits and distribution.

4. Economic importance: Utilitarianism has found its way into modern economics on a broad front due to the fundamental category of “benefit” (cost-benefit analysis). Even authors like Hare or Mackie, who are quite critical of utilitarianism, and even outspoken critics of utilitarianism like Sen and Williams emphasize that at least in some areas, rationalizations based on utilitarian argumentation models cannot be dispensed with.

5. Ethical criticism of utilitarianism: From the point of view of ethics, a fundamental, conceptually conditioned point of criticism remains: To this day, utilitarianism has not succeeded in restoring the intuitive moral concepts of most people with regard to the “autonomy” of the “person” - their fundamental rights, the obligation moral rules - to be reconstructed theoretically. Even Harsanyi, who with the tradition of utilitarianism attaches equal weight to the benefits of all individuals and justifies this with the democratic principle, cannot avoid aggregating the individual benefits before the average benefit can be maximized. In this way, individuals or their benefits can be offset against the benefits of others - with the result that the benefit losses of individuals can be outweighed by the greater benefit gains of others. The autonomy of the person and human rights are therefore fundamentally up for grabs. In the language of Rawls, who understands his “theory of justice” as an alternative to utilitarianism, this means: “Utilitarianism does not take the diversity of individual people seriously.”

Within utilitarianism there is Try to address these concerns: The particularly strong weighting of individual freedom and human rights compared to other goods, but also the assertion that long-term systems with individual freedom and human rights are always more successful than systems without these rights, go in this direction.

6. Further development of utilitarianism: Such considerations have led a number of authors who want to recognize and maintain the theoretical achievements of utilitarianism, to supplement utilitarianism, above all with the principle of justice: so Lyons, Trapp. Others like Brandt develop rule utilitarianism in such a way that it loses its utilitarian character for critics, e.g. for Rawls or Williams. Still others such as Mackie or Hare restrict the range of useful use of utilitarian arguments to sub-areas or, in particular, cases of ethics.

See also distribution policy, distributive justice.