Explanation of the Utilitarian Ethical Theory

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Explanation of the Utilitarian Ethical Theory
There are many different ethical approaches that deal with the morality issues we face every day, but the utilitarian approach holds the feeling of morally belonging to a group and the lack of individualism that many others carry. It also can be a very cold approach for those who belong to the minority in a society. This is because the principle of utility says that “we ought to do that which produces the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people (MacKinnon, 32).” To examine utilitarianism we first need to look at the word, this is where we find the word “utility” imbedded into it. Utility, by mathematical definition, is “a measure of the total benefit or disadvantage attaching to each of a set of alternative courses of action.”1 Attaching this definition to the term utilitarianism we can conclude that utilitarianism pertains to measuring something that has more than one possible outcome. The utilitarian ethical theory is described more clearly “in normative ethics,” as a tradition “that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it.”2 Without getting into the debate of what makes an action “good”, this statement defines the theory, in fewer words, as weighing the consequences of the greater “good” over that of the lesser. The ability of human beings to weight these consequences is the shape of the utilitarian theories backbone and what gives it credence to this day. When given an ethical dilemma within the utilitarian approach it is imperative to weigh consequences. For example, what is to be done if there are two ordinary citizens hanging from a cliff and by saving them the “would be” hero in this situation will die? One might choose to save the greater quantity in the two ordinary citizens, where as another may choose to...