Utilitarianism and Business Ethics
Utilitarianism is a normative, consequentialist, empirical philosophy which links the idea of a good action to one which promotes maximum pleasure or happiness, found by adding up costs and benefits (or pains and pleasures). It has two classic formulations - Bentham's hedonistic (pleasure-based) act utilitarianism and Mill's eudaimonistic (happiness-based) rule utilitarianism. In this article we make some preliminary comments on Bentham and Mill before analysing a famous case in 1972 where utilitarian ethics seemed to cause a very immoral outcome - the Ford Pinto case.
Bentham rejected Christianity and was influenced by David Hume (1711-76) and the French philosophe Helvitius, who argued that true justice was synonomous with the good of the whole. He formulated the greatest happiness principle: "By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question."
• There is one good, pleasure, and one evil, pain.
• Human nature is naturally motivated by "two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain". We are pleasure-seekers (hedonists). Other motives such as duty, respect, are irrelevant. • The empirical calculation could be done with a hedonic calculus which allocates hedons of pleasure to different choices. • Social goals should be fixed by aggregating personal goals in terms of maximising pleasure and minimising pain. • The aim of government is to harmonize conflicting interests by passing laws with appropriate penalties for those who cause pain to others - hence modifying their behaviour. Bentham became convinced that the British Government was influenced solely by self-interest rather than some idea of the common good. He came to argue for the abolition of the monarchy, universal male suffrage (not just linked to land), and...
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