Essay on Utilitarianism in Government

Essay on Utilitarianism in Government

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In its political philosophy utilitarianism provides an alternative to theories of natural law and the social contract by basing the authority of government and the sanctity of individual rights upon their utility, or measure of happiness gained. As an egalitarian doctrine, where everyone’s happiness counts equally, the rational, relatively straightforward nature of utilitarianism offers an attractive model for democratic government. It offers practical methods for deciding the morally right course of action - “...an action is right as it tends to promote happiness, wrong as it tends to diminish it, for the party whose interests are in question” (Bentham, 1780). To discover what we should do in a given situation, we identify the various courses of action that we could take, then determine any foreseeable benefits and harms to all affected by the ramifications of our decision. In fact, some of the early pioneers of utilitarianism, such as Bentham and Mill, campaigned for equality in terms of women's suffrage, decriminalization of homosexuality, and abolition of slavery (Boralevi, 1984). Utilitarianism seems to support democracy as one could interpret governments working to promote the public interest and welfare of citizens as striving for liberty for the greatest amount of people. While utilitarianism at its heart is a theory that calls for progressive social change through peaceful political processes, there are some difficulties in relying on it as the sole method for moral decision-making. In this essay I will assess the effectiveness of utilitarianism as a philosophy of government by examining the arguments against it.

For the purposes of brevity I will refer mainly to Bentham's and Mill's definitions of utilitarianism. In ...


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...terests of all who could be affected by the course our actions. Obviously, as human beings we can never consider all possible choices, calculate and compare consequences quantitatively, and be without bias. Your obligation is to do the best you can, while considering as many choices as possible. One could argue that, amidst the capitalist climate of our current world, utilitarianism calls upon us to look beyond the self for the greater good. Wouldn't it be admirable if all governments could follow this maxim? To conclude on the same point at Mills, “Whether it is so or not, must now be left to the consideration of the thoughtful reader”.


Works Cited

Bentham, Jeremy (1780), An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Boralevi, Lea Campos (1984), Bentham and the Opressed (Walter de Gruyer Press)

Mill, John Stuart (1871), Utilitarianism (4th ed.)

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