Utilitarianism is a moral theory, which works as a form of consequentialism helps individuals to assess whether an action is good or bad. Some of the moral philosophers associated with this theory include Jeremy Bentham, David Hume, Henry Sidgwick and many others. People who ascribe to the classical utilitarians’ school of thought consider actions right if it maximizes the overall wellbeing of society and wrong if it does not maximize the overall wellness of the society. According to the theory, an action is good if it is for the good of the greatest number of people. It characteristically encourages individuals to act in whatever ways they want as long as their actions lead them to the greatest levels of wellness. The theory associates wellbeing with happiness. Therefore, an action is considered good if it brings joy to the most significant number of people in society and vice versa.
The theory of utilitarianism can be applied in business in many ways. To begin with, business persons who wish to use this theory must first understand its four components. The application of this theory can either be positive or negative. The first element is consequentialism, which is the understanding that the wrongness or rightness of actions is entirely determined by their actions (Mack 64; Suikkanen 1). Businesses can apply the concept of consequentialism in their operations even though it may contradict the moral and ethical systems that are in place. For instance, businesses that commit themselves to the principle of consequentialism may encourage their employees to act as they wish as long as the essential outcome will be to the benefit of the organization. Every business focuses on making and increasing more profits as its primary goal, which may lead them to use the means, which may be considered immoral, unethical or illegal. For example, a business may manufacture and sell substandard and unsafe products in their quest for more.
The second element that businesses require to apply utilitarianism is welfarism. According to Eggleston (453), welfarism is the understanding that the wrongness or rightness of operations depends on society’s conceptions of welfare or wellbeing. This aspect of utilitarianism suggests that actions are good for the greatest wellbeing of the society or many people. According to Sen (471), welfarism aims at maximizing every individual’s utilities. In business, the management may decide to increase the wages and benefits of their employees if it improves the wellbeing or promotes the happiness of their employees. In this regard, the business will be positively applying utilitarianism when they can balance the principles of pleasure and pain and how they can influence their performance.
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The third element that businesses need to understand as to how the principle of utility applies to their operations is individualism. The principle of individualism in utilitarianism holds that every individual, as it is human nature, pursues happiness, thus, will engage in actions that maximize utility. In this regard, businesses will take actions that bring them happiness. Happiness for businesses may include increased profits, increased customer satisfaction levels, superior reputation, and improved employee satisfaction levels, among others. By ensuring their employees are satisfied and happy at a personal standard, the business will also be putting themselves on the path to success.
The fourth element required to apply utilitarianism in business is aggregation, which is the notion that the wrongness or rightness of actions depends on their ability to average the benefits brought to all individuals. Bentham’s perspectives on utilitarianism suggest that the consequences of an action should bring happiness not only to an individual but also the community around him or her (121-123). A business applying this element should engage in activities that increase its profits while at the same time serve the best interests of its customers, the community, and the government. For example, by selling quality and safe products, a business will be increasing its intrinsic value while meeting the needs of their customers at the same time.
Back to the concepts of pain and suffering; the ethical position of utilitarianism is that human beings should be happier and have less suffering. However, this does not mean that everyone is a utilitarian because as a fundamental rule, there basic moral standards that one should not break. Such rules guide individuals on what will bring out the best consequences. However, the challenge that utilitarianism poses to other views is whether the effects of disobeying and breaking these moral rules would be worse or not. However, it should be stressed that since utilitarianism changes people’s lives in many ways, the same can be replicated in the businesses or companies that these people do or work for. It makes people have the urge to be as effective as possible to change the world and make it a better place. This concept is referred to as effective altruism whose supporters claim to want to do the most good they can do. Most businesses consider this while making their hiring decisions, hoping that their new employees would live to the expectations by doing the best they can for the greater good of the business.
Bentham, Jeremy. An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. Kitchener, ON: Batoche Books, 2000. Print.
Eggleston, Ben. “Utilitarianism.” Elsevier, 2012. Web.
Mack, Peter. “Utilitarianism ethics in healthcare.” International Journal of the Computer, the Internet, and Management, 12(3), 63-72, 2004. Web.
Sen, Amartya. “Utilitarianism and welfarism.” The Journal of Philosophy, 76(9), 463-489, 1979. Web.
Suikkanen, Jussi. “Consequentialism, constraints and the good-relative-to: A reply to Mark Schroeder.” Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, 3(1), 1-8, 2008. Web.