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What are some pros and cons of utilitarianism?

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Quick Answer

Utilitarianism, the philosophy of judging acts by their results, regardless of inherent morality, draws the greatest possible good out of specific actions and the creation of more general rules. However, it also potentially permits activities that are universally acknowledged to be immoral in nature.

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Full Answer

One advantage that utilitarianism has over traditional moralities based on rules is that those rules tend to indicate entire sets of actions as either right or wrong. Because the effects of those actions can differ depending on the context, the utilitarian argues that the outcome of the deed should determine its morality. This provides more flexibility when making decisions, without sacrificing ethics, according to utilitarians.

Opponents of utilitarianism point out that removing categorization allows immoral acts to take place. For example, if a hostage negotiator can save 10 hostages by pushing one off the top of a building, utiliarianism dictates that he should push that one person to save more lives. Also, the agreement on the formation of those categories of right and wrong are the basis of trust in society and are therefore necessary to maintain harmony. If that hostage negotiator pushed the hostage over the edge, no one is likely to trust negotiators in the future. The demand for impartiality that utilitarianism requires is also immoral for those who believe that people have more duty toward their friends and relatives than to others.

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