This chapter discusses the utilitarian notion that the most ethical action is that which promotes the best consequences for the greatest number of people. The chapter considers some contrasting ways of defining good consequences and reflects on the implications that these might have for business. One particular utilitarian approach, which is usually referred to as rule utilitarianism, is outlined, and some of the pros and cons of using rule utilitarianism as a practical guide to ethical business management are considered.
Utilitarianism: Maximizing the Good
1. What is the difference between a consequentialist approach to ethical evaluation and a non-consequentialist approach?
2. How would a utilitarian define an ethically right action?
3. Describe how utilitarianism might be used to evaluate the ethical desirability of a business-rationalization programme.
4. Describe three different ways in which ‘the good’ might be defined by utilitarians.
5. For each of these three ways of defining the good, list one thing that a company might do to promote the good of its workers.
Utilitarianism in Practice: Some Challenges and a Response
6. Give one example of how a utilitarian conclusion might conflict with ethical intuition.
7. Why might utilitarianism be hard for business managers to use as a practical ethical guide?
8. How does rule utilitarianism differ from act utilitarianism?
Utilitarianism and Management
9. Explain how the principle of corporate maximization provides a rule-utilitarian guide to ethical business management.
10. How might the principle of corporate maximization be used to justify making people redundant?
11. What is the difference between a dependent (affected) stakeholder and a non-dependent (affected) stakeholder?
12. Give an example of a situation in which the principle of corporate maximization fails to take account of the good of a company’s non-dependent stakeholders.
This website gives access to online versions of material written by and about some of the most well-known utilitarian philosophers, including those discussed in this chapter.
This site offers a discussion of some features, pros and cons of utilitarianism. These are applied to ethical evaluation of two particular business-related scenarios.