Utilitarianism, which is a species of consequentialism, is concerned with the consequences of actions. More specifically, actions are judged as moral by utilitarians if they create the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.
One of the questions that utilitarians must address concerns the nature of the “good.” What, exactly, does “good” mean? Some utilitarians have conceived of the good in terms of pleasure, and thus the action that produces the most pleasure for the most people is the good action. Other utilitarians have argued that good should be understood as happiness. What are some reasons for preferring one of these ways of understanding the good over the other? Can you think of alternative ways of conceptualizing the good?
A typical utilitarian analysis will attempt to describe a particular moral action in its specificity (or as specifically as possible… for example, instead of considering the consequences of theft in general, most utilitarians would focus on a particular act of theft in its particular context), extrapolate all possible consequences of the action, consider the consequences of alternative actions, and then weigh the consequences of the action under consideration and its alternatives against one another. One is then obligated to take the course of action that does the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. When considering the consequences of actions, are there any special considerations that one should keep in mind?
One concern raised by critics of utilitarianism is that harm to individuals becomes acceptable if the good done to others ultimately outweighs the bad. Another concern is that the future consequences of actions can never be predicted with 100% accuracy. What do you make of these criticisms? How would you account for them if you were a utilitarian?