Moral Theory of Utilitarianism: Its Concepts, Strengths and Weaknesses

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1419 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Jul 3, 2023

Words: 1419|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Jul 3, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Key Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism
  2. Strengths of Utilitarianism:
    Weaknesses of Utilitarianism:
  3. Mill and Bentham’s Hedonistic Utilitarianism Theory
  4. Conclusion

Utilitarianism as a moral theory suggest that actions are described as morally right or morally wrong based on their utility values; right if their utility value leads to the greatest pleasure or happiness and wrong if their aggregate utility value leads to the greatest pain or sadness. As any moral theory utilitarianism has its own strengths and weaknesses.  Utilitarianism is said to be universal when its standard principles are acceptable and applicable in different cultural contexts around the world. On the other hand, utilitarianism is structural defined as impartial when the weight of an action’s utility value or consequence remains constant or impartial across multiple subjects it affects. 

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Key Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism

Strengths of Utilitarianism:

  1. Focus on Overall Welfare: Utilitarianism emphasizes the maximization of overall welfare or happiness. It prioritizes the collective well-being of individuals, aiming to create the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. This focus on the overall good can promote a sense of social harmony and fairness.

  2. Objectivity and Impartiality: Utilitarianism offers a relatively objective and impartial framework for decision-making. It encourages individuals to consider the consequences of their actions and evaluate them based on their overall impact on happiness. This emphasis on impartiality can help avoid biases and promote fairness.

  3. Flexibility and Pragmatism: Utilitarianism is a flexible theory that allows for the consideration of different factors and circumstances. It takes into account the specific context and the potential consequences of actions, providing a pragmatic approach to ethical decision-making.

  4. Promotion of Altruism and Social Welfare: Utilitarianism encourages individuals to act in ways that benefit others and promote social welfare. By prioritizing the happiness and well-being of all, it fosters a sense of altruism, empathy, and concern for the greater good.

Weaknesses of Utilitarianism:

  1. Challenge of Measuring Happiness: One of the significant criticisms of utilitarianism is the difficulty in objectively measuring happiness or well-being. Quantifying and comparing happiness across individuals or groups is a complex task, as happiness is subjective and can vary greatly from person to person. This challenge undermines the practicality of implementing utilitarian principles.

  2. Potential for Injustice to Minority Groups: Utilitarianism's focus on maximizing overall happiness may overlook the needs and rights of minority groups or individuals. The emphasis on the majority's happiness could lead to the marginalization or oppression of minority interests or the violation of individual rights if it results in sacrificing their well-being for the greater good.

  3. Lack of Consideration for Rights and Justice: Critics argue that utilitarianism places insufficient emphasis on individual rights and justice. In some situations, following utilitarian principles might require violating individual rights or engaging in unjust actions if they produce the greatest overall happiness. This conflict with principles of fairness and justice is a significant concern for opponents of utilitarianism.

  4. Inability to Account for Intrinsic Values: Utilitarianism tends to focus on the instrumental value of actions—how they contribute to overall happiness—rather than considering intrinsic values, such as the inherent moral worth of certain actions. This limitation fails to account for the significance of individual rights, autonomy, and other non-consequentialist ethical principles.

  5. Unrealistic Demands and Calculations: Utilitarianism often requires individuals to make complex calculations and predictions about the consequences of their actions. These calculations may involve weighing multiple factors, anticipating future outcomes, and considering long-term effects. The practical challenges and uncertainties involved in making such calculations can render utilitarianism difficult to apply in real-life decision-making.

Mill and Bentham’s Hedonistic Utilitarianism Theory

Hedonistic utilitarianism defines the moral rightness or wrongness of actions based on the resulting net utility of the performed action such that the right course of actions leads to the highest net utility value for pleasure while the wrong action leads to the lowest net utility value for pleasure. In that case the overall balance of pain versus pleasure equals the utility of an action, and that is what defines hedonism. Besides, when utilitarianism is said to be concerned with maximizing outcomes, it is said to apply in situation where an agent performing an action only selects actions with optimal net utility values for pleasure or pain depending on the desired outcome. Maximizing outcomes in that case has everything to do with choosing the action with maximum net utility value.

Also known ‘Felicific Calculus,’ Bentham’s hedonic calculus is a standard methodology for calculating actions’ net utility quantitative values based on seven standard elements defining action experiences. According to Bentham, arriving at an action’s deontic status requires using a seven-item checklist to calculate the action’s utilities. The first two items, which are the most fundamental in wholly quantitative aspect of hedonistic utility, are Intensity and duration of the action in question. Intensity and duration of action experiences hinges on the idea that pain and pleasure can be measured by establishing a common unit of measurement of both pain and pleasure that can be used, under similar conditions, to rank pleasure and pain experiences such that each ranking is relative to each other on a common cardinal scale. The remaining five items on the utilitarian calculation checklist are: certainty and uncertainty; fecundity; propinquity and remoteness; purity; and extent.

Mill is critical of Bentham’s hedonic calculus method and the Bentham’s quantitative utilitarianism by extension because the method’s purely quantitative premise. Mill argues that only basing the human pleasure and pain states of mind purely on intrinsic quantitative measures of intensity and duration, without considering the underlying quality of experiences, is a mockery to the developed human mind capacity. In that case, Mill argues that Bentham’s hedonic calculus calculates actions’ net utilities primarily based on the resulting duration and intensity of either pain or pleasure experiences, which are only or mainly bodily experiences. According to Mill, human beings are far much sophisticated creatures whose sense of pleasure and pain cannot by any chance be restricted to bodily pleasures like eating, body massage, or sex. Mill holds that Bentham’s hedonic calculus is limited to primitive creatures like pigs and swines because it assumes human beings only experience bodily pleasures and pain, and therefore only intensity and duration can account for actions’ net utility. Mill explain that human beings can experience qualitative experiences like aesthetic and intellectual experiences that may result to pleasure not measurable by either intensity or duration, which are the basic parameters for hedonic calculus.

Mill explains that ranking pleasures qualitatively as high or low will require experts with unique prequalification. The qualifying expert to rank experiences, according to Mill, should have experienced a full range of action experiences including intellectual, bodily, and aesthetics, and should have an expert opinion on their relative utility. However, Mill’s standard of ranking seems to flawed because it fails to take into account the judge subjective bias, even in cases where the judge has full range experience of action utilities.

Actual consequent utilitarianism emphasizes on occurrence of the actual utilities if one action or another were to be performed, but the agent performing the action is highly uncertain of expected utilities related to the action. On the other hand, in probable consequence utilitarianism, the certainty of utilities associated with actions can be determined and expected based on reasonable chances. That being the case, probable consequence utilitarianism is an improvement because an agent performing a given action becomes certain of the expected utilities if an action is performed.

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Utilitarianism has a variety of resources and concepts that can defend the moral theory in cases that do not apply to the conventional moral code like the awkward cases introduced in chapter six. For example the act utilitarianism has different resources that make an action’s deontic status entirely dependent on the value of the action’s utilities or consequences. Specifically, the different characteristics of utilitarianism such as maximizing, welfarism, and universality can respond to the absurd cases. The maximizing concept of utilitarianism insist that right courses of action in whatever situation are those, relative to alternative actions, that are bound to result to the greatest amount of net utilities or the greatest good to the greatest number of individuals within the contest of the action. That will mean that, the medical practitioner, described in the chapter six cases, is morally justified by the maximizing resource of utilitarianism to harvest organs from an alcoholic patient with no family or close relative, to benefit three patients in dire need of the organs. Similarly, utilitarianism concept of universality can respond to the case by supporting that the implications of an individual’s actions is morally good and acceptable if it leads to the welfare of all individuals who are bound to be affected by the actions; like the case of a police chief convicting an innocent criminal to avoid the wrath of the public. 

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Moral Theory of Utilitarianism: Its Concepts, Strengths and Weaknesses. (2023, July 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from
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