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Utilitarianism and Deontology in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, a story unfolding many moral and ethical dilemmas, creating fundamentally important questions deep inside the reader, regarding the ethicality of the way people live in the city of Omelas. Moreover, the two philosophical movements – utilitarianism and deontology, have a crucial role in understanding which is the right way to accept morals within a seemingly happy environment. Therefore, through the work of Mill and Bentham is explained the understanding of utilitarianism, in terms of morality, and a vast contrast is made with the work of Kant and its opposite understanding of it. Additionally, as the newly elected ”leader” of Omelas, I discuss the importance of the significance being morally valued, supporting Kant’s philosophy and shape the idea of the importance of bursting the bubble of happiness; finding the real happiness within us, as well as our deeply rooted morals, without being influenced by other factors.

To begin with, when approaching the case from a utilitarian perspective the terms of prosperity, beauty, and delight would be ethically accepted and fully supported by the authority of myself as a leader. As a result of what John Stuart Mill implies in his work: “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness are intended pleasure, and the absence of pain”. That segment of his work supports the notion of accepting the current “orders” of the city. Happiness is a fundamental goal and everything that an individual does, should be perceived as a contribution to the ultimate goal of achieving “not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether”.

It is perceived as аn overall goal whereas the well-being of the whole group is more important than the only delight and prosperity of one. Thus, the sacrifice of the child locked in the basement, immersed in misery and beaten frequently, as well as the sake and well-being of its potentially existing parents, is worth it; due to the overall happiness and prosperity of the citizens of Omelas.

Further, the teachings of Bentham contribute to the very understanding of that, at first very simple situation but having in its very core fundamental realization about the world surrounding us. He suggests that happiness has any intrinsic value, as well as distinguishes widely different types of pleasures (Gibbs 42, 43). In contradiction with Bentham’s world look, Mill’s make a difference between the superior (poetry, reading, etc.) and ordinary (pleasures which its origin’s core is in the animal nature) pleasures.

Also, he suggests there should be no qualifications for happiness (Mill 14). Bentham acknowledges that there are various types of pleasure with different intensity but qualifies them in categories. Furthermore, Mill suggests that the happiness of altogether is more important than the happiness of only one of all. Based on the teachings of both philosophers, can be concluded that the moral values and comprehensions of the citizens of the city of Omelas are correct and thus should not be changed.

Additionally, the streets of the city are vibrantly radiating joy and delight; it seems that there are no rules and regulations in the “home” of people, free to perceive happiness, suggesting that the city exists on the border with the surreal life. Thus, as a utilitarian leader, the position that I should take is to disregard the deterioration of some at the expense of altogether and continue the joy and prosperity for all. Following the utilitarian “standard of morality” deliberately described by the principles of behavior for human conduct, whereas the acknowledgment of such existence, as in Omelas, might be to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind and “the whole sentient creation” (Mill 17). Indeed, there are and will be individuals who will disagree with that concept and idea of life, hence they will always have their own freedom to seek happiness out of Omelas. In fact, it can be considered that the purpose of the reveal of the core existence of the city is to give every person the ultimate freedom to choose their own happiness.

In contrast, if approaching the case through a deontologist perspective and more specifically following Immanuel Kant’s philosophy my action, as a leader, towards the situation would be completely different. As a result of the current situation of the city that can be accepted as a violation of the moral principles and doctrines that Kant teaches and stands for.

First of all, Kant’s universalizability principle states “Act only according to that maximum which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant 24). By all means, it can be interpreted as the rhetorical questions “what is the maximum of one’s actions?” (Kant 24). For example, applying it into context, in Omelas hypothetically the tortured kid die due to hunger or its wounds, does it morally and ethically mean that a new child should be chosen for the prosperity of altogether?

If that maximum of torturing children is approved by all, which is done (within the city of Omelas) whether they can admit it or not, the action is universalized and thus everyone should do it whenever they would like. However, there appears a contradiction that should be looked at, as Kant’s wording states that moral action cannot bring contradictions (Kant 12). Hence, if you can lock an innocent child into a basement because you believe that it will bring prosperity and happiness to him and/or to the whole city, so everyone can do that whenever they feel it is needed. That is why abusing physically a child for the sake of altogether is not universalizable as it is not reasonable to abuse once in a while children based on the belief that the city and its citizens will prosper. Further, you would never be allowed to violate the moral law, even if others are doing so, even if it is for a good cause.

Next to that, the formula of humanity adds validity to why the case of the city of Omelas is not morally ethical. “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never a mere means”, whereas” mere means” can be defined as your own benefit (Kant 29). For instance, the people of the Omelas use constantly things for their own benefit during the festivals and ordinary days, such as shoes to walk with and if they were to stop benefiting them, the shoes would not be used anymore. Hence, the shoes would be used as a mere means. However, as acceptable it is to use objects as “mare means”, it is not to do it with humans since Kant defines us, human beings as ends – in – ourselves (Kant 28,29).

Being our own ends, not used by others as “mere” objects because we can set goals, work towards them, possess rational thinking and autonomy (Kant 7, 19). In that sense, it is not morally acceptable the child to be used as “mere means” by society, since it is a human being and it should be recognized as one, with its own values, aims, and interests in life, no matter what they are. That should be kept in mind when being encountered and respected as an equal creature. Additionally, Kant suggests that human beings should not be used as “mere means” due to our autonomy – being self-ruled, whereas being able to set our own ends and based on our rationality will make our own free decisions (Kant 32, 34, 49). Everyone is empowered with absolute moral worth and should not manipulate others for their own good or be manipulated. As a result, no one, in or out of Omalas has the ethically moral right to violate the freedom of this child or any other, for it’s or someone else’s delight or prosperity.

Reviewing both philosophical perspectives with their opposite teachings reveal the world in two different dimensions that are completely different from each other, in terms of moral values. However, as an observer of them, I would support the moral teachings of Kant and as a leader, I would “save” the child from the misery.

Further, my opinion is based on the fact that the citizens of Omelas, live their lives on a surface level of happiness, in the back of their mind, exists the thought about the core existence of their happiness. It is not morally acceptable to sacrifice one for the delight of all. What kind of people they are to do that? What kind of morality is that? Who is eligible to permit to spare an innocent life? And no matter who it is, does she or he has any deeply rooted core values and morals? Those rhetorical questions highlight the importance of the issue and raise the fundamentality of it since you should be a cruel and immoral individual to do that. I think, none of us, human beings have the greatest power to take decisions concerning someone else’s life and existence, even if it is a group. The life that was given to us is equally important and valuable, thus it is immoral to cause harm to another for your own benefit.

Therefore, as a leader, I would free the child and help it to recover, no matter the consequences for the city, since clearly everyone is in a delusional bubble of joy that cannot be real. By bursting the bubble, there will be many negative outcomes; however, life can be understood only through its ups and downs. Bringing the realization of what real happiness is and no matter what we were served with, cruelty is not an optional behavior because every soul is equally important and valuable. I believe, as a leader, the best way to rule my city is to help everyone through the journey of self-development and growth, after the continuous life in a delusional world, as a result, everyone will hopefully understand the real sense of morality. Next to that, the delight, prosperity, and happiness will unfold in a completely new and more enjoyable direction, as it will come from within and not from external factors.

In conclusion, interpreting both philosophical perspectives in terms of finding what is morally acceptable, two main concepts occurred – people should live as feeling all pleasures creatures or exist as rational, thinking creatures. Both with its opposite teachings reveal the world in two different dimensions that are completely different from each other, in terms of moral values. Moreover, I believe no one should take advantage of another human being for his own benefit. Thus, in my opinion, the child should be saved and the citizens of Omelas should “open their eyes” and accept the world as it is.

Reference List:

  • Gibbs, J. “Higher and Lower Pleasures.” Cambridge University Press on Behalf of Royal Institute of Philosophy, vol. 61, Jan. 1986, pp. 31–59. Philosophy,
  • Kant, I. Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals. Translated by J. Bennett , 2005, file:///C:/Users/Admin/Desktop/kant1785.pdf.
  • Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 12th ed., Routledge, 1895.

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