A little more of utilitarianism


“It is good and morally right to promote as much happiness as possible and the greatest good for the greatest number is therefore right.” (Williams 1973)

Utilitarianism is the greatest good of the greatest number. It takes into account that an action is right if it is likely to produce the best consequences compared to all the other possible actions.

However as John Rawl and Gregory Mankiw mention, utilitarianism might lead to a highly unequal distribution of utility levels, or because of the lack for popular support, alternatives to this have been proposed.

Then, we come to one of the main arguments, “how can we measure happiness and decide which action would result in the greatest happiness for everyone involved?”.
Utilitarianism would mean, not to judge the rightness or wrongness of the actions, but rather the consequences.

Then as Mankiw says, the principle of just deserts is that rewards are attached to actions, no the individuals who take these actions.

Utilitarianism provides an adequate basis for making moral decisions, as it is good and morally right to promote as much happiness as possible.


Hello @mriospa ,
The problem with utilitarianism is that the social planner would provide more goods to the agent who can generate more utility, since the main objective is to maximize the total utility of the society.

We could think of stories where one agent had an accident and now is less capable of enjoying. The solution of the social planner is to give more goods to the agent who is healthy, although you would like to help the agent who is sick. This is easier to see if we think about the utility function:

• When both agents are healthy:
U1 = ln(x1)
U2 = ln(x2)

• When agent 2 is sick:
U1 = ln(x1)
U2 = ½ ln(x2)

When both agents are healthy x1 = x2 but when agent 2 is sick, the social planner decides that x1 = 2x2.

We could also think of a story where agent 2 is just in a bad mood, so grumpy that is uncapable of enjoying his endowment. In this case seems fair to provide agent 1 with more stuff rather than wasting it with agent 2.

The pursuit of happiness is a desirable outcome, but it is also to help the one that is in the worst situation or that each member of the society consumes its contribution. I don’t think one is better than the other one, we could always find situations in which one principle is more desirable than the other one.


Hi mriospa and Maria Fernanda,

I definitely agree with the idea that we cannot choose one principle over another and then use it in every possible situation. I believe there is a reason why there are so many different economic models as well as principles and ideas regarding how reality is conformed, how governments and economic agents are supposed to (or should) act and the way in which we should make decisions. In the case of utilitarianism, there have been many critics as to why we should value utility as a whole regardless of the specific situation of each individual. If we take utilitarianism at its core, we have to make what enhances or produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but what happens if the greatest number of people is just 51% of the population? Are we really willing to undermine or even sacrifice the utility of the other 49% of society? The instances in which this could go wrong are innumerable. Think about the way in which distribution of income could be affected if the government stopped caring about the less fortunate, or the poorest members of society. I know it is very difficult to make right to everyone around us whenever we make a decision or take an action, but it is important to see the whole picture rather than just trying to please or reward the many, but not the rest.