Utilitarianism is an attractive philosophy which claims to replace arbitrary-seeming rules by a morality with a single coherent basis. As the most common form of consequentialism, based on the pursuit of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, it argues that acts should be judged as right or wrong according to their consequences. Because happiness is the only thing that is good in itself, and unhappiness is the only thing that is inherently bad, everything else is only good or bad according to its tendency to produce happiness or unhappiness. In a democratic system, utilitarianism is also attractive as a means of decision-making in which the majority must choose wisely.
There is a practical objection to utilitarianism: the system is unworkable because we can predict only some of the consequences of our actions. In addition, we have no way of measuring happiness. As Glover points out, "the weighing of consequences seems more often a matter of vague intuition than of scientific calculation" (2). Other objections to utilitarianism will be weighed against arguments in favor of its utilization. Several practical implications will demonstrate its utility and/or its pitfalls.
The classical doctrine of utilitarianism, developed by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and modified by John Stuart Mill (1806-1973), is one version of objective relativism. The phrase "objective relativism" appears contradictory, but utilitarianism purports only to be objective in that it measures choices on their relative means of producing happiness, or at least the greatest good for the greatest number. All in all, there is still no objective (interpersonal) truth, according to the definition for relativism (Newton 275).
Although working out its details is often difficult, part of utilitarianism's attraction is the simplicity of its central idea. According to the utilitarian, the rightness and wrongness of conduct depends solely on its consequenc...