Utilitarianism Among Medical Ethical Theories

Topic: Medical Ethics
Words: 607 Pages: 2


There are three main ethical theories that help people make moral decisions. Utilitarianism, deontology and virtue theory were prominent philosophical ideas that originated in ancient Greece but were further developed during the Age of Enlightenment. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that seeks to explain people wishing to achieve the greatest happiness. Jeremy Bentham, who was a British political activist, scholar, and philosopher, is one of the authors behind the theory. In 1789, he published “The Introduction To The Principle Of Morals”, which is said to have been used as the founding document of the theory of utilitarianism. In it, Bentham describes the principle of utility, which states that in every situation, one should make an ethical decision that would create happiness for most people. On the other hand, an action that creates pleasure is good, while one that increases agony is bad. However, the theory of utilitarianism has many contradictions and disadvantages, which often make it irrelevant to the contemporary society.

Jeremey Benthams Views

Ethical decisions should be made depending on the current circumstance. Bentham believed in the idea of conceptualism. Thus, a moral can be judged as right or wrong depending on when and where the event took place. According to Bentham, every action that one makes should concentrate more on the target, purpose, and result (Tannsjo, 2019). Because the utilitarian philosopher assumes that the rightness of the action depends on the level of the pleasure it can generate and the degree of pain, it eliminates he or she will not support the actions which deprive people of their happiness. The theory emphasizes qualities that an individual must preserve while attending another party, such as happiness, love, and benefits.


John Stuart Mill was also one of the principal founders of the ethical theory of utilitarianism. Since he came years later, he identified some problems with Bentham’s argument and gave his objections. One of his complaints was that all pleasures were of the same quality. According to him, some pleasures were more enjoyable than others. The pleasure level was distinguished depending on the body parts. Higher pleasures were related to the mind, while lower pleasures were connected to the body. Activities that would make the brain think and solve problems that seemed impossible would generate more pleasure than those that caused joy to the body (Häyry, 2021). This was in contrast with what Bentham had earlier stated. According to Bentham, happiness was equal among all human beings. Several scholars have differed on this concept. Some argue that it is difficult to differentiate between higher and lower happiness, while others say pleasure cannot be ranked as higher or lower.


Bentham believed in hedonistic utilitarianism, while Mill believed in eudemonistic. According to Mill, happiness would last for a longer time than pleasure. According to him, happiness created joy in the mind, body, and spirit, while pleasure satisfied the body. Mill gives an example that a dissatisfied human being is better off than a pig, which is satisfied. He brings out the argument that quality is better than quantity. However, Bentham brings the issue of quantity over quality (Dimmock & Fisher 20). Mill believed that moral judgment should consider the rule of law. He argues that rules are required in society, and one should consider the rule of law before making a judgment. Such a position contrasts with Bentham’s view, which was not concerned with whether a moral action abides by the rules and regulations that govern the society. There are many contradictions and disadvantages in the utilitarian theory. Utilitarian theory only focuses on actions that benefit the majority, which, at times, overlooks the rights of individuals.


Dimmock, M., & Fisher, A. (2017). Ethics for A-level: [for AQA philosophy and OCR religious studies]. Open Book Publishers

Häyry, M. (2021). Just better utilitarianism. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 30(2), 343-367.

Tannsjo, T. (2019). Hedonistic utilitarianism. Edinburgh University Press.

Ethical Principles of Evidence-Based Practice
Aspects of Nursing Code of Ethics