Strengths and Weakness of Utilitarianism

  • Created by: Estheexd
  • Created on: 26-03-14 14:22

Strengths and Weakness of Utilitarianism


  • Happiness -- It seems right that happiness is given intrinsic value. How can happiness be a bad thing?
  • Harm – Utilitarianism seems to be in line with our intuitions that harming people is intrinsically wrong.
  • Greatest good – It does follow from the above that the right course of action is the one that leads to the most happiness and least harm. It makes sense.
  • Easy to use – Weighing up the positive and negative effects of our actions is straightforward – we learn to do this from our early childhood onwards. Anyone can apply the principle of utility.
  • Secular – Utilitarianism doesn’t rely on specific beliefs about God.
  • Democratic – The fairest way to run a country is to balance everyone’s differing interests. We see this happening in all modern democracies – governments use the principles of Utilitarianism to determine what is right.
  • Objective – The positive and negative consequences of our actions can be measured. This gives us an objective, independent way of deciding on what is right and wrong.
  • Universal – The principle of utility, reducing harming and increasing happiness, is universal, and applies in every culture.


  • Other goods – ‘Happiness’ is not the only thing that is of intrinsic worth. For example, love, human life, freedom.
  • The ends don’t justify the means – Imagine I killed one healthy person and gave their organs to save 5 others. The balance of happiness over harm supports doing this, but we know that it is not right.
  • Unpredictable – You can’t actually know what is going to happen in the future, so it is wrong to base our ethical choices on what may or may not come about in the future.
  • Immeasurable – You can’t assign a value to an amount of pleasure. It is impossible to compare the pleasure of getting a new job with the joy of having sex or the satisfaction of washing your car.
  • People can’t be trusted – If you get rid of rules and allow people to choose to act in the greater good, they will actually act selfishly, then try to justify their actions by claiming they were in the greater good.
  • Wrong – Utilitarianism is just wrong about ethics. Eg. a group of policemen passed around photos of an abused woman for their own enjoyment. When it was exposed, the consequences were very bad. But would it have been right if no one else found out? It wasn’t the bad consequences that made it wrong, it was the act itself.
  • Subjective – We all have different definitions of happiness.
  • Tyranny of the majority – For example, if most people feel strongly against homosexuality, this would justify laws against practicing homosexuality. This is confusing what is popular with what is right.


Overall, the weakness outweighs the strengths because it Utilitarianism doesn't take into account the feelings or happiness of the minority and also how can we measure pleasure, you cant add a value towards it. 




Good clear points for the theory, so thanks! :) 

May suggest that you split the two theorists, Bentham and Mill, and evaluate each of their arguments separately? 



  • wasnt great