In Defense of Utilitarianism

17 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2010

See all articles by Peter Bowden

Peter Bowden

University of Sydney ; Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics

Date Written: June 1, 2009


This paper argues that people from all walks of life are required to make ethical decisions. Assessing the consequences of what we decide provides us with a workable method of reaching an answer – by deciding whether the consequences are good or bad. The decisions we make in the institutions that organise our lives – be it the workplace, our professional lives, in our industry associations or our social or public structures are often complex, difficult to choose between conflicting alternatives, between good or bad consequences. Most people have little or no training in moral decision making. This paper argues that utility is more likely to provide a defendable response. But utilitarianism has been attacked on many fronts, and by renowned philosophers. The paper refutes these attacks, further arguing that the version of utilitarianism set out by John Stuart Mill provides a simpler, preferable way to make an ethical choice than competing theories, particularly deontology and virtue. The principles that he sets out, readily identifiable in his text: Encourage happiness; Do good; Minimise pain; Do no harm; Ensure justice; Respect individuals and their freedoms, will not answer all issues. But they will, with some weighing of utilities, bring greater rationality into our ethical decisions.

Keywords: Ethics, business ethics, decision making, utlitarianism, JS Mill

JEL Classification: I20, M14

Suggested Citation

Bowden, Peter, In Defense of Utilitarianism (June 1, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Peter Bowden (Contact Author)

University of Sydney ( email )

Room 140, level 1,
RC Mills Building A26
Sydney, New South Wales 2006
02 9797 6459 (Phone)

Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics ( email )

University of NSW
School of History & Philosophy
Sydney, NSW 2130


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