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An Immoral Businessman and Utilitarianism: Analytical Essay

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A businessman decides that he is going to buy the only source of water in a region and will sell rights to it in order to make a profit for himself. The businessman then proceeds to charge fifteen times more for water rights, effectively putting everyone in the farming community out of business. With the local economy extinguished, the townspeople grow poorer and are unable to meet their basic needs. The businessman thinks that he did nothing wrong in this and has a right to do what he wants on his land. This essay will show that the Utilitarian Moral Theory determines that the Businessman’s actions are immoral because they assert one man’s happiness over an entire community’s happiness, and he is denying the townspeople a way out of the situation he has created.

To understand why the Businessman’s actions are immoral, we must use a standard to evaluate his actions. Utilitarianism is a moral theory that was created to provide its users with the most happiness in the consequences of an action. Utilitarians believe that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things in the world and decreasing the number of bad things. (Nathanson, Act and Rule Utilitarianism) Utilitarianism works by comparing different courses of action and theorizing the potential for happiness in their consequences. Utilitarianism seeks to minimize pain and suffering and maximize happiness and enjoyment for the greatest number of persons, which is something everyone can agree is good. In situations where the bad outweighs the good, we get something called negative utility. In situations where the good outweighs the bad, the get positive utility. Utilitarianism’s goal is to generate the least amount of negative utility. Utility is best calculated by using John Stuart Mill’s version of calculations. Mill recognizes that there is more to pleasure and pain that duration and intensity. (Duignan et al. Utilitarianism) Quality of pleasures and pains differ as well. When calculating utility when must take into account what kind of sensation, how long the sensation is going to last, and also how intense the sensation is. Utilitarianism is morally defensible because it takes into consideration everyone’s circumstances and tries to make the best possible outcome for everyone. All sentient beings are viewed equally by utilitarianism, what matters is the number of sentient beings and how greatly they are going to be affected by the decision. (Duignan et al. Utilitarianism)

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The businessman’s actions are not moral because he is pursuing his own pleasures while hurting other people, and he is putting all of the townspeople into poverty. As a matter of fact, utilitarianism is absolute and doing any other action besides the one that generates the most positive utility is immoral. (Markovits, Ethics: Utilitarianism) The businessman is violating the main point of utilitarianism, he is putting his desires and happiness above many other people’s pain and suffering.While his decisions to buy up the water supply was not inherently bad, his decision to increase water prices negatively affected thousands of people. Without water, farmers cannot grow crops. Without crops, the farmer cannot make money. Without money, the farmer and his family fall into poverty. In this situation, the bad outweighs the good thus, generating negative utility. The farmer’s pain and suffering far outweighs the businessman’s temporary pleasure. After all, the businessman has more plans for developing the land he acquires and this situation is merely a stepping stone for him. The businessman is trying to state that his prosperity is more important than thousands of others, which is simply untrue. The businessman is also putting an entire town into poverty and not offering them a way out. The businessman is presumed to be very successful and is easily able to offer the townspeople something to help their situation. The businessman chooses not to and that is wrong. If you can prevent something bad from happening to somebody, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, then you are doing the morally wrong thing. (Singer, Famine, Affluence and Morality) It would only slightly inconvenience the businessman to offer aid to the townspeople, yet he chooses not to do it. This is wrong because human life and prosperity is worth more than one man’s business ventures.

I agree with Utilitarianism results in regards to the morality of this specific action. While Utilitarianism is not the best moral theory when it is applied to very large groups of people or many different interests, it is a good tool to use when dealing with limited numbers of people or limited interests. An objection to Utilitarianism is that it can be harmful when applied to large groups of people. (Markovits, Ethics: Utilitarianism) Utilitarianism appeals to what makes the majority happy, even if the majority want something that is objectionably wrong. Take for instance, many people hate a particular person for no reason and want him thrown in jail. Even though he is innocent of any wrongdoing to these people, utilitarianism would determine that he needs to be thrown in jail. Utilitarianism works best if there are only two interests within a situation. Utilitarianism can cause problems if there are many different takes on a situation. Utilitarianism will try to come up with a compromise but, determining the best compromise can be confusing or even harming. Compromise can be good, but it can have negative impacts if we do not do it correctly. Utilitarianism cannot specifically overcome these problems because because human beings are not omniscient. (Nathanson, Act and Rule Utilitarianism) We cannot know everything about a situation and how different decisions are going to resolve a situation.

This example scenario is important to us because it is likely that land developers create this exact same scenario. Land developers want more land and will use immoral strategies in order to obtain that land. We need to either better push back against immoral land uses, or learn how to better help those who have been displaced because of development. The business man’s action was immoral because he made the selfish choice of putting his own want’s over and entire community’s needs and he is not being responsible for his actions by giving the townspeople aid. Even though the businessman is not doing anything illegal, he is making immoral decisions.

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