Act Utilitarianism’s direct aim is to produce the best outcome and welfare for the greatest number of people while weighing the sometimes heavy costs of what could be the best outcome for the many over the worst outcome for the few. Simultaneously, this theory wishes to conclude what decision brings the most good now and in the future in the hopes of identifying acts that qualify as a specific reasoning for the decisions that will result in the most efficient choice and produce the largest quantity of measurable good. This measurable good is often referred to as or defined by several different words such as well-being, pleasure, good, utility, and happiness. The ability of narrowly calculating or measuring the amount of good and or bad has been a key argument against this theory since pain and pleasure are both subjective based on a specific individual viewpoint and since everything must be analyzed in the utilitarian view to produce the best outcome time will most certainly become an issue with more intricate problems.
While this theory may seem to be the most intuitive way of weighing options by making one consider the consequences of a decision at every turn and with every decision we must make, it may become more impractical than originally thought. We often make impulse decisions throughout our daily lives that are situated upon a basis built from past actions, if a person has been taught to be courteous for much of their life it is likely that they may stop to help someone in need or to hold the door for the next person coming in behind them. These decisions must not be made after heavily evaluating the pros and cons of the decision itself before executing it in real time, they simply and eventually become inherent in ones personal behavior resulting in that person not having to make the decision at all, it just becomes common practice.
The utilitarian may argue that such an action still benefits the most people, for example the person isn’t spending much energy to hold the door and the person behind them may be pleasantly surprised to have someone be courteous to them which could inspire them to be more courteous throughout their day hence leading to a greater good for a greater number of people. The book states “For a utilitarian, only the optimific act is the morally right act, the action we should take, any other action would be wrong” (DeNicola pg. 106). The Utilitarian could possibly use this viewpoint to argue their case in this scenario, how often though does one consider all the factors a utilitarian states when making such a small decision? It can be argued that it would not be practical to do so with each action one must make day in and day out.
To continue, while holding a door for another person would most likely be seen universally as a proper and courteous action to take, how can one truly measure or account for the amount of utility or pleasure one can derive from the actions that might be taken. Utilitarianism suggests that actions can be measured in this way, but one can find that peoples preferences and distastes can vary greatly from person to person. So, to treat the decision-making process as an equation that can be added to and subtracted from does not seem properly defendable. Now of course we can assume that small acts that do not have much tradeoffs are, as stated before, universally good so why would one have to calculate each decision before making it if it is already generally known as the right and just thing to do? The original theory of calculating and measuring to solve moral dilemmas sought to simplify the procedure of decision making in the utilitarian viewpoint. At face value it seems justifiable for one to be able to quantify a decision and we often do but just not to the extent to which the utilitarian may consider. How can anyone truly know what is best for a specific person or group and how would it ever be feasible to add and subtract from all of the possible outcomes to eventually conclude with the best outcome? While every decision that we make should be weighed on the scale of what is best for one’s self, others, and a situation calculating adds another complicated layer to the mounting process one has to take in order to make each decision throughout a day.
While I believe that this theory is impractical on a small level, seeking what is the most beneficial for a group is often the best sought process when you consider the method of making decisions concerning policy. Although, even this consideration has its downfall, because often a small group can fall subject to unfair treatment considering how the larger majority is being treated under the same policy or administration. It is important for those making decisions at this level to consider all those involved and to not pick what is best for the largest group. The best outcome can be achieved by creating a policy that is inclusive to a majority of the factions by focusing on the main subject of this theory which is morality and ethical behavior. Only through this can a decision on a large scale such a government policy truly rise to protect the few in favor of everyone in the long run. While most decision making may not come to the extreme of what this theory suggests, it does have both its strengths and weaknesses. Its focus on what is right for the present and the future is practical in all of one’s daily decision making and should be considered greatly in a decision-making process. It is important to take away from this theory that decisions and outcomes should be considered against all variables but it is also important to not become weighed down by the intricacies that are laid out in the utilitarian theory.