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A space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith
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Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today

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Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that is used to make moral decisions, helping to determine the best, morally correct course of action. The theory argues that the morally correct action is the one that brings happiness to the most people. Conversely, it opposes actions that bring pain or harm to people. In summary:
  • Happiness is the only thing that has intrinsic value.
  • Actions which promote happiness are right; those which produce unhappiness are wrong.
  • Everyone's happiness is considered to be equal.



  • It offers a solid, reason-based approach to solving moral dilemmas.
  • It is unbiased: everyone is treated equally when making a decision, so everyone's interests are considered.
  • It teaches that harming people is wrong.
  • It works for the greater good of society.



  • Happiness is not necessarily the only thing that should be considered when making a moral decision; sometimes things that make us happy aren't good for us. For example, eating crisps might make us happy, but it's not as good for us as eating broccoli.
  • Individual human rights and justice could be denied if only the majority are considered. The minority should be considered too. For example, imagine there are three people in a hospital waiting for an organ transplant. These people are on a ward next to where a healthy person is being treated for a minor injury. Applying utilitarianism, it is possible to suggest that one healthy person should be killed so that his organs could be used to save the three. Thereby, three people have been given the chance of life above just one, providing the greatest happiness for the majority. Clearly, this is unethical, proving that utilitarianism doesn't always work.
  • It is difficult to be certain about the outcome of our choices, so it can be unpredictable.
  • The definition of happiness can be different from person to person, so it is unreliable.