30 Jul 2022


Utilitarianism: The Greatest Happiness Principle

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Academic level: College

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Breaking a Promise:  Virtue Ethics  Kantian Deontological Ethics  Utilitarian Ethics 
I had promised my five-year-old niece that I would buy her a present on her birthday. I had hoped that I would have the money by then but I did not get the money as anticipated. As a result, I did not get her the present and she was very frustrated.  Aristotelian virtue ethics requires people to focus on their character as opposed to a singular action. Dimmock & Fisher (2017) notes that morality is about how one should be rather than what should one do. In this case, the failure to buy my niece the present does not necessarily mean that I don’t care for her.  Kant asserts that humans must act for the sake of duty if they are to be considered moral. Pallikkathayil (2017) establishes that Kantian categorical imperative affirms this duty. I did not have an obligation to give my niece the present, which means I was justified not to give it.  Utilitarianism establishes that an action is moral if it produces more pleasure. According to Byskov (2018), pleasure is relative since a seemingly wrong action could have benefits. I may not have given my niece the present but she had the opportunity to learn that what matters most is the will to give rather than the gift. 
Telling a Lie  Virtue Ethics  Kantian Deontological Ethics  Utilitarian Ethics 
My friend was pregnant and she told me to lie on her behalf.  I was right to lie in this one instance since it did not necessarily mean that I am evil. Virtue ethics insist on how one should be and not one should do. In lying, I was affirming that I am a good friend.  I felt that I acted for the sake of duty by protecting the reputation of my friend.  Lying served a utilitarian purpose since it produced more pleasure for my friend and her family. If I had told the truth she would be suspended days before her final exam. If I had told her friends or family, they would be devastated and her reputation would have been ruined. 

Which theory of the ones listed above would you use to justify breaking a promise and telling a lie? 

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Utilitarianism, which focuses more on the consequences rather than on the action. 

How would you respond if someone broke a promise or told you a lie? 

I would try to understand the reason why they lied or broke the promise before deciding if they are wrong. 

How might you respond in a supportive manner that recognizes the feelings of others yet still holds them accountable for their moral decisions? 

I would let them know that they may have genuine reasons to lie or break promises but they should not make a habit out of it. 


Byskov, M. F. (2018) Utilitarianism and risk. Journal of Risk Research , 23:2, 259-270, DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2018.1501600 

Dimmock, M., & Fisher, A. (2017). Ethics for A-level . Open Book Publishers. 

Pallikkathayil, J. (2017). The truth about deception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 98 (1):147-166. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). Utilitarianism: The Greatest Happiness Principle .


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