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The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number

In: Business and Management

Submitted By japarra77
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The In Dr. Michael Sandel’s video, “The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number”, the issue of utilitarianism in regards to policy making is discussed. In particular, the philosophies of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are called into question and applied to modern day scenarios that illustrate how difficult it can be to create a policy based on utilitarianism alone. Several issues arise throughout the course of the discussion that create doubt as to its effectiveness as well as convincing evidence in support. In the opening segment, Dr. Sandel speaks about Jeremy Bentham’s idea of utilitarianism. Benthem believed that a society must maximize happiness (utility) in order to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. He argues that a community is the sum of all its parts and so in deciding on a policy or law for that particular community, all the benefits of a decision must be compared with all the negative impacts of the decision and whatever maximizes the balance of pleasure over displeasure is the correct decision to make. In order to put this in a more modern perspective, Dr. Sandel introduces two cost-benefit analysis’ created by two major American companies that were used in making important business decisions. They did this by placing a dollar value on utility. The first analysis was done by Phillip Morris, a cigarette manufacturer, on a decision of whether or not the Czech Republic should increase the tax on smoking. In the study, Phillip Morris weighed the increased costs of healthcare for smokers against the benefits of them continuing to smoke. Some of these benefits were to be expected, such as increased tax revenue, but others were not. These included healthcare and pension savings as a result of the smokers dying. What they actually found is that the government of The Czech Republic actually stood to gain $147 million by not imposing the tax. This, however, brought up the moral issue in regards to the value of life being left out of the study. The second study involved Ford Motor Company and safety issues involving the Ford Pinto. Having been taken to court as the result of explosions that occurred when the vehicle was rear ended, it became apparent that Ford was aware of the problem and had actually done a cost-benefit analysis on whether to install a shield to protect the gas tank or not. Ford’s study differed from Phillip Morris’s in that it actually assigned a value to human life, which according to Ford Motor Company was $200,000. In their study, they actually found that it was less beneficial for them to install an $11 part than to just ignore the problem. It may seem at first that Ford’s analysis was more comprehensive than Phillip Morris’s, but it actually created another issue. That issue is: How do you assign a dollar value to human life? One student in the audience by the name of Julie, says that it is wrong to even attempt to assign a value, while another argues that a number needs to be assigned and a cost-benefit analysis must be done and if it is not, then the greater good is sacrificed in the process. At this point in the discussion, Dr. Sandel asks the audience who is or isn’t in favor of utilitarianism. Seeing that the majority are in favor, he calls upon Anna, who is not, to ask her reasoning. Anna claims that it is unfair to the minority and asks why their wants or desires are any less important than the majority. This leads to two common objections to utilitarianism. The first is that it fails to respect individual or minority rights. As an example, Dr. Sandel uses Ancient Rome. Were the lives of a few Christians worth the collective pleasure of all the Romans that were entertained by them being fed to lions? The second objection is whether or not it is even possible to assign a dollar value to utility. To highlight this point, Dr. Sandel refers to a study done by a psychologist in the 1930’s, who asked his subjects how much they would have to be paid to endure certain instances of pain or suffering. The results were surprising, with living on a farm in Kansas requiring significantly more money than something quite painful as having a tooth pulled or small toe cut off. This illustrates the difficulty in assigning value to utility as it may vary from person to person or society to society. To add to the difficulty in assigning value to utility, Dr. Sandel asks if there should be a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Should some people’s preferences be valued more than others? And if so, who is to say whose preferences are of higher value? Dr. Sandel refers to John Stuart Mill, who attempted to address these objections by trying to humanize utilitarianism. He did this by trying to enlarge the view of utilitarianism to include humanitarian concerns such as individual rights and whether or not there was a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. He later argued that it was, in fact, possible to distinguish higher and lower pleasures. According to J.S. Mill this could only be achieved by experiencing both and at that point deciding which one gave you more pleasure. When asked, the majority of the audience agrees that this approach does not succeed in differentiating the two. Dr. Sandel then performs an experiment, showing three videos clips to the audience. When the audience is asked which video they enjoyed most, they overwhelmingly chose a clip of The Simpsons over a clip of a Hamlet soliloquy. However, when asked which was the “higher experience” they chose Hamlet. So although at first they did not agree with J.S. Mill’s theory, Dr. Sandel’s experiment confirmed it. In terms of the El Paso/ Juarez business environment, it is rather hard to apply. The reason for this is the striking difference between economic situations. Although the two cities are close geographically, the nature of business could not be more different. In El Paso there are laws and regulations that require and ensure fair business practices for the most part. On the other hand, in Juarez there is a completely different business environment where the balance between rich and poor is extremely unequal. In regards to higher and lower pleasures, there is a severe dichotomy between the classes. This is easily illustrated with El Paso recently being named one of the safest places to live and Juarez having the distinction as one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the world. With that being said, El Paso has had more than its fair share of public corruption as evidenced in recent local headlines. The fact that these people are held responsible for their actions is proof that the community is not willing to allow a few people to prosper at the expense of the greater good.

Jason Parra
Global Business Environment
CRN: 21728

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