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The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number

1199 words - 5 pages

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 ...view middle of the document...

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...

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