Utilitarianism is a well-known and influential moral theory that considers a choice to be the most ethical when it produces the greatest good for most people. This maximization of happiness is the determining factor in whether an action should be considered ethical. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism: that the right action is understood entirely by consequences produced (Driver, 2014).
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Morality isn’t judged by set of ethical standards; There are no innate rights and wrongs (Jones, 2013). Actions are deemed wrong when they cause more harm, and right when they maximize happiness. There are two different schools of thought regarding Utilitarianism, that distinguish between individual actions and types of actions. Act utilitarianism is concerned with the effects of specific individual actions whereas rule utilitarianism focuses more on the effects of types of actions such as bribery or theft (Nathanson, n.d.). While different in focus, both agree on the basic tenants of utilitarianism.
Most of the early teachings of Utilitarianism is owed to Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Their theory has had a major impact both on philosophical work in moral theory and on approaches to economic, political, and social policy (Nathanson, n.d.). Utilitarianism adopts a teleological approach to ethics, which argues that actions are judged by their consequences. Therefore, actions are not inherently good or bad. They are assigned a moral value by the result (Sheppard, 2011).
The practical application of utilitarianist teachings is both widespread and controversial. One of the most fundamental aspects of Utilitarianism is how it applies to political groups and public policies as well as the behavior of organizations and corporate entities (Nathanson, n.d.). Bentham, one of the foremost utilitarianisms, thought that it was important to focus on discovering which actions and policies maximize the well-being of a specific group. And today, this is a common application of the theory. It allows us to view actions of countries, companies and individuals from a micro and macroeconomic level, and evaluate the morality of their decision and actions.
A recognized brand by virtually everyone, Walmart has firmly established its place in the American zeitgeist. If Walmart were a country it would be one of the top thirty economies in the world (Snyder, 2015). On the surface, the story of Walmart as the embodiment of the American Dream and an example of the possibilities that capitalism can provide. It is a storybook fairytale; a family from Bentonville, Arkansas pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and creating one of the largest companies in the world. It is hard to not be fascinated and enthralled by this story. In a fascinating deep dive into the lore and impact of this success, One Nation Under Walmart exposes the high social costs that accompany Walmart’s super low prices.
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