Does Utilitarianism justify Capitalist greed?
The Utilitarian tradition is often summarised as “the greatest good for the greatest number”. According to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, “The Classical Utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, identified the good with pleasure”. Therefore pleasure is the ultimate goal that will lead to an ethical society, according to the Utilitarian approach.
Pleasure, in the Capitalist ideology at least, is often associated with success, which is measured in monetary terms. The “greatest good” is judged as having maximal ability to buy goods and services to fulfil one’s needs and wants. The greatest pleasure comes through satisfying material wants.
More importantly though, Capitalism is based on economic growth. If a small sector of society becomes immensely wealthy, society as a whole is said to benefit as the successful indirectly pass part of their new wealth on to the masses. Getting rich is somehow seen as a service to society.
If these two approaches are combined, encouraging a small sector of society to become immensely wealthy increases the financial benefit to the general population, and therefore their pleasure, and as such their greed is entirely ethical. So does Utilitarianism in the Capitalist context actually encourage greed?
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