Theories of morality or “normative ethics” provide standards that help people decide how they should act in a range of different situations. They are often applied when people need to figure out whether certain actions are right or wrong. One such normative theory is called utilitarianism, which states that a decision should lead to the greatest balance of good consequences or the least possible balance of bad consequences. In other words, the “right” decision is the one that maximizes the ratio of benefits to costs. Furthermore, the utilitarian approach emphasizes that the decision should focus on producing the greatest good for the greatest number of people (i.e., making the most people happy that are involved in the decision) and minimizing harm or suffering.
In the case of the given scenario, a person applying utilitarian theory would most likely decide to go to the hospital and donate blood to the injured passenger. When making this decision, there would be a number of steps that I would follow in order to come to the right conclusion.
First, it is important to determine what are all of the possible choices. In this given situation, there seem to be two major decisions: 1) Go to the hospital and give the injured passenger a blood transfusion; or 2) Do not go to the hospital and do not give a blood transfusion, and instead, go to the baseball game to see my favorite team play.
Second, it is necessary to determine who will be affected by these two decisions. In this case, the two most obvious people are the injured passenger and I. Some less obvious people that may be affected are the passenger’s family members and the paramedics.
Third, the consequences of each action for each person need to be calculated. If I decided to give the injured passenger the blood transfusion, then the flowing consequences would be likely: 1) passenger’s life would be saved, which would bring him great happiness; 2) I would miss my game, lose out financially, experience some discomfort as a result of giving blood, but feel guilty for not helping. This would create some sadness/disappointment because I was excited about the game and unhappiness for wasting money and for possibly contributing to someone’s death; 3) The passenger’s family members would likely experience great unhappiness if something grave happened to their loved one (because he did not receive the transfusion from me); and 4) The paramedics could experience relief and happiness because they know that the passenger’s life will be saved. If I decided to not to give the injured passenger the blood transfusion, then the flowing consequences would be likely: 1) The passenger may die or (in the least) be extremely unhappy that someone chose to go to a baseball game instead of trying to save his life; 2) I would probably be happy that I got to see my game and that I avoided the discomfort of having to give blood, but I would also feel guilty (and therefore unhappy) that I potentially let someone die; 3) The passenger’s family members would likely experience great unhappiness if something grave happened to their loved one (because he did not receive the transfusion from me); and 4) The paramedics would likely experience stress and sadness because they would be worried that the passenger could die on the way to the hospital.
Fourth, the “net effect” on the overall happiness of each person (from each action) involved needs to be calculated. There is no actual mathematical formula that is used to calculate this effect; rather, it is an estimation of the benefits to costs ratio. When it comes to the first decision (i.e., giving the blood transfusion), the good of the people involved definitely outweighs the bad. All people would gain happiness from this decision, with minor setbacks for me. When it comes to the second decision, most people would be hurt (and therefore unhappy) by the decision, with the exception of myself in that I would be happy to see my baseball game.
Fifth, the decision with the most “profitable” net effect is the right decision (i.e., the one that leads to the most good for the most people). Per this scenario, most people would benefit from me giving the passenger the blood transfusion and the most people would be harmed if I did not. In fact, the only gain from not giving the blood transfusion would be that I would have joy from my game and know that my money was well spent. Other than that, the rest of the people that I included as being affected by this scenario will be subject to some degree or unpleasantries (as mentioned above).
Sixth, and in conclusion, the decision that end up having the best effect on the happiness I general is the right decision. As such, I have chosen the action of following the injured passenger to the hospital in order to give him a life-saving blood transfusion (even if it means me missing my highly-anticipated baseball and suffering through some minor discomforts during the procedure). I chose this because after carefully analyzing the consequences of each action and for each person, this is the one that lead to the greatest happiness for the largest amount of people (and at the same time, minimized harm and unhappiness).
Finally, one objection or criticism of utilitarian theory is the fact that “happiness” or “unhappiness” cannot be objectively measures. Everyone’s definition and understanding of this concept is different; therefore, it is difficult to compare people’s subject interpretations of happiness to each other. Even a standardized rating Likert-type rating scale of happiness may not be reliable because my interpretation of happiness at a “5” may not be your interpretation (e.g., you may have the same feelings at a 3).