After reading about normative theories, I can recall a few events in my life where I encountered some actions/decisions that some of these apply to. The event I remember the most that clearly relates to Utilitarianism happened when I was 10 years old. It was the summer of 2007 and I was enjoying my carefree summer days biking around town with my friends.
My friends were planning on staying over one night, so we decided to bike to the local Blockbuster (R.I.P) and rent some movies/games. As we were about to go head inside the store, I spotted a wallet left on the ground. I immediately picked it up to see the contents of the wallet. There was $150 dollars, credit/debit cards, and the ID of the owner of the wallet. It was at this moment, unbeknownst to me, that I made a utilitarian decision.
While I was in awe of the amount of cash that was in the wallet (that is a lot of money for a 10-year-old), my mind was thinking of what would be the most beneficial way to handle this moral dilemma. I could take the wallet and spend the money with my friends which would benefit our happiness albeit temporarily. Or I could try and locate the guy who dropped his wallet and/or give it to the Blockbuster manager to handle. I ultimately decided to find the guy who luckily was in the store with his family and return the wallet.
I decided to give back the wallet because my brother had just recently lost his wallet at the time, and it was a real headache/stressful situation for him. I thoroughly thought about the headache it would cause this guy, and possibly myself if I were to take the wallet. He would have to go about canceling his cards, visiting the DMV for a new license, buying a new wallet, etc. There was also the possibility that I could be in trouble If I would have gotten caught using his cards or money. In the end, he rewarded me and my friends with $20 (more than enough to rent movies/games) and free drinks from Blockbuster. Everyone involved in the decision left happy – my friends and me with basically free rentals, and the guy and his family with a piece of mind.
My decision to give back the wallet displays the six points of Utilitarianism. First & Second, I kept in mind what action would yield the greatest happiness and to what degrees (our questionable temporary happiness vs his more significant happiness). Third, I evaluated the possible actions according to their consequences (option to give back had little to no consequences vs option to take which had more potential consequences). Fourth & Fifth, I figured it would maximize happiness in the long run for their party and my party (didn’t take the risk based on the uncertainty of consequences). Sixth, I did not disregard my own pleasure as I was happy to give it back since something similar happened to my brother.
While these six points roughly outline the situation I was in, I made a utilitarian decision nonetheless.
1 Comment for “M2 (Lawton)”
Hello Lawton, I wrote about a similar encounter for my example; but I related mine with Kant’s Theory. A few differences with mine though; I was 25 years old, located in a public park, and I myself had lost my wallet a few months prior to finding a wallet. If I had practiced Utilitarianism; the correct action to do is take the wallet and try to use the contents within to maximize my personal happiness. Even if I tried to maximize my future happiness; I believe that the results that maximize my happiness would be the most immediate choice since if I ended up finding the owner of the wallet and returning it; I would only have peace of mind. Having lost my wallet recently and having to do everything you mentioned from cancelling all my credit and debit cards to driving to a California DMV while permanently assigned to Washington state Joint-Base Lewis McChord; Kant’s Theory fit perfectly with my actions because if I had lost my wallet once again; I would like to have it returned.