Handout: Utilitarianism and Business: Ford Pinto case

Utilitarianism and Business Ethics


Welcome to philosophicalinvestigations - a site dedicted to ethical thinking (rather than one page summaries!!! Though I'm afraid I do add those at exam time - market pressures!). I hope you enjoy this case study which also has a powerpoint that goes with it.  There's plenty of other useful material on this site - case studies, handouts, powerpoints and summaries, and also I have written a number of books including best-selling revision guides and a useful book on 'How to Write Philosophy Essays".  Click here for details.

If you're worried about exams you might at least print out my strengths and weaknesses summaries under each moral theory. I deliberately quote only from my five favourite ethics books, click here to find out which they are - because you might like to buy one of them to supplement your study.  Of course, it's important to quote the philosophers themselves in their own words - see my handouts, or for what academics say about them - see the key quotes section under the topic area of each moral theory.  And if you'd like to blog on anything in the news send it to me - I'd be delighted to read it and - if it fulfils the criterion of good ethical thinking (!), post it!!!!!

Utilitarianism is a normative, consequentialist, empirical philosophy which links the idea of a good action to one which promotes maximum pleasure or happiness, found by adding up costs and benefits (or pains and pleasures). It has two classic formulations - Bentham's hedonistic (pleasure-based) act utilitarianism and Mill's eudaimonistic (happiness-based) rule utilitarianism. In this article we make some preliminary comments on Bentham and Mill before analysing a famous case in 1972 where utilitarian ethics seemed to cause a very immoral outcome - the Ford Pinto case.

Click here for a powerpoint presentation on the same subject containing a YouTube link for a ten minute documentary on this case.

Click here for a brilliant survey of the legal questions surrounding cost/benefit analysis - if you're thinking of being a lawyer it's a must read!

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