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Day 16 – Q 4. What is utilitarianism? Is it a desirable philosophy for a civil servant? Substantiate you views on the issue.

4. What is utilitarianism? Is it a desirable philosophy for a civil servant? Substantiate you views on the issue.

उपयोगितावाद क्या है? क्या यह एक सिविल सेवक के लिए वांछनीय दर्शन है? इस मुद्दे पर अपने विचारों को  सारगर्भित करें।


John Stuart Mill defines utilitarianism as a philosophy in ethics which means that an action is right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. Happiness is intended pleasure and absence of pain. For a civil servant, the philosophy calls for an action that bring greatest happiness to greatest number of people.


Desirable for a civil servant:

Proponents like Jeremy Bentham has argued that utilitarianism ensure objectivity, quick decision making and brings welfare to maximum number of people. For instance, 

  • Most of the policies are done in the spirit of bringing greatest happiness to the greatest number of public. E.g. Aadhar is made mandatory in public distribution system in spite of it having error up to 1% and some may suffer due to this.
  • It is right as far as upholding public order. E.g. A district collector ordering preventive arrests ahead of possible communal clashes is for the greater good though it affects negatively some of the sections of the society.
  • To safeguard the security, unity and national integrity. E.g. the restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir though it affects some of the fundamental rights of the citizens.
  • It sets a precedent and a standard in decision making which can be used to take timely decisions. E.g. imposition of sec.144 in larger public interest.

Not Desirable for a civil servant:

However, utilitarianism philosophy is not suitable in the action of a civil servant in every instance. A civil servant serves every section – majority and minority which might be compromised if the utilitarianism philosophy is followed in every situation.

E.g. Bringing down of illegal shops run mostly by poor on road sides is in line with policy and also is good for maximum of people. However, keeping in mind, the livelihood needs of the poor, the demolition process should be such that enough time is provided to the poor so as to shift and if possible, must be provided with an alternative. 

Further, Human rights are usually said to be inalienable and universal, and some even believe that they are absolute. A civil servant has to uphold individual rights along with welfare of the public though it goes against utilitarian concept. 

E.g. Homosexuality was a criminal offence until recently who may form a minority and considering the views of majority which is against homosexuality, it is ethical. However, for a civil servant it is not because he/she is responsible for every individual right.

Furthermore, for a police officer – means are as important as ends. E.g. Torturing a suspected terrorist even to avoid a bomb attack is wrong as the means used is violence and is unethical.

Similarly, views of the majority is immaterial for a civil servant while deciding ethical actions. E.g. silently supporting moral policing by a mob as was seen in many cases and so on.


The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” – Leon Trotsky. Though utilitarian concept is well applicable in majority of the civil servant’s decision, a sound moral justification is needed for achieving the end.

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