Utilitarianism As It Relates to Sports Term Paper

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Utilitarianism as it Relates to Sports

There are many philosophies that make up the social and political structures of nations around the world. Many of these philosophies can also be applied to sports and sports related activities. The purpose of this discussion is to explore the concept of Utilitarianism.

We will begin by defining the philosophy and addressing the beliefs of Utilitarians. We will then discuss how Utilitarian beliefs relate to sports.


Utilitarianism stems from the teachings of John Stuart Mills and Jeremy Bentham. The philosophy asserts, "that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness -- not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it."(West) Utilitarianism holds that even when the motivation behind an act is bad the consequences can be good. The founding fathers of the philosophy are said to be hedonist, meaning that they measured happiness as a balance of pleasure over pain. (West)

Utilitarians have strong beliefs about politics, law, and economics. Most Utilitarians believe that the best form of government is a democracy because it allows individuals to have liberty to make their own decisions.

Utilitarians assert that the individual is best suited to determine his own welfare.

It is also believed that the best form of government is the form that has the best consequences. (West)

Utilitarianism holds the belief that laws are very important. The utilitarian believes that purpose of punishment is to prevent criminals from carrying out more crimes and to deter future criminals. John Mills explains it best,

With many, the test of justice in penal infliction is that the punishment should be proportioned to the offence; meaning that it should be exactly measured by the moral guilt of the culprit (whatever be their standard for measuring moral guilt): the consideration, what amount of punishment is necessary to deter from the offence, having nothing to do with the question of justice, in their estimation: while there are others to whom that consideration is all in all; who maintain that it is not just, at least for man, to inflict on a fellow creature, whatever may be his offences, any amount of suffering beyond the least that will suffice to prevent him from repeating, and others from imitating, his misconduct." (Mills)

In reference to economics, early Utilitarians opposed "governmental interference in trade and industry on the assumption that the economy would regulate itself for the greatest welfare if left alone." (West) However, later Utilitarians believed that some governmental regulation was necessary and the notion was embraced. Utilitarian beliefs are the foundation for many of the economic policies, laws and governmental structures that exist today.

Utilitarianism as it relates to sports

One way to relate utilitarianism to sports is to look at the pleasure and the pain that an athlete and a sports fan gets from participating in and watching sports. The purpose of utility is to maximize pleasure or eliminate pain. In the case of the sports fan, pleasure is increased when the team that they are rooting for wins. On the other hand, the fan will experience pain if their team looses. In sports there is no way to know the outcome of the game and so there is no way to completely eliminate the feeling of pain.

Utilitarians would argue that a sports fan may be better off spending their time in an environment in which the outcome could be predicted. In doing this the sports fan would be sure to eliminate pain. Sports fans may argue that the pleasure of watching sports far outweighs the pain of seeing their favorite team loose. In this case the pain is inconsequential when compared to the pleasure of watching the sport. Furthermore, the sports fan will not always experience this pain because on some occasions his team will win and there will be pleasure.

The concepts of utilitarianism will fail when applied to the desires of the sports fan because the pain…

Sources Used in Document:


Bowers, Thomas. "Ethical Analysis Will Help Sports Media Avoid Pitfalls." 29 Oct 1999. http://www.bus.indiana.edu/SEA/ethics.htm

Criticisms of Utilitarianism. http://www.siu.edu/~philos/faculty/Manfredi/intro/ethics/objutil.html

Mills, John S. Utilitarianism. 1863. Online text. http://www.utilitarianism.com/mill5.htm

Utilitarianism. http://www.lions.odu.edu/~demiller/494s03/utilitarianismnotes.pdf

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