Complex Problem Solving

Impact of Utilitarianism

Potential difficulties in the application of utilitarian principles.

Utilitarianism is a tricky beast. Consider two ends:

1. In vaccine prioritisation apply the Prioritarian principle of ‘give extra weight to the worse-off individuals’. This constructs a logical set of categories, by risk of negative outcome.

2. Apply utilitarian principles, coupled with Darwinism into a treatment triage system (under extreme pressure of resource shortage) that biases towards survival potential. You risk introducing categories of ‘high consequence exclusion.’

A tragic seesaw!

Of course, the optimal strategy is to ensure that resource abundance outstrips demand in all areas of the system, and that chances are evenly distributed irrespective of age or other characteristic.

But in the quagmire of point 2, you potentially exclude the possibility of ‘miracles at the edges.’

And importantly, high-consequence exclusion is also at odds with the normative values of society and of the system itself.

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.