I was tasked with this question: Suppose you are faced with two options each of which will lead to the exact same level of overall happiness. In which way could you not pick between the two options if you are a Utilitarian?

  1. Flip a coin.

  2. Choose whichever option that will give you more happiness.

  3. Choose the option that will give certain others more happiness.

  4. Figure out which of the two choices is more morally right (even if by a little bit), and choose that one.

According to utilitarianism, it is a wrong to create less net happiness than you could have created.

Given this definition, I assume that options 2 or 3 certainly contributes to the notion of increasing net happiness. I'm left with 1 and 4. Flipping a coin sounds plausible since both options would give equal happiness. For option 4, does utilitarianism constitute moral righteousness? Can I say that the morally right decision is to maximize happiness? Or does moral righteousness belong to the scope of deontology entirely?

If moral righteousness is equivalent to maximising happiness, 4 still seems like the correct answer. The question explicitly states that both choices confer the same level of overall happiness. Hence any choice that is more morally right would be assuming that a deontology or virtue ethics based variable has contributed to this increase in moral righteousness.

  • "I assume that options 2 or 3 certainly contributes to the notion of increasing net happiness." This is not necessarily true.
    – user23009
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 11:21
  • Well, you could try to formulate an "ethical mechanism" analogous to spontaneous symmetry breaking, like the Higgs boson, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_symmetry_breaking (That's about three-quarters a joke, but maybe it's conceivable some kind of analogy could be drawn.)
    – user19423
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 11:29
  • I'm not particularly well-versed in the realm of physics :) For symmetry breaking in this ethical system, the underlying law that the state of overall happiness remains invariant, however this system could depart from its symmetrical state given the introduction of a moral right?
    – Loki123
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 11:38
  • 1
    Any reply's speculation since it's a far-fetched analogy. But I'd say "no". Forget your #4)moral, and just assume completely equal, every possible which way. Then I'd suggest/speculate symmetry breaking's analogous to the idea that situations are always changing. You may equally like chocolate/vanilla ice cream, but on one particular day choose vanilla because it happens that you recently ate a chocolate cupcake. So "completely equal" is kind of subject to "uncertainty" in that the state of the world changes from moment to moment, and "equal" can only be measured with respect to that state.
    – user19423
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 2:54
  • I'm not sure the question is reasonable without considering subjectivity--who's doing the reasoning? Option 4 adds that element if everyone is doing it, but it's highly unlikely everyone is going to agree two options are of equal value IF they persist in sharing the details of their happiness. As for morality, that does not apply if happiness is the goal because someone cannot be happy doing something they believe is immoral--morality effects happiness, so it's already included. Therefore, is there any practical application in reality...or am I missing something? Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


The answer is option 4. because a pure utilitarian would only consider the outcome such as the overall happiness in the world. Since both options would lead to the same amount of happiness. A utilitarian would not pick the morally right one because it might result in a overall negative happiness. So the logical answer would be D.

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