Imagine you are on a runaway trolley and you are on the main set of tracks that will hit five construction workers. Now, imagine you can pull a lever on the trolley so it takes the side set of tracks instead where it will only hit one construction worker. Your options are to A.) do nothing and let the trolley kill the five workers on the main track or B.) pull the lever, leading the trolley onto the side tracks, only killing one worker. What should you do? The utilitarian choice is clear – pull the lever. Killing one person instead of five would be the more ethical option and is the option with the greatest utility – it brings the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. However, one could make the argument that it is also morally wrong to pull the lever because the situation in itself is morally wrong and he or she would feel as though they were partially responsible for the worker's death. On the other hand, by that reasoning, simply being present during the situation would make him or her partially responsible for the other five workers deaths because they had the option of pulling the lever and chose not to take it. Therefore, you could ask yourself; "Would you rather be "responsible" for the death of the one person or five people?" Utilitarianism provides what could considered an ethically logical solution to this complicated situation, highlighting reasoning instead of emotion.
According to Utilitarianism, one should consider all possible actions and proceed to take the action that maximizes utility, which is the overall benefits to everyone effected by the consequences of that action. However, it's easier said than done. Complicated situations arise and the action that utilitarianism suggests can go against moral beliefs and an individual's rights. When this type of situation occurs it's sometimes best to consider the theory of natural rights, which states; that if an action defies an individual's rights, then it can't be done.