The benefit is a value concept that reflects the positive significance of objects and phenomena in their relation to someone else’s interests. In a more rigorous sense, the benefit is the characterization of the means sufficient to achieve a given goal. It is precisely this certainty of usefulness that was revealed by Aristotle, the Stoics, T. Hobbes, F. Hutcheson, J. Bentham, G. Hegel. As a vital principle, the utility can be expressed in a maxim: “Based on your interest, take full advantage of it.”
Since interests are expressed for the purposes that a person pursues in their activities, what is useful is that which contributes to the achievement of the goals, and in particular, whereby the goals are achieved. Utility, therefore, characterizes the means that can be used to achieve a given purpose. Along with the benefits, goal-oriented thinking uses other value concepts, namely: success (getting results that are close to the set goal) and efficiency (achieving results with the least cost). Something is useful if:
- meets someone’s interests,
- ensures achievement of the set goals,
- allows you to achieve results that are close to your goals (contributes to the success of actions), and
- will enable you to do this with the least cost (contributes to the effectiveness of efforts).
Accordingly, the expression of the principle of utility is supplemented by such maxims as “Strive for success”, “In achieving goals, use the best means”. Practical thinking also refers to the notion of “gain,” but its significance is particularly important, as John S. Mill pointed out. If the benefit is determined concerning somebody’s interests, the inner meaning of the concept of “benefit” differs according to the identity and nature of the interests, the satisfaction of which is supposed to be the goal. There are three classes of interests:
- private (special) goals of the individual or group (that is, specific for the subject), the implementation of which is possible due to infringement of interests of other entities;
- the common interests of the individual or group, that is, the interests inherent, as a rule, to all individuals and groups in a given situation. Their satisfaction may also imply the infringement of others’ benefits, but the latter is perceived as a lack of the system and not an evil intent of the subject of interests;
- the interests of the group or society as a whole. Useful in relation to the interests of the first class is often called profit or self-interest, in respect of the second and third classes – common benefit or good (in the narrow sense of the word).
Like other values of practical consciousness (success, efficiency, expediency, advantage), the benefit is a relative value unlike the higher values (good, beautiful, truth, perfection). As a rule, benefits are associated with wealth, power, enjoyment, health, skills and skills, and work. The acceptance of usefulness as a value orientation generates severe moral contradictions in the case when it is treated as good in general or as a moral good. In themselves, the concepts and rules of the use-oriented consciousness are morally neutral. However, from the ethical point of view, there is always a significant difference between morality as such and utility relations. Morality has historically arisen and functions in society as a system of values designed to compensate for the isolation and alienation of individuals due to civilization. Benefits and related concepts reflect values and norms that are adequate to the relations of isolated, alienated, enjoying each other (that is, exploiting each other) individuals.
In psychology, this system of “practical consciousness” is transmitted with the help of the concept of the “principle of reality”. Striving for profit, success, and effectiveness presupposes a person’s turning to reality, taking into account the current circumstances, the existing order of things. A person who professes the principle of advantage manifests himself primarily in the realm of being, in the sphere of current tasks and opportunistic decisions, he does not need an ideal and out of the bounds of the situation the value bases of his actions.
In the historically early or undeveloped value consciousness, the concept of utility is exhausted by the value of satisfying life‘s needs. In all pre-capitalist societies, the desire for profit as a profit was condemned. The most valuable were the benefits inherited, as a result of a gift or good deed, that is, by chance. The development of commodity production and money economy determined the formation of other value orientations; in the framework of economic, property relations, the benefit is a priority value, a fundamental principle of activity. The most typical expression of a user-oriented activity is entrepreneurship as an activity aimed at achieving profit through the production of goods and services that:
- are necessary for society in the face of various private consumers and
- are able to compete with similar goods and services offered by producers.
As the history of culture shows, entrepreneurial activity is perceived negatively by a consciousness resting on collectivist values. The patriarchal, traditionalist, communal-communitarian opposition to the principle of profit appeals to general (public) interest. Orientation to the benefit is interpreted as self-interest, and the benefits are recognized and appreciated only as a general utility, as a common good.
A particular kind of criticism concerning the principle of profit was conducted in communist theories. Fourier contrasted bourgeois social utilitarianism with “social hedonism”: the entire strictly regulated order of life in the phalanstery communities was aimed at ensuring that their members realized themselves best and received the best (rationally justified) pleasures. Marxist understanding of the principle of the benefits is diverse: on the one hand (and this brings the communist outlook closer to Christianity), Marxism sees that the utility relationship corrodes traditional human contacts, exacerbates exploitation and alienation between people. The principle of profit, most consistently revealed in the activities of the bourgeois entrepreneur, is seen as an instrument of the class domination of the bourgeoisie. So built criticism is mostly a continuation of patriarchal, traditionalist, romantic criticism of utility. However, on the other hand, Marx’s political and economic analysis of capital and value implies an essential social and philosophical conclusion about the role of the principle of profit as a tremendous social and innovative force that universalizes people’s social relations and thereby creates a single social space of interdependent social individuals. Generated by social alienation, the principle of profit becomes a factor in the social union of people, the socialization of their connections and dependencies.
The principle of benefit shows the dependence of man as a carrier of private interest from other people and, consequently, his orientation to socially significant values. Within the framework of the relations of use (as mutual use), the person oriented to benefit sees the goal in himself, and in others only means. However, in need of goods and services that others have, he is forced to enter into an exchange with them, offering what he owns himself, in other words, he appears as a means to meet other people’s goals (Hegel, Marx). With the growing legal regulation of economic relations in capitalist societies, especially since the mid-20th century, the negative aspects of social relationships based on mutual use and competition are substantially limited. The moral and civic significance of the principle of profit is determined by the fact that it allows us to establish the scale of the social relevance of individual behavior and thereby limit self-willful self-will. It is not by chance that it is from mutual relations that a real opportunity arises for the proclamation of equality, freedom, justice as the highest goals of social development. Absolutization of the principle of profit, mercantilism destroys the spiritual and moral foundations of life and prevents the improvement of man, which is necessarily mediated by the disinterested and merciful attitude of man to other people.