Evaluation of Utilitarianism

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  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 13-04-14 17:00
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  • Evaluation of Utilitarianism
    • Bentham
      • Reasonable to link morality with pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain and misery
      • Natural to consider consequences of actions
      • Balanced, democratic morality that promotes general happiness
      • Doesn't support individual pursuits that are at expense of majority
      • Practically applicable to real-life situations
      • Weaknesses
        • Need to be sure that consequences will definitely happen
          • Humans don't have accurate foresight
        • Can different pleasures and pains be easily quantified? Some pain is good for us and is there for a reason
          • Hedonic Calculus isn't as straightforward as it seems, can actions be declared good by an empirical test?
        • Guarantees nothing for minorities: bullies, slave masters etc all have actions justified by gaining more pleasure
          • John Rawls: "The striking feature of justice is that it does not matter, except indirectly, how this sum of satisfactions is distributed among indiviudals
          • Alasdair McIntyre in his book 'A short history of Ethics' notes Utilitarianism could justify horrendous acts that benefit majorities
            • "That men are happy with their lot never entails that their lot is what it ought to be"
        • Failure to recognise different views on happiness
          • Asserts common agreement on what brings pleasure and pain
            • People have different tastes in music, art and there are people who enjoy experiencing pain
              • Premise on which utilitarianism is built is severely weakened
    • Proved popular and useful since formation
      • Henry Sidgwick 'The Methods of Ethics'
        • Rejected Bentham's view that people pursured own pleasure
          • Replaced with ethical hedonism - individuals should seek general happiness
      • Peter Singer 'Practical Ethics'
        • Preference Utilitarianism
          • Our ethical decisions should benefit interests of those affected rather than pleasure and no individual's interests are more valuable than others'
    • Conclusion
      • Modern forms of utilitarianism don't fully address all criticisms: concern for justice and minority issues linked to human rights question utilitarianism's usefulness!
        • But it remains a persuasive ethical theory due to its practical dimension, providing organisations with clear-cut decision making systems


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