- This theory states that we should always choose actions that produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people
- Famous exponents include Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill
- Bentham wanted to find a way of defining a what was right and wrong without a need for transcendent authority (God) Bentham's greatest happiness principle states that on should pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
- Mill developed a more sophisticated approach. He felt that different forms of pleasure have different values and that human nature was such that not everyone might want to strive for the highest happiness. Some may accept a closer less intense happiness.
- Mill distinguishedbetween lower pleasures associated with the body- eating, sleeping- and higher pleasures associated with the mind- learning, cultural activities.
- Often referred to as consequentialism- whether an action is right or wrong depends on the consequences.
- Separated into two types
- Act Ultilitairnism
- Each action should be judged on its ability to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. They will therefore think it is important to assess how well individual actions achieve the greatest good.
- Rule ultilitairnism
- States that some general rules of moral conduct are more likely to leaf the general to good so that there is no need to judge each individual situation as totally new. You can either adhere to we rules or make them more flexible.
- Act Ultilitairnism
- It is up to individuals, societies or governments to judge what will produce the greatest happiness. The rights of minorities should not be ignored, nor given priority as this will produce an unequal society. Utilitarian’s may act selfishly (when actions are taken for personal benefit) or selflessly (when actions are taken for the benefit of others) depending on which produces the greatest benefits for the great number of people.
- Criticism § How do you calculate happiness? § How can the outcome of a reaction be confidently predicted? § What is better: more happiness for many or more agony for some, or a better balance of both for all? § Is everyones idea of happiness the same? § *** do you distinguish between higher pleasures? Its hard to put things into these types e.g. sports § Its too simplistic for life’s complicated problems § It appears to deny rights such as freedom of speech and right of assembly § It appears to conflict with the fundamental human rights of individuals
Similar Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies resources: