Bentham's Utilitarianism Essay

Bentham's Utilitarianism Essay

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Emily Clay
Identify and explain the central principles of Utilitarianism as outlined by Bentham
Jeremy Bentham became interested in ethics at the age of twenty one and wondered
if it was possible to make a universal moral code of conduct to improve the life in the
nineteenth century. He believed that this principle of utility should be applied to all areas of
social life so that actions would benefit or bring happiness to the majority, thereby making a
theory known as utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism is a teleological theory which involves looking at the future effects or
consequences of an action, which therefore implies whether it is right or wrong, thus the
action and motives are not important. This means that an action should be chosen because it
creates the right consequences and not the wrong. Some consequences are intrinsically good
which would make the actions only good in an instrumental way.
Hedonism refers to the idea that naturally everybody experiences pleasure or pain
and helps to understand whether a consequence is intrinsically good or not. It claims that
pleasure should be maximised as it is intrinsically good where as pain is intrinsically bad and
therefore should be minimised, thus the right action to take is that which produces the most
amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain.
In addition to this the principle of Utility judges an action by how useful it is in
bringing about good consequences and not bad ones, again reinforcing which is the right
action to take. It involves aiming to gain the greatest amount of happiness and identifies
whose pleasure should be maximised in each situation. Everyone's happiness should be
taken into consideration equally, therefore an action is good if it produces the effect that the
majority of people's happiness is maximised within a situation, even if this means you will
suffer. As Bentham claims `Everybody is to count for one, nobody for more than one'. The
reason for this is because it is believed that if the majority of people experience happiness
you benefit others, and yourself as well as it being a social communal theory.
Bentham went on to explain how pain and pleasure can be observed and therefore
an agreed measurement can be established. To measure utilitarianism Bentham formed the
Hedonic calculus which identifies a list of specific values of an action. When an individual is
deciding whether an action is intrinsically good or bad they must first ask themselves how
strong the pleasure or pain will be this is known as intensity. Duration, involves looking at
the length the feeling will last i.e. physically timing it. Certainty means how certain you are
that the action will bring about pleasure or pain. Its extent is the amount of people that are
going to experience it, as well as its remoteness which is how long you have to wait to
experience the pleasure or pain. The calculus also involves its richness which means the
likelihood that you will be followed by the exact same experience and how many times.
Finally its purity involves looking at the whether it is going to be mixed with the opposite.
The calculus should be followed in every situation, for example if you had the choice to stay
in and revise for a test for the following day, you could use the hedonic calculus to help you
decide what to do, simply by going down the list and working out the possibilities.
Ultimately each situation is unique even if it is similar, the hedonic calculus should be
reapplied each time and the theory of utilitarianism should be taken into account. This is
known as the Act utilitarianism and helps an individual to gain an intrinsically good
consequence depending on their action.


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