Everything you need to know about Utilitarianism

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Utilitarianism -
- The belief that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.
- The belief that an action is right in so far as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness
of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct. (Oxford Dictionary)
Utilitarian's base goodness and rightness on human experience.
For them what is good is that which produces pleasure, happiness, contentment or welfare and what is right
is that which maximizes one or more of these things.
Utilitarian's call the method for maximising good the Principle of Utility and they use the term optimific to
describe the achievement of this maximization.
Utilitarianism contains a theory of good and a theory of right. It is characteristic of the utilitarian theory of right
that rightness is derived from goodness. ­ John Broome
The maximization of happiness would lead to a clam and stable society. This Hutcheson called: The greatest
good of the greatest number. (Bernhard Fabian, Collect Works of Francis Hutcheson, G. Olms, 1971).
Modern utilitarianisms often disagree over what is good and what is right. These differences of opinion have
resulted in three different strands of Utilitarianism in contemporary society. They are:
1. Act Utilitarianism
2. Rule Utilitarianism
3. Preference Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism, in whatever form, is a teleological ethical theory as each action or rule is judged on whether its end
(telos) result maximizes good. It is also consequentialist since the consequences of an action or rule is the sole
criterion to judge whether it is right or wrong.
The highest moral approbation is the calm, stable, universal goodwill to all ... the greatest good of the greatest
number. ­ Francis Hutcheson
Theological utilitarian's ­ developed the teleological for the existence of God.
Classical utilitarian's ­ growing band of sceptical non-believers.
Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are the most important of these
Both groups, through observation, agreed that:
In nature things and actions either cause pleasure or pain
Pleasure is good and pain is bad
The utility (meaning usefulness) of an action or thing is to be judged solely on the basis of whether it
maximizes pleasure (happiness)
An action or thing should either directly or indirectly lead to the pleasure or happiness of the maximal number
of people in society
All human beings prefer pleasure to pain and this preference is built into nature's laws

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Mill rejected Bentham's simplistic view of the causes of human happiness.
Mill argued that actions themselves do not make people happy; it is necessary to have the right conditions as
Happiness is causally complex.
This led Mill to develop basic principles that must be upheld to ensure that the conditions for happiness are
The most important of these principles is liberty.…read more

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Bentham, for example, regarded reading poetry and playing music as less important than playing the child's
game of push-pin.
A child's game can be played by anyone. Poetry and music are understood by a few.
The utilitarian principle of `the greatest good of the greatest number' means that a child's game is much
more useful (utilitarian) than the arts of poetry or music.
Whereas Mill regarded reading poetry as one of the higher pleasure. Push-pin was a trivial game that was a
lower pleasure.…read more

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Purity of the sensation, meaning that it is not followed by sensations of pain.
2. Remoteness or nearness of the sensation.
3. Intensity of the sensation
4. Certainty of the sensation.
5. Extent of the sensation, meaning the number of people affected.
6. Duration of the sensation.
7. Fecundity of the sensation, meaning the chance it will produce other pleasurable experiences.
Bentham uses the word sensation instead of experience or action.…read more

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Mills notion of the teleology of happiness, which suggests that higher pleasures lead to human progress, is
weak. Progress can be made equally by lower pleasures as by higher pleasures.
4. There is arrogance in Mill's ideas of higher and lower pleasures. His comment that lower pleasures are
`worthy only of swine' suggest intellectual arrogance.
5. Mill rejected the simplicity of Bentham's ethical theory, but produced a view of Utilitarianism that is too
complex.…read more

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Rule Utilitarianism ­ theory that life is too short to judge every action on the basis of `the greatest good of the
greatest number'. Instead rules exist, which are based on the maximization of happiness principle that make it easier
to act.
Rule Utilitarianism is in contrast to Act Utilitarianism.
Act Utili regard laws and maxims as rules of thumb that can be disregarded in some circumstances, Rule
Utilitarian's argue that moral laws must be obeyed.
The basic assumptions of Rule Utilitarianism are:
1.…read more

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Preference utilitarian's argue that every human being wants a good life.
Preference utilitarian's go on to argue that individual preferences relate to the need for a good life.
A manifest preference is what you prefer; which is based on immediate desires and needs.
A true preference is based on reflecting on all the information known and on the likely consequences.…read more

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Singer justifies his Preference Utilitarianism be arguing that when informed preferences are fulfilled human
beings enjoy a good life. This is what he desires for himself and therefore, he argues, this must be logically
true for all human beings, other things being equal.
Act Utilitarianism ­ theory that individual actions must be determined by the amount they increase general utility or
happiness, based on the principle of `the greatest good of the greatest number'.…read more

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When making a moral decision, you must respond to the immediate consequences of your actions. It
is not possible to be certain about the long-term effects of what you decide.
This is one of the strengths of modern Act Utilitarianism. It allows exceptions to a particular rule or
law if the exception appears to maximize human welfare.
It also takes into account the lack of knowledge that may exist when coming to a welfare decision.…read more


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