utilitarianism essay

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Henna Hussain
Outline the features of utilitarianism AO1 (25 marks)
Utilitarianism is a theory created my Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century and further developed by John
Stuart Mill in the 19th century. Bentham drew from the roots of Aristotle which gave him a base on what
to work on. He was concerned with social and legal reform and he wanted to develop an ethical theory
which established whether something was good or bad according to its benefit for the majority of
people. Utilitarianism is based on the principle of utility which holds that actions are right in proportion to
the degree of happiness they produce and wrong in proportion to the degree of pain they produce. This
theory is a teleological and consequentialist 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.
The principle of utility often is expressed as `the greatest good of the greatest number', this quantifies
that good is happiness or pleasure so an act is right or wrong according to the good or bad results from
the act and the good act is the most pleasurable. It also is quantitative it focuses on the greatest number.
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
Bentham went further to develop this theory by creating the Hedonic Calculus which was a way of
measuring how much pleasure is caused by an act. It helps us choose the good thing to do and work out
the possible consequences of an action. It had 7 factors, these are; Purity (how free from pain it is),
Remoteness (how near it is), Richness (what extent will it lead to other pleasures, Intensity how powerful
the pleasure is, Certainty how certain is it that pain will come, Extent how many people are affected, and
Duration (how long the pleasure will last for). Bentham would give each factor a score, for example on
the case of "Embryo experimentation on excess IVF". The Extent would be huge because if the
experiments work and they find out new information then thousands of people will benefit in the future
by being able to have babies when the originally thought they could not. The Intensity will be huge as it
gives them a child, and the child has a life which is would have never had before ­ pleasure cannot get
stronger than this. The Duration would score highly as the new children will have a lifetime of happiness
and the parents get to live with a child of their own for many years. However, the Certainty would score
quite low because the scientists cannot be certain that pleasures will be produced and similarly
Remoteness would score low because one cannot be sure if it will come in 10 years or in 1 year.
However where Bentham states that the right action to take is that which produces the most amount of
pleasure and the least amount of pain, Mill criticizes this by saying that it can be immoral if the suffering
the minority is to the extreme. For example when Hitler sent the Jews to the concentration camps he was
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Henna Hussain
harming the minority whoever there pain was not maximizing pleasure. Therefore he puts forward the
idea of quality not just quantity. This involves looking at the type of pleasure rather than the amount
therefore maximizing the better mount of pleasure. To help understand the types of pleasure Mill
describes higher pleasures as the mental pleasures and the lower pleasures as being the physical ones,
with the higher pleasures being maximized.…read more


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