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Act Utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham)
Bentham came from a family of lawyers working in the city of London, but became
disgusted with the law as then practiced since he felt that it was more about making
money than helping those in need.
He was a practical man concerned with the social conditions of his day and
particularly with the conditions of prisons and hospitals. He wanted to find a moral
basis for law that could serve to benefit the whole of society.
Whilst reading Priestley's Essay on Government Bentham came across the
expression `the greatest good of the greatest number' and cried out, like
He applied this principle of utility to reforming areas of criminal law, the jury system,
prisons, abolition of transportation and imprisonment for debt, development of
savings banks, cheap postage, registration of births and deaths
In 1789 he wrote 'The principles of moral and Legislation' in which he put forward his
ethical theory and divided his book into 3 sections:
His view on what drove humans and what goodness and badness is all about
The Hedonic Calculus
The principle of Utility is his moral rule
Rule Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill)
The main problem that Mill raised with Bentham was that it was based purely on the
amount of pleasure an action generated. He wanted to reformulate the utilitarian
theory to reflect the fact that pleasures are not all of equal value. He wanted to take
human nature into account
Thus he decided to introduce a theory of utility for the common person, which
replaced pleasure for happiness.
He defined happiness as something which is cultural and spiritual rather than just
physical and distinguished between lower and higher pleasures. The pleasures of the
mind are far better than that of the body.
Mill identifies pleasures of the mind or intellectual pleasures as higher pleasures and
pleasures of the body or physical pleasures as lower pleasures.
He said that "It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied: better to be
a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied"
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Although Mill believed that the wellbeing of the individual was of a primary concern,
happiness is best achieved when it is subject to the rules that protect the common
Strong Utilitarianism believes that these rules should never be disobeyed.…read more
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The pursuit of happiness is the fundamental purpose of human life. Bentham consisted in
promoting whatever factors led to the increase of pleasure and in suppressing those which
produced pain (Costigan, 1967, p. 8). In chapter 4 of his Introduction to the Principles of
Morals and Legislation (1789), Bentham sketched his idea of hedonistic calculus. As his
theory implied, law should enforce actions and dispose sentences whereby this maximizing
of pleasure and minimizing of pain could be most effective.…read more
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Utilitarianism dictates our current society. Its principles are useful in reality; we do live
according the needs and wants of our society. You only have to look at our
democratic voting and ruling system to see this.
The theory is subjective and relative and so remains flexible and applicable to the
greatest number of people.…read more