Act Utilitarianism Summary Notes

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  • Created by: Julia0698
  • Created on: 14-05-16 13:46

Act Utilitarianism Intro

Bentham's theory of Act Utilitarianism is a teleological argument, the word teleological derives from the Greek word 'telos' which meaning 'end'. It is also, therefore, a consequentialist theory which means that a good action is one that results in the best consequences. Act Utilitarianism uses Bentham's Hedonic Calculus as well as the 'greatest good for the greatest number'. It is focused on maximising pleasure and minimising pain.

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Hedonic Calculus

Bentham sought to maximise pleasure and minimise pain. Bentham devised the hedonic calculus to measure the quantity of pleasure made up of seven criteria:

  • Purity - the least amount of pain, the better.
  • Remoteness - the nearer the pleasure is to you, the better.
  • Extent - the more people who experience the pleasure, the better.
  • Duration - the longer lasting the pleasure, the better.
  • Intensity - the more intense, the better.
  • Certainty - the more certain that pleasure will result, the better.
  • Fecundity - the more chance the pleasure will be repeated or result in other pleasures, the better.

BUT: can you measure pleasure? Can emotions be reduced to a complicated mathematical calculation? Ignores the minorities? Can you predict the future?

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Applied to embryonic stem cell research

Hedonic Calculus:

  • Certainty of the pleasure - the results of carrying out embryo stem cell research are not certain, it is not certain whether the testing will result in fidning cures or not. Although the aim is to find cures for currently incurable diseases, the certainty of the result is not very high.
  • Purity of the pleasure - embryonic stem cell research is unlikely to casue much pain for anyone, only pure pleasure if cures are found. The embryo cannot experience pain so is not considered in the calculus, so in terms of purity, embryonic stem cell research is likely to be accepted.
  • Extent of pleasure - if cures, for Alzheimer's for example, are found then the extent of the pleasure will be worldwide with anyone suffering from Alzheimer's experiencing the pleasure of finding cures.

It is important to note that because this is a teleological ethical system that the reults of the calculus could change, even though the act is the same, because it depends on the situation.

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