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  • Created on: 16-05-11 09:07

RELETIVIST. - Helps to determine a range of moral questions and may justify different responces. Utilitarianism and Situation Ethics.

ABSOLUTIST. -  Either right or wrong. Kant and Natural Law.

CHRISTIAN. - Based on the teachings of Jesus. Situation Ethics and Natural law.

DEONTOLOGICAL. - Rightness/Wrongness is based on what sort of action it was. Kant and Natural law.

TELEOLOGICAL. - Concerned with outcome, rather than the action itself. Utilitarianism.

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Based on the concept of utility meaning usefullness. Utilitarianism this is a system of morality based on 'what is the most useful thing to do?'

Teleological outlook; the theory that morality is dependent on outcomes and not concerned wiht the motive or intention of an action.

The theory of utilitarianism began with Jeremy Bentham as a way of working out how good or bad the consequences of an action would be. 'Greatest happiness for the greatest number.' Bentham was very concerned with social and legal reform and he wanted to develop an ethical theory which established wheather something was good or bad according to its benefit for the majority of people. PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY.

Bentham - ACT
Mill - RULE

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Bentham was an act utilitarian.

Bentham was an ACT utilitarian...

Act utilitarianism is generally more concerned with the individual and is not protective of minority groups. It advocates a reletivist approach to morality; the theory that the goodness of an action is circumstantial and variable within different situations.

Uses the outcome of an action to assess if it is right or wrong.

We should always seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number in all situations.

Benthams definition of pleasure: 'The enjoyable feeling we experience when a state of deprivation is replaced by fulfiment.'

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Jeremy Bentham developed his system around the idea of pleasure.

Jeremy Bentham was an advocate of hedonism - the theory that the most useful thing to do and therefore the moral thing to do is the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain.

The hedonic calculus. - Bentham composed this as a tool for weighing up the consequential pleasure and pain of an action in order to be able to deduce the moral course of action.

Certainty.          How certain is it there will be pain/pleasure?
Duration.           How long will the sensation last?
Extent.               How wide are its effects?
Intensity.           How intense is the resulting pain/pleasure?
Remoteness.    How near is the resulting pain/pleasure?
Richness.          Will it lead to futher pleasure?
Purity.                How free from pain is it?
...if the probable pain of an action outweighs its pleasure then Betham says it is morally wrong.

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Weaknesses of Bentham's Utilitarianism.

:( Difficulty in defining pleasure. Many argue it is not quantifiable.

:( Difficult to predict consequences.

:( There is no protection for the minorities.

:( It is impractical to say that we should calculate the morality of each choice.

:( Ignores higher values.

:( Came known as 'the pigs philosophy'

:( Potential to justify any act. - if 10 rapists **** the same woman one may conclude that such an action is morally justified on the basis the pleasure of the rapists outweighs the pain of their victim. Utilitarianism has thus been dubbed the 'Swine Ethic.'

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Rule Utilitarianism.

Rule utilitarian theorys start with a general principle from which specific acts can be prohibited wihout exception to the rule. This approach is protective of minority groups and less concerned with individual circumstances than the collective good. It advocates an absolutist approach to morality; the theory there is a universal moral code that can be applied in all circumstances regardless of the situation.

Rule utilitarians believe that rules should be formed using Utilitarian principles for the benefit of society. Strong utilitarians believe these rules should never be disobeyed, however weak utilitarians say that although rules should generally accepted they should not always be adhered to indefinitely.

Rule utilitarianism is strongly linked with John Stuart Mill.

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Mill recognise problems with Benthams principle of utility and was more careful in his definition of pleasure. He shifted the emphisis from the quantity of the pleasure to the quality of the pleasure.

He distinguished between higher and lower pleasures:
Higher - cultural and spiritual pleasures of the mind such as reading.
Lower - Bodily needs such as sex and food.

Mill criticised Bentham for focusing morality on pleasure alone. Thus he introduced a new theory of utility for the common person. 'The greatest HAPPINESS for the greatest number.'

Mill famously quoted... "it is better to be a human being satisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied"

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Weaknesses of Mills utilitarianism...

:( It is difficult to predict the consequences.

:( Difficulty indefining what constitutes happiness.

:( There is no defence for the minorities.

:( To involk rules means that the approach becomes deontological not ideological.

:( Followers of rule utilitarianism can either be strict rule-followers (can be irrational; obeying the rule even when disobeying it produces more happiness) or rule-modifiers (end up being no different from act utilitarians.) Neither seems satisfactory.

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Henry Sidgwick's approach to utilitarianism.


In the methods of ethics he argues that the balance of pleasure over pain is the ultimate goal of ethical decisions.His argument is closer to Benthams than to Mills, as he questions how it is possible to distringuish between higher and lower level pleasures and how we can distinguish the one higher order pleasure from another. However Sidgwick does argue that the process of deciding is intuitive - we make self evident judgements about what we ought to do.

Sidwick was concerned about justice in society. We must act according to just laws. This raises the issue of which laws are just, and the whole issue of justice seems to sit uncomfortablt with the principle of utility.

There are obvious differences between Sidgwick and Bentham. But both have been described as act utilitarians. - moral actions are not only judged by their consequences but also by how they benefit the welfare of people. The act that brings happiness to the greatest number of people is the right act.

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Major critics of utilitarianism.


R.M HARE - You would still have to tell the truth to a mad axe man. It would still be possible to justify slavery. -Minorities are not protected.

W.D.ROSS - Life's ethical dilemmas cannot simply be answered with a simple calculus that blances outcomes. According to Ross we have 'Prima facie' duties that take priority over the greater good.
For example... a father would rather save his son over a stranger who had to ability to cure AIDS. However a true utilitarian would be required to save the stranger, because thousands of lives could be saved, which would outweigh the pain derived from the death of his son. Personal interest gets in the way!

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peter singer - Preference utilitarianism

Advocated by PETER SINGER and R.M HARE (next slide)

Preference utilitarians define a morally right action as one which produces the most favourable consequences for the people involved.

Preference utilitarians interpret the best consequences in terms of 'preference satisfaction.'

Preference utilitarianism states that:
- The good consists in the satisfaction of peoples preferences.
- The rightness of an action depends (directly or indirectly) on wheather it produces such satisfaction.

Famously, Peter singer extemds the idea of preference utilitarianism to all living things. He argues that the greatest happiness for the greatest number should not be limited to people.

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R.M HARE - preference utilitarianism.


R.M HARE argued in moral decision making that we need to consider our own preferences and those of others. He says that 'equal preferences count equally, whatever their content.' People are happy when they get what they prefer, but what we prefer may clash with the preference of others. Hare says we need to 'stand in someone else's shoes' and try to imagine what someone else might prefer. We should treat everyone, inclusing ourselves, with impartiality. He also argues for universibility.

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criticisms of preference utilitarianism.



:( Pleasure is not the highest form that people aspire to.

:( Utilitarianism infers that when you bring your wages home you should only spend it on yourself or your family if they wouldnt being greater pleasure elsewhere. e.g in a developing country. This is counter-intuitive and impracticle.

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Strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism.

:) Supports the notion that human wellbeing is generally good.
:) Supports Jesus' call to treat others as you would have them treat you.
:) Consequences affect life, not motives.
:) Encourages democracy.

:( Difficult to predict consequences.
:( Disregards motivation and good will
:( Says the majority is always right. e.g Nazis in WW2
:( Does not protect the minorities
:( Morality cannot rely on pleasure and happiness alone - life is too complex!

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Compare Bentham and Mill...

'The greatest good (pleasure) for the greatest number'
Focused on the individual alone.
Hedonic calculus (quantitative pleasure)

'The greatest happiness for the greatest number'
we should protect the common good.
Higher/Lower pleasures (qualitative)

In search of maximisation of happiness.
Athestic. (didn't believe in God)

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Great revision notes, thank you!

Lauren Clayton


Really detailed thanks! It would be useful to have more strengths/weaknesses for preference utilitarianism, other than that fantastic!

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