Features of Utilitarianism

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  • Created by: Courtney
  • Created on: 30-11-13 11:33

Utilitarianism

  • A consequentialist theory, where an action is good or bad depending on the outcome.
  • Hedonistic theory in which pleasure is the only object of desire.
  • Establishes a principle of utility 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number' to judge the morality of an action. 
  • Two types of Utilitarianism, Act and Rule Utilitarianism.
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Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

  • Founder of Utilitarianism and a representative of Act Utilitarianism. 
  • Bentham aimed to reform the legal justice system
  • He equated utility with happiness, pleasure or avoidance of pain. 
  • Believed that 'nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.
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Features of Act

  • Consequential; the outcome of an action defines it's morality.
  • Features the use of the Hedonic Calculus to calculate the likelihood of an action bringing about happiness.
  • The Hedonic Calculus is a quantitative means of measuring 7 factors.
  • The factor intensity is measured to find out how deep the happiness is.
  • Whereas duration is measured to find out how temporary or permanent the happiness is. 
  • Equal pleasures is a feature of Act Utilitarianism 
  • Bentham believes that 'The quality of pleasure being equal, pushpin is just as good as poetry.'
  • Bentham and the use of Act utilitarianism have encouraged many social reforms such as the abolition of slavery
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John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

  • Adapted Bentham's Utilitarianism and formed Rule Utilitarianism.
  • Mill believed that actions should be taken based on rules, it takes law and fairness into consideration.
  • It can be subdivided into strong and weak Utilitarianism.
  • Strong Utilitarianism consists of strict rule followers whereas weak Utilitarianism allows for rules to be modified. 
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Features of Rule

  • Concurrently qualitative Hedonism is an important feature of rule Utilitarianism.
  • Mill believed that good consequences equal pleasure and bad consequences equal pain. 
  • Higher and Lower pleasures. 
  • The quote 'It's better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied' explains that lower pleasures are those capable of animals or 'the pleasure of mere sensation' whereas humans should strive to achieve higher pleasures as they are more worthy and intellectual.
  • A compentent judge has the capacity to enjoy both pleasures and has experienced both and will always choose the higher pleasure
  • The harm principle in which each individual has the right to act as he wants so long as the actions do not harm others. 
  • Harm principle is not followed by all as it should 'only apply to human beings in the maturity of their faculties' .
  • Therefore the harm principle does not apply to children as they still need to be taken care of. 
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