Religious Studies: Ethics. Utilitarianism.

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Jeremy Bentham.

  • The theory of Utilitarianism was devised by Jeremy Bentham. 
  • Lived at a time of great scientific and social change. 
  • Revoloutions within France and America- this meant that demands were being made for human rights and greater democracy. 
  • Bentham worked on legal reform. 
  • Wrote "The Principles of Morals and Legislation". (1789). This is where he put foward his ethical theory.  

Benthams theory can be broken down into 3 parts. 

- His view on what drove human beings and what goodness and badness was all about. 

- The principle of Utility which is his moral rule. 

- The Hedonic Calculus. This is his system for measuring how good or bad a consequence is. 

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The motivation of human beings.

  • Bentham maintained that humans were motivated by pleasure and pain. 
  • "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do". Principles of Morals and Legeslation. 
  • Bentham believed that all humans pursued pleasure and sought to avoid aim. He saw this as a moral fact.
  • Pleasure and pain identified what we should and shouldn't do. 
  • As a hedonist (the belief that pleasure is the chief 'good') Bentham believed that pleasure was the sole good, and pain was the sole evil. 


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The principle of utility.

  • Once Bentham had established that pleasure and pain were the important qualities for determining what was moral, he developed the utility principle.
  • The rightfullness or the wrongness of an action is determined by it's usefullness or 'utility'. 
  • Usefulness refers to the amount of pleasure or happiness caused by the action- this makes it a teliological ethical theory which determines a good act by the end it brings about. 
  • The theory is also known as the greatest happiness theory. 
  • "An action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number." Bentham: Principles of Morals and Legislation.
  • Where the greatest good is the greatest pleasure or happiness and the least pain or sadness, and the greatest number are the majority of people. 
  • Good is the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain. 
  • Democratic theory as pleasure can't be for one person alone.
  • When faced with a moral dilema, Bentham argued that one should choose to act in such a way that brings about the maximum possible happiness for the most people. 
  • However, possible consequences of different possible actions must be measured clearly to establish which option generates the most pleasure and the least pain. 
  • To measure the results Bentham proposed the Hedonic Calculus. 
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The hedonic calculus: Part A.

  • The hedonic calculus weighs up the pain and pleasure generated by the available moral actions to find the best option. 
  • It considers 7 options. 

1.) It's intensity. I

2.) It's duration. Drowned.

3.) It's certainty or uncertainty. Chloe.

4.) It's propinquity or remotness. Promptly.

5.) It's fecundity (or chance it has of being followed by, sensations of the same kind: that is, pleasures, if it be a pleasure: pains, if it be pain). Fearing.

6.) It's purity (or the chance it has of not being followed by, sensations of the oposite kind: that is, pain if it be pleasure: and pleasure if it be pain. Pain (was). 

7.) It's extent (that is, who are affected by it). Experienced. 

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The hedonic calculus: Part B.

  • Bentham considers various things in the hedonic calculus. 

- How strong the pain or pleasure is

- Whether the pain/pleasure is short-lived or life-long.

- How likely it is that there will be pain or pleasure. 

- How immediate the pain/pleasure is. 

- How likely it is to lead to more pleasure/pain. 

- The extent to which there might be a combination of pains and pleasures. 

- The number of people affected.

  • The balance of pleasures and pains is compared with those of other options and the best result is determined. 
  • The action that leads to this best consequence is the morally correct one to pursue. 
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Act utilitarianism: Introduction.

  • Act utilitarianism is Benthams form of utilitarianism.
  • Act utilitarianism is a version of utilitarianism according to which the rightness or wrongness of of induvidual acts are calculated by the amount of happiness resulting from these acts. 
  • Act utilitarianism maintains that, whenever possible, the principle of utility must be directly aplied for each induvidual situation. 
  • When faced with a moral choice, a person must decide what action will lead to the greatest good in a particular situation. If a person is in a situation in which lying will create the greatest good, than telling the truth then a person should tell a lie in that situation. This works both ways.
  • According to act utiliarians, when determining whether the act is right, it is the value of the consequnces of a particular act that counts. A person may break any law, if in that situation, greatest happiness will result. 
  • Act utilitarianism has the benifit of flexibility and can take into accont induvidual situations at a given moment, although the actions that justifies it can change.
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Act utilitarianism: Criticisms.

  • There are a number of critisms of Act utilitarianism.

1.) Firstly, it has the potential to justify virtually any act if in that particular case, the result generates the most happiness. For example, murder may be justifies if it makes the majority of people happy.

2.) It is impractical to suggest we should measure each and every moral choice, every time, especially as we may not have all the information required by the hedonic calculus. This would mean that each decision would have to go through rigorous thought in order to make sure it benifits the maximum amount of people. 

3.) Act utilitarianism can have some quiet extreme results. For example: An act utilitarian goes out to see a film. On the way, they pass a charity collecter. They give their money they would have used to see the film to the charity worker, she then goes home. This repeats the next week. In each case, giving up her money to help the greatest number generates the greatest happiness. However, taken to the extreme, all leisure activity would end, which is extreme . Rule utilitarianism adressess this difficulty. 

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John Stuart Mill.

  • Follower of Jeremy Bentham. 
  • Wrote "On the Subjugation of women (1869), On Liberty (1859) and Utilitarianism (1863) which also had a series of articles in 1961".
  • "On the Subjugation of women (1869)" was one of the inspirations behind modern feminism. 
  • Mill maintained that the wellbeing of the induvidual was of the greatest importance and that happiness is most effectively gained when induviduals are free to pursue their own ends, subject to rues that protect the common good of all. 
  • While Mill accepted the principle of utility of the greatest good for the greatest number, he was concerned about the difficulty raised in the example of the sadistic gaurds (torture of an innocent man by gaurds). 
  • If the greatest good for the greatest number was purley quantitative, based on the quanitites of pleasure and pain caused, what would stop one person's pleasure and pain caused, what would one person's pleasure from beng completly extinguished if the majority gained pleasure from the act? 
  • Mill was aware that utilitarianism was being critisised as promoting nothing other than desire and the pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure and that it lowered human nature to that of swine because of it's baseness. 
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Higher and lower pleasures: Part A.

  • To adress the difficulty of utilitarianism only promoting desire and the pursuit of pleasure, and the fact that it lowered human a nature to that of a swine, Mill distinguished between higher pleasures (classical music and art) and lower pleasures (eating fast food and sleeping), the higher pleasures were qualitativlely better and more important than lower plesures. 
  • "Human beings have faculties more elvevated than the animal appitites and, once made concious of them, do not regard anyhing as happiness, which does not include their gratification" Mill 1979.
  • Some kinds of pleasures are more desirable than other kinds, and what is more, it is not just what we should prefer the higher pleasures, but that a happiness which does not include a higher pleasure, is not actually a happiness by human beings. 
  • A higher, more quantitive gratification, even if seeking the higher pleasure we find ourselves with a greater level of dissatisfaction because we have forgone quantity.
  • It is better to be a human being disatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates disatisfied than a fool satisfied." Mill 1979.
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Higher and lower pleasures: Part B.

  • Mill maintained that the pleasures of the mind were higher than those of the body. 
  • There is a link between the pleasures of the mind, and the pleasures o the body. This is as in order to be able to enjoy poetry or art, we must eat and drink in order to survive. 
  • Mill however still clearly believed that to pursue purely bodily pleasures (food, drink, drugs and sex) was not as high an objective as those who are interlectually demanding. 
  • When confronted with a choice between a pleasure of the body, or a pleasure of the mind, that of the mind is to be prefered. 
  • Mill is  aware of the challenges presented by the fact that many peopl do seem to pursue the more bodily pleasures, over the higher mental ones, and he accepts that temptation leads some people this way. 
  • It is not that the intrinsic superiority of the higher pleasure is not recognised, but that people may lack the charecter to forgo the nearer bodily pleasure, over the higher ones. 
  • "They pursue sensual indulgences to the injury of health, though perfectly aware that health is the greater good." Mill, 1979.
  • Mill is concerned that in some cases, a person acting in such a way can sink into a state where they no longer recognise higher and lower pleasure. This is through bad habits they become incapable of recognising its value. 
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Higher and lower pleasures: Part C.

  • By failing to nurture and appreciation of the higher pleasures, they become inacsessable, and then the decline into more lower gratification can happen. 
  • According to the greatest happiness principle the utilimate aim is life as far away from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both quantitive and qualitive. Judging the mix of these things is difficult but it can be done. Experienced people who are habitiually self-concious and self-observant will have a preferance towards a certain balance of qualitive and quantitive, and they provide a benchmark standard of morality.
  • To futher distance his form of utilitarianism his form of utilitarianism, which may be near sighted , or in the interest of the induvidual rather than the whole, Mill goes onto stress that utilitarianism morality does recognise that there are times when the greatest good is served by self-sacrifice, though of itself sacrfifice is not good.
  • Resisting claims that utilitarianism was godless, he argues that the concern for others that utilitarianism must show in the pusuit of the greatest good for the greatest number which is similar to the Christian teaching of "Love thy neighbour as you love thy self".
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Rule Utilitarianism introduction.

  • Focuses on rules that everyone should follow to bring about the greatest good for the greatest good for that group of people. 
  • This type of utilitarianism is associated with Mill.
  • An example of Rule Utilitarisanism is that a person must always drive on the left handside of the road in the UK, even if in situations where this does not bring about the greatest pleasure for that person, such as in a traffic jam. However, it will ensure the greatest good when everyone acts in such a way as it keeps people safe.
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Rule Utilitarianism criticism's.

  • Overcomes the critisms formed by Act Utilitarianism, for example in the leisure example it states that people are allowed free time so they could still go to see the film rather than keep donating to charity.
  • However R.M Hare notes a weakness of utilitarianism. This weakness is that if a manic man is chasing someone and the person hides in the shop, then the shopkeeper would have to tell the manic man that the person was hiding in the shop as it is morally wrong to lie. 
  • It also may not benifit the majority, such as in the case of slavery. If the majority wanted to keep slavery then it may become a rule which in turn means that the minority is not protected. 
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Evaluating Utilitarianism: Consequences.

  • It seems reasonable to link morality with the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain and misery, and this connection would recieve popular support.               
  • It also seems natural to to consider the consequences of our actions when deciding what to do. Utilitartianism offers a balanced, democratic morality that promotes general happiness. Utilitarianism does not support induvidual pursuits of happiness that are at the expense of the majority. 
  • It is a common sense system that is practically applicable to real-life situations, it has no need for special wisdom.
  • These benifits are considerable, as they signify working morality that can be brought into operation in organisational rather than simply induvidual matters. 
  • However there are also a number of difficulties with utilitarianism. For example the theory relies on the consequences decide which actions are good. It has to have a definite result which the theory can be based upon in order to decide what the best course of action is to take. Utilitarianism depends upon accurate predictions of the future but human beigns don't always display accurate foresight. The consequences of actions may not become apparent until years into the future and it is uncleare how far into the future one must look when evaluating a choice. 
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Evaluating Utilitarianism: Justice v happiness.

  • A theory which only really looks at consequences might ignore some pretty nasty acts that get carried out for some idea of the greater good. This raises the questions of whether some induviduals can be 'used' for some greater good of the majority which might lead unpalatanle conclusion. For example slave trade, may make the majority happy (the slave drivers) but the majorities intrest may cost the slaves everything, including their freedom. 
  • Although utilitarianism ensures a maximum pleasure result it doesnt set out how that pleasure is distributed. It ensures that the most people recieve pleasure, but it garentees nothing for the minorities.
  • There is nothing in utilitarianism that prevents the total sacrifice of one pleasure for the benifit of the whole. For example, 5 bullies get pleasure from tourturing a single boy. His pleasure is sacrificed for the benifit of theirs. 
  • The pursuit of justice is as important as the pursuit of happiness. 
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Evaluating Utilitarianism: High and low pleasures.

  • Mill seems to offer some solutions to Benthams theory in that he differntiates between high and low pleasures and seeks to rule out some of the possible apllications of Benthams theory which might allow an an injustice to be done to an induviduals if the majority is best served. Mill was far more concioius of the threat that the majority might pose to induviduals. 
  • It is not clear that Mill's view about what is a high pleasure and what is a low pleasure universally.
  • One might argue that base sexual appitite is a lower pleasure than the refineries of excellent opera, and yet pasionate and tender love making could be much more important for a couple than a visit to the opera.
  • A person might attend opera frequently and without much thought and treat encounters with their lover in the same way. Are peoples intentions about these actions and attitudes towards them rather more important than utilitarianism gives credit for.  
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Evaluating Utilitarianism: Pleasure and Pain.

  • Another issue is found in the issue of pleasure and pain as understood by utilitarianism. 
  • Measuring pleasure is less straightdoward than it might at first apear. The balancing process brought about using the seven criterias of the hedonic calculas apears straightfoward. However, can different pleasures and different pains be so easily quantified. Can someone compare the pleasure of seeing children grow up into adults, with the pleasure of eating a chocloate bar.
  • What about pain thats good for you, it can help identify a problem and help care for it. People who suffer from conditions that prevent their sensation of pain are at risk of serious injury. This means that pain is important and therfore raises questions about weighing plesure against pain. 
  • There is also pain that is gained and needed to excell. For example, training to get better at a sport which helps to know limits.
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