The principle of utility

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The principle of utility

  • Jeremy Bentham is considered the first act utilitarianism.
  • He defended the principle of utility (AKA: Greatest happiness principle)
  • 'It is the principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question'
  • Bentham states that when judging an action to be morally right or wrong, we should only take into account the total happiness of all whose interest is in question, and likewise in our own actions we should aim to produce the greatest happiness we can 
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Bentham's hedonism

Utiliarianism is so called because it is concerned with 'utility' Bentham makes this connection between utility and happiness. 

By utility is meant that property in any object, whearby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness or to prevent the happiness of mischeif, pain, evil or unhappiness to he party whose interest is considered.

Thus, somethign has utility if it contributes to your happiness, which is the same as what is in your interest. And happiness is pleasure and the absense of pain. The claim that pleasure, ashappiness, is the only good is known as hedonism. 

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Felicific Calculus

Bentham argued that we can measure pleasure and pains and add them up on a single scale by a process he called the felicific calculus. (Felicity means happiness). If a pleasure is more intense, it will last longer, is more certain to occur, will happen sooner rather than later, or will produce in turn many other pleasures and few pains, it counts for more. In thinking what to do, you also need to take into account how many people will be affected ( more affected possitively and less affected negatively, the better). The total amount of happiness produced is the sum total of everyones pleasures produced, minus the total sum of everyones pains. 

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11 objections which Mill argues arise from misunde

  • 1: Utility means what is useful, not what is pleasure. Utilitarianism thus ignores the value of pleasure. 

Reply: Obviously a misunderstanding. Mill reasserts Benthams central claims. First actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. Second  'By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absense of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. Third 'pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends'.

  • 2:We do not need happiness and many wise and noble people have lived without it.

Reply: True but what have noble people sacrificed happiness for? Surely for happiness of others, otherwise it is a wasted sacrifice. 

  • 3:Utilitarainism is to idealistic, expecting people to be motivated by everyones happiness in general.
  • 4:Utilitarianism is a godless theory

Reply: False, utilitarianism can easily be made compatible with god (considering social context bentham only accounted for christianity) 

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