Utilitarianism

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  • Created by: rakso181
  • Created on: 23-05-16 10:31

What is it?

- The morality of an action is measured by its outcome 

- Maximise pleasure and minimise pain

- It is a teleological theory

 

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Act and Rule Utilitarianism

- Act Utilitarianism - looks at the outcome of each individual act and creates moral rules based upon this 

Pros: Absolute - Teleological - We naturally look for the greatest good

Cons: Horrible acts can be justified - Impractical if universalised - Difficult to predict outcomes

 

- Rule Utilitarianism - creates moral rules and judges outcomes based upon these

Pros: Stops people justifying horrible acts - More flexible and practical - Protects minorities

Cons: Deontological against teleogical Utilitarianism - Lack of clarity between strict and weak rule utilitarianism - Difficult to define what constitues happiness

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Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

- Was a Universal Hedonist - the highest good is the greatest good for the greatest number

- Believed happiness was quantifiable 

- 'Actions are right in proportion when they tend to promote happiness, wrong when they tend to produce the reverse of happiness'

- Pleasure = good, pain = bad, total happiness = pleasure minus pain

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Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

- Was a Universal Hedonist - the highest good is the greatest good for the greatest number

- Believed happiness was quantifiable 

- 'Actions are right in proportion when they tend to promote happiness, wrong when they tend to produce the reverse of happiness'

- Pleasure = good, pain = bad, total happiness = pleasure minus pain

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The Hedonic Calculus

- Bentham's quantitative method of calculating the happiness of each situation using:

  • Intensity
  • Duration 
  • Certainty
  • Remoteness
  • Fecundity (chances to leading to more pain/pleasure)
  • Purity (ratio of pain to pleasure)
  • Extent (number of people it will affect)
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Strengths and Weaknesses of Bentham

Strengths:

- Absolute

- Teleological 

- Has real world application and agrees with out natural instincts

Weaknesses:

- Hard to quantify emotions

- Minorities at risk

- Time consuming - not efficient in making decisions

 

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John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

- Was the son of one of Bentham's closest friends and modified Bentham's theory

- More interested in the QUALITY of the pain or pleasure 

- ' Would you rather be a pig satisfied or a human dissatisfied?'

- Humans require higher pleasures than animals 

- Was more of a Rule Utilitarian - believed we should have a 'harm principle' where people only act towards pleasures that don't harm people

- Supports greatest happiness principle with universability 

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Mill

Strengths:

- Protects minorities

- The harm principle stops people from justifying acts that harm others

- Secular

Weaknesses:

- Hard to measure the quality of pleasure

- Subjective - people have different opinions on what a high quality pleasure is 

- Deontological whereas the rest of utilitarianism is teleological

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Peter Singer: Preference Utilitarianism

- Wrote the book 'Practical Ethics'

- The source of morality is down to subjective preference

- Any action contrary to the preference of any being is wrong 

- 'The question is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk? But can they suffer?' (Bentham)

Pros: Values animal rights - Subjective - Values sentiency

Cons: Doesn't value human life - Discriminates against mentally ill - Ability to have a preference can be lost

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Nozick's pleasure machine

P1 - if the only thing that mattered was pleasure then we would plug ourselves into a pleasure machine 

P2 - Even if a pleasure machine existed, we would not plug ourselves into it for a number of reason:

- We want to acutally DO things, rather than just EXPERIENCE them

- We want to actually be certain people

- We want to be part of a larger reality

Conclusion - Other things matter to us besides pleasure

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Util.

Strengths:

  • Objective
  • Secular
  • Based on good intentions
  • Democratic
  • Easy to use

Weaknesses:

  • Tyranny of the majority (Nazi Germany)
  • Unpredictable outcomes
  • Can be used to justify horrible acts
  • Pain can be good
  • More important things than pleasure
  • Perhaps too subjective
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