Utilitarianism

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Utilitarianism

If an action produces more happiness than unhappiness for the morally significant beings affected by it, it is a good action. If it produces more unhappiness than happiness for the morally significant begins affected by it, it is a bad action. 

Consequentialist, Teleological and relativist theory

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Bentham

Utility is the property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness. To prevent the happening of mischief, pain or evil to the part whose interest is considered. 

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Bentham's Motivation

Bentham was concerned with legal and social reform. The desire to see useless, corrupt laws and social practices changed, sparked Bentham’s work. Accomplishing this goal required a normative ethical theory employed as a critical tool, i.e. having a set of questions which arise when considering how one ought to act. 

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Bentham's Utilitarianism

‘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.’

Bentham said that we need to look at the possible things we might do and the various outcomes and calculate how much pleasure and pain they might create, finally choosing the one that best maximises pleasure and minimises pain.

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Hedonic Calculus

1.Intensity: How great the pleasure or pain will be.

2.Duration: How long the pleasure or pain will last.

3.Certainty: How likely certain outcomes are.

4.Propinquity: How near to you the pleasure or pain will be. 

5.Fecundity: How likely the pleasure or pain will be followed by similar pleasure or pain.

6.Purity: How likely the pleasure or pain will be followed by opposite pleasure or pain.

7.Extent: How many people will be affected by it. 

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Strengths

It is reasonable to link morality with pursuit of happiness and the voidance of pain and misery. It is also natural to consider the consequences of our actions deciding on what to do. 

Utilitarianism dictates our current society. Its principles are useful in reality. We live according to the needs and wants of our society. Our democracy is indicative of this. 

This theory is subjective and relative, so remains flexible and applicable to the greatest number of people. It looks at consequences and as most people judge the merits of an action based on its outcome, this means that most people can access and use basic principles.

The theory encourages people to take on an attitude of moral responsibility as what they do to each other reflects on the society in which they live.

Finally it is in line with the philosophical principles of democracy, in which we are all considered equal. Acting in the interests of the many rather than the few could be argued to be a very Democratic, egalitarian ethical theory. 

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Strengths Continued

This theory is subjective and relative, so remains flexible and applicable to the greatest number of people. It looks at consequences and as most people judge the merits of an action based on its outcome, this means that most people can access and use basic principles.

The theory encourages people to take on an attitude of moral responsibility as what they do to each other reflects on the society in which they live.

Finally it is in line with the philosophical principles of democracy, in which we are all considered equal. Acting in the interests of the many rather than the few could be argued to be a very Democratic, egalitarian ethical theory. 

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Criticisms

This theory is a consequentialist and relative approach. Many would find this unacceptable since there are absolute moral laws which should always be upheld. This moral standards could be seen as divine commands that must be maintained. 

The theory also assumes that what is useful is moral, there is no proof to suggest this.

Bentham suggests that what is pleasurable is good, this does not necessarily apply to everyone.

Act utilitarianism allows for brutal and socially unacceptable  acts to be classed as ‘good’ through being performed by the majority and is therefore called ‘swine ethic.’

 

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Criticisms Continued

Williams argued that Utilitarianism ‘debases the moral currency’. He believed that if you follow this ethical theory that you in some way ‘brutaliseyourself’. This means that one cannot possibly hope to hold the moral high ground if you follow this theory. 

Williams also put forward the ’Supererogation Argument’. He said that Utilitarianism demands too much from us. Ethical theories are supposed to help us live better. Yet this theory would tell us to donate all our money to charity because you would further the Principle of utility. We shouldn’t have to give up our belongings to be considered an ethical person. 

McIntyre devised the ’Social Engineering Argument’. He argued that the very concept of pleasure is dangerous because people can be manipulated into being satisfied by anything. That their lives are filled with pleasure does not mean they are living ethical lives. They could be immoral lives indoctrinated into enjoying it. This would suggest that at least under Act Utilitarianism, an ideal society would be one where every member of that society is satisfied by the bare minimum.

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