• Created by: becca_102
  • Created on: 19-05-19 21:36

Bentham's Hendonic Calculus

- When faced with an ethical decision we should choose the best course of action which maximises pleasure and minimises pain.

- Seven Factors: Duration, Remoteness, Purity, Richness, Intensity, Certainty and Extent.

- The Hendonic Calculus can work out the best action to take by subtracting pain from pleasure.

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Social Background

- Industrial Revolution: Britain led to poor working conditions for many homeless, child labour, slum prisons etc.

- Betham's Utilitarianism met the needs of working people and improved their lives.

- The Englishment was a cultural and intellectual movement, the key thinkers were John Locke and David Hume, both were empiricist which meant they focused on iformation from the world rather than logic. Influenced Betham by using human knowledge and how we act towards pleasure.

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Impact Of Utilitarianism

- Christian views changed, denied that suffering was apart of God's plan.

- Changes came through by emphasising the importance of the majority of people living in bad conditions, the poor were recognised as needing to be happier. 

- Helped address issues brought by the industrial revolution.

- 1800s: Prisons (better conditions), Factory acts (banning children from working), abolition of slavery in 1833.

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Strengths Of Bentham's Utilitarianism

1) Hendonic Calculus clear and pratical.

2) Maximises happiness and minimises pain is how most people live their lives. 

3) Seeks to maximise a human goal - grounded in humanity.

4) Takes into account cultural diversity.

5) Intuitively correct.

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John Stuart Mill: Higher and Lower Pleasures

- Mill criticised Betham by saying his definition of pleasure failed to recognise higher levels of human experience. Happiness is far more complex, "more than animal desires"

- Higher pleasures are pleasures which help people reach their full intellectual potential, such as art, literature and philsophy.

- Lower pleasures are pleasures which help people fulfil their basic needs and urges, such as sex and drink. 

- Criticisms of Mills higher and lower pleasures:                                                                                

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John Stuart Mill: Criticisms of higher and lower p

1) Idealistic to suppose people will go to an opera over a bucket of chicken.

2) Lower pleasures are far easier to satisfy.

3) Those who are intelectually refined and possess an idealistic temperament are often always the ones who are more likely to succumb to depression.

Mills reponse:

- There is a difference between contentment and happiness. They might be less content but they're still happier because they know of greater happiness which is unavaliable to those who are just aware of lower pleasures. 

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John Stuart Mill: Weak and strong rule utilitarian

- Mill proposed that humans have worked through trial and error the actions that lead best to human happiness, which is promoted through moral rules. He rejected Bentham's hendonic calculus. Example: lying or hitting others nearly always causes unhappiness, therefore we develop rules "do not hit"

- Strong Rule: Rules can never be changed.

-Weak Rule: Rules can sometimes be ignored.

-Actions should be guided by rules that, if everyone followed, would lead to the greatest overall happiness.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of rule utilitarianism


1) Easier to apply than act, there are clear rules.

2) Still allows some flexibility with strong and weak rule.

3) Recognises that we have a strong internal conviction that principles other than happiness must be considered.


1) Removes the benefits of situationalism.

2) Difficult to know which rules can be broken to achieve greatest happiness.

3) Henry Sidwig: How are we supposed to distinguished between higher and lower pleasures? Any categorisation would be subjective.

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Preference Utilitarianism

- Developed by R.M Hare and Peter Singer.

- Based on Robert Nazick's thought experience, people value on being connected to reality. Things other than pleasures are valuable too.

- Pleasure or happiness should be replaced by best interest or preference.

- Eaiser to take into account because people can easily state them. 

- Pleasures are difficult to calculate, but people can express preferences.

- Difficult to make decisions between conflicting preferences. e.g. Euthanisia. 

- Examples: An athlete will put themself through pain to become a better athlete. 

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Negative Utilitarianism

- David Pearce

- There are more ways of doing harm than good, would ensure against pain before pursuing happiness.

- Would it not be better to euthanize huge sections of society as quickly and painlessly as possible? This would remove suffering much quicker, some suffering might be valuable.

- The right action is to promote the least amount of evil or harm. The least amount of pain for a greater number.

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Is it relevant?

- Compatible with todays secular views.

- Happiness and pleasures are valuable.

- Teachings on the importance of the minority in making decisions is shared in democratic views.

- Shapes political attitudes, .g. towards the poor that remain today.

- Society now believes strongly in the principles of justice, rights and protection of minorities which is not reflected in utilitarianism.

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Historical Applications

- Triage: During major emergencies e.g. natural disasters, causualties are assessed and priority is give to those who are most severly injured, while assistance is delayed for those with minor injuries so severe that even with treatment they will die.

- Effective Aitruism (singer): The best off are morally obliged to give up as much as they can to charitable causes until such a point that giving would cause more harm than to not give.

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Ideal Utilitarianism

- Advocated by G.E Moore.

- God is a non-definable property.

-Pleasure, frienship and aesthetic appreciation are intrinsically good, therefore good actions are those which include these in the world for the most people. The right action is one that maximise certain intrinsically good qualities. 

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