Key points in utilitarianism

  • Utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham is about act utilitarianism. The ultimate good is pleasure and happiness and act utilitarianism is saying the rightness of the action is based on the act itself and not the consequences so this is deontological. He also says actions are right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number which makes it teleological and instrumental good, which is an act that leads to good consequences.
  • The principle of utility is where it brings maximum happiness for people and you measure the total net happiness from performing an action for all people. 
  • Hedonism is where you say good=pleasure. The hedonic calculus has 7 criteria to measure pleasure and pain created by Bentham. 
  • John Stuart Mill was inspired by Bentham and also said pleasure is the sole good. He adapted Benthams theory by adding higher and lower pleasures and a framework of moral rules. He changed the quantity of good to the quality of good.
  • rule utilitarianism is working out basic rules based on utility and act upon them. Supported by W.D.Ross and R.M Hare.
  • preference utilitarianism is supported by Peter Singer and is when the preferences of people matter too. Maximum happiness for all rather than achieving greatest balance.
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The hedonic calculus

Bentham and John Stuart Mill will be regarded as hedonists as they say good= pleasure.

The hedonic calculus consists of 7 criteria to measure the pleasure or pain an action will give.

- Intensity is how intense the pleasure or plain is. Duration is how long they will last. Certainty is how certain are we of the outcome of the action. Propinquity is if an action will affect you or others later. Fecundity is where if that pleasure/pain will produce others. Purity is how likely will the pleasure or plain not be followed by the opposite kind. Extent is the number of people affected by the action.

For example, you are all stuck in a cave and will soon be flooded. All of you can leave apart from the fat man as he wont fit. If he goes first then all your lives will be risked but if he goes last then everyone will be saved and this will tick the criteria of fecundity and propinquity and extent.

The hedonic calculus may seem impractical but versions are still in use eg. NICE decides what treatments go to the NHS and considers things that will help society overall like the effectiveness of a drug or if it will extend life.

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John Stuart Mill

Mill said that he agreed with Benthams theory however, his theory would allow for immoral actions to occur due to it being the greatest happiness for the greatest number. If 5 people were beating up 1 man, this would be considered right as it gives way for more people. So, Mill modified the quantitative assessment to a qualitative one. 

Mill uses higher and lower pleasures. Some pleasures of the mind are superior to pleasures of the body. He says we should look to competent judges who have experienced both kinds of pleasure and they would choose the pleasures of the intellect than the lower pleasures like eating. Pleasures of the mind are more valuable.

JSM makes up the harm principle which is where people are free to do what they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone else.

He says that rule utilitarianism allows a framework of moral rules to be made. A rule such as you should not kill will produce more happiness as people will feel safer and won't be killed. 

It is better to be a dissatisfied human than a satisfied pig. This is because humans have higher pleasures of the mind and are knowledgable- swine theory.

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Evaluation of Mill rule utilitarianism- criticisms

Mills' approach on quality can be criticised as what is it to say that someone's life is qualitatively superior? This would make the competent judges' decision hard as an intellectual's opinion isn't instantly valid.

Also, a person who is intellectual can be classed as qualitatively superior as they put the effort into the work and actions and anyone can work their way up to be knowledgable but, who is a competent judge? This makes Mill's theory elitist as he says they are only educated people and poorly educated people living in poverty may not have the opportunity to experience higher pleasures.

Higher and lower pleasures are hard to define and hard to separate. 

Rule utilitarianism won't be classed as utilitarianism at all as the rules make it a matter of duty or intention. If we don't go against the rule because of the consequences, the rule becomes unnecessary.

What if breaking the rule means it offers more happiness and if there are exceptions to a rule, is it really a rule?

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Evaluation of Mill rule utilitarianism- strengths

Utilitarianism offers a balanced, democratic morality that promotes general happiness.

Rule utilitariansim avoids the use of the hedonic calculus and when rules are created, they should be promoted to result in the greatest good for the greatest number.

Using the harm principle, this allows people to do whatever they want to get their happiness and pleasure as long as it doesn't harm others.

Act U can justify immoral actions but rule avoids it as it focuses on general rules. It can also help society such as prohibiting stealing will have economic benefits.

It stops justifying immoral actions using the qualitative assessment.

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The experience machine

The experience machine allows you to experience any pleasure you want.

However, Nozick argues that we would not want to plug it in as:

- we want to actually do the action ourselves to experience the pleasure

- we want to be a certain sort of person, learning from our experiences.

- It limits the reality we can make.

So, this demonstrates that there are more values to humans than pleasure and pain. Religious believers argue that there are more value to self-sacrifice, suffering, and unhappiness as it can allow you to grow and have greater moral value.

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Preference utilitariansim

Peter Singer and rm hare are the key thinkers for preference utilitarianism.

He says hedonistic utilitarianism does not take into account different people's views on pleasure and pain. Preference solves this problem by taking in different people's preferences of the person concerned in each case. The act that is the right thing to do is what maximizes people's preferences.

Peter Singer also refers to best interests. Sometimes our pleasure or preference is tempered by our best interests like sitting an exam isnt a preference but will lead to long term effects as it is in their best interest for a qualifcation.

Using the principle of utility it may mean you have to give up your preferences but not with rule utilitarianism. It allows people to speak for themselves and defend their rights. It also acknowledges not all situations are the same. Preferences may change upon a situation.

People may have preferences for immoral things though. It does not solve how we know the consequences. It may make the persons affected preference outweighed. Hard to choose what you want now or in the long run. It also doesn't fit religious beliefs as believers think suffering is from God as a test so has greater moral value than human preference.

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Negative utilitarianism

Karl Popper said that we should focus on minimising the pain before achieving the pleasures but agrees that morality should be focusing on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. 

He says that public resources such as the role of the state is to minimise suffering first. They reduce the pain of hunger and poverty first.

However, negative utilitarianism can, therefore, make mass euthanasia supported. This because it would minimise the pain of the person and on their family. 

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General criticisms of utilitarianism

- it is subjective as to what is the greatest good

- G.E. Moore said that both Mill and Bentham commit naturalistic fallacy as they both apply a property to the word good. Pleasure=good.

- Arne Ness believes that pleasures for landscapes, people and animals should be taken into account rather than just humans.

- Certain things can be unpleasant but good in themselves like chemotherapy and things that may seem pleasant at first can lead to bad consequences long term such as smoking.

- G.E.Moore made ideal utilitarianism in response to hedonic utilitarianism failing to concern with the intrinsic goods like beauty and knowledge as it is valuable in itself.

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