Utilitarianism what is it?
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which can be summed up by the phrase 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number'
Those who follow utilitarianism believe that our actions are moral if they create hapiness for the greatest number of people, whereas our actions are immoral if they create unhapiness for the greatest number.
Utilitarianism is a telelogical, secular theory which judges morality on the basis of the consequences of our actions,rather than our actions themselves. therefor the end justifies the means
Utilitarianism can be described as a relativist theory
Origin and development of utilitarianism
It can be traced back to ancient greek philosophers. Aristotle blieved that good conduct promoted happiness in society.
However it is english philosoper jeremy bentham who considered to be the founder of utilitarianism
John stuart mill also involved
Key principles associated with utilitarianism- Ben
bentham believed that humans are motivated by a desire to experience as much pleasure as possible in their lives and to avoid experiences of pain
'nature has placed mankind under the goverance of two soverign masters, pain and pleasure'
Bentham then related this point to the issue of morality, claiming it was good to cause happiness and bad to cause unhapiness
The utility or usefulness of an actino dtermined whether or not it was right or wrong.
Bentham provided the means of measuring the amount of pleasure our actions would create and this is referred to as the hedonic calculus, Bentham intended this to be used if we were faced with a moral dilema.
Intensity?-how intense our pleasure will be, Duration- how long will the pleasure last,certainty-how sure of certain are we that we will expierence pleasure, extent how many people will experience the pleasure, remotness- how soon will it be before we expeirence the pleasure, richness- will the experience lead to even more pleasure in the future, purity will the experience ofc the pleasure be totally free from pain
Hedonic calculs critisim
How can we possibly predict the intensity of the happiness that an action will create?
It is also criticised because the happiness that it attempts to measure is 'based on a quanititative measure' It only measures the quantity of pleasure rather than quality.
For example by following the hedonic calculus it would be possible to 'justify the torture of a single prisoner by a group of sadistic prison guards, since the greatest number outweighed the pain felt by the one prisoner and the quality of their happiness was not an issue'
Mills views with specific reference to the 'higher
Mill believed that there were different levels of pleasure and that 'those associated with the mind, such as literary and artistic pursuits are mot valuable than purely physical ones, such as eating and drinking.'
'it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.'
Mill also added the harm principle to Benthams theory in order to protect an individual from suffering at the hands of the majority.
Mill felt benthams theory was antinomian, it must have some rules
Mill was not a moral absolutist when it came to following rules, he agrees it is acceptable to lie in certain circumstances.
Mill gave two examples when acceptable to lie
1.It is acceptable to lie to someone who intends to use our information to further evil purposes.
2.It is acceptable to lie to someone who is dangerously ill about their health if we are afraid that the news will cause him or her additional harm.
Examples of application of utilitarianism
Contraception is morally acceptable for couples who are happy without chilfren or who already have children and want to limit their family size, in order to promote the greatest number of happiness.
Utilitarians would consider the issue of two consenting adults who are happilly involved in a same sex relationship with each other as being moral. Which is contrasted to natrual law.
Utilitarianism positives and negatives
Utilitarianism is a very simplistic theory. It is argued that utilitarianism is universally more acceptable than natural law because it does not depend on religious beliefs.
Utilitarianism has been used to solve ethical issuses in the past.
Utilitarianism demands that we predict the consewuences of our actions so we can decide to act in a way which produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number.