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  • Ethical theory that makes use of the principal utility; 'the greatest good/happiness for the greatest number'. 
  • Teleological: concerned with ends & concequences 
  • Hedonistic: states that if something brings you happiness= good
  • Relative: what's good depends on the situation
  • Democratic: majority taken into account
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J. Bentham: Act-U (1748-1832)

  • Social context of post-industrialisation 
  • Makes use of Hedonic calculus- 7 criteria which measure happiness in making a moral decision e.g. fecundity, intensity or certainty- a way of quantifying happiness
  • Purely relative: aka Act-U; weighs up indivdual action using the principal of utility
  • Hedonist approach, but designed to give power to majority e.g. working class maj.- to improve their position in society
  • Strenths: relative, democratic & empowers a suppressed maj. 
  • Weaknesses: could justify the killing of an innocent man 'for the greatest happiness', hedonic calculus is impraticle, too relative- open to interpretation, do concequences always justify the means?,difficault to predict concequences & emotions aren't taken into account. 
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J.S. Mill: Rule-U

  • An improved version of Act.-U. Mill- Bentham's approach lacked the recognition of the deeper levels of human experience.
  • Feelings other than happiness are needed for a good life e.g. honour & justice- good whether they bring happiness or not. 
  • Quality of pleasure more important than quantity  
  • Divided pleasures into higher/lowers one:
  • Higher: use of the higher mental faculties (intellectual) e.g. reading poetry or going to the theatre
  • Lower: Fulfil basic human desires & needs (physical) e.g. eating chocolate or procreating 
  • Moral rules needed in order to establish social order & justice.
  • Deontological: concerned with the motive & duty
  • Rules formed via the principal of utility & interests of society
  • "It's better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied"
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Analysis of Mill's approach

  • Strenths
  • Overcomes problem of minority being sacrificed for the majority 
  • Mill's theory of justice- everyone is equal; oppses 'greatest happiness for greatest number' 
  • Less relative & open to different interpretations 
  • Weaknesses:
  • Still concequentialist theory
  • (Becomes deontological, not teleological theory)
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Strong/weak rule of U

  • Strong rule U: should never be disobeyed
  • Weak rule U: there may be situations where the better concequences might be achieved by disregarding the role, e.g. better to tell a lie 
  • Mill wanted to create a society where individuality & talent could florish- aware that rule of majority could prevent that. Thus came up with 'harm principal': the only purpose for which power can be lightfully excersised is any membership of a civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others. By this he means the only time power can be used is for the benefit of others. 
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Modern applications of Utilitarianism

  • Motive: as long as the motive was just, the action is good.-Sidgwick e.g. woman and bike scenario 
  • Preference: the satisfaction of people's preferences rather than aiming to achieve the greatest balance of pleasure over pain- P. Singer. 
  • Approach- "what's in my own interest?" / "what would I prefer in this situation?" 
  • R.M. Hare- people are happy happy when they get what they prefere, what what that is might clash with the preference of others. - Need to stand into someone elses shoes & imagine what they'd prefer. We should treat everyone including oursleves with impartiality- equal. 
  • P. Singer: impartial spectator with a broadly U. approach- we need to take into account all the people affected by our actions; these need to be outweighed & balanced.
  • We need choose an act which gives the best possible concequence for those affected; so killing a person wh prefers to live-wrong, albeit it wouldn't be for a person who prefers to die, e.g. suicidal. 
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