Utilitarianism

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  • Created by: Fran99
  • Created on: 31-03-16 17:55

Utilitarianism is...

  • A relativistic moral theory: There are no absolute moral rules that everyone must obey. It depends on the circumstance.
  • A teleological theory: Moral truth can be found through nature and purpose.
  • A consequentialist theory: The right thing to do depeds unpoon the circumstance of actions.
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Jeremy Bentham and Act Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham believed that nature place mankind under two sovereign masters: pleasure and pain.

Act Utilitarianism: Looks at the consequence of each individual act and calculates utility each time the act is performed.

  • Bentham created the Hedonic Calculus.
    • Its aim is to measure the moral value of an act by reference to the consequence.
    • It measures by the quantity of the pain or happiness.
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Hedonic Calculus

  • Intensity: How intense the pleasure will be.
  • Duration: How long it will last.
  • Propinquity: How near it is.
  • Certainty: How certain that pleasure will results.
  • Fecundity: How much it will lead to pleasure of the same type.
  • Purity: How many will gain pleasure.
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Strengths of Bentham's Theory

  • Common Sense: Good common value; everyone would like to be happy. (Universal)
  • Clear and Consistent Ethics: Everyone would know where they sttod, ethics anyone can understand.
  • Flexable: It does not force people to fit in with fixed values which may seem harsh or oppressive. It does not pass judgment of lifestyle choices. People have the freedom to choose.
  • Equality/Democracy: Everyone is always worth one and favours the majority. All are treated with fairness and everyone's interests are considered.
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Weaknesses of Bentham's Theory

  • The furture is difficult to predict: How can we know what the consequences will be.
  • How do you measure pleasure: Telling us to measure something that is unmeasurable and are all pleasures worth the same?
  • No Jusitice: Allows the punishment of the innocent or persection of a minority as long as it causes the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number.
  • What is happiness?: Happiness is subjective.
  • Evil Pleasures: Only one experiene pain, so it is still pleasure for the majority.
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John Stuart Mill and Rule Utilitarianism

  • John Stuart believed that happincess was better than pleasure
  • He believed that quality was more important than quantity.
  • Pleasures of the mind are greater than that of the body.
    • "Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be socrates dissatisfied then a fool satisfied."
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John Stuart Mill and Rule Utilitarianism

Rule Utilitarianism: Looks at the consequence of having everyone follow a particular rule and calculate the overall utility of accepting or rejecting the rule.

  • Mill agreed wiht Bentham that a person's well being is of utmost importance.
  • Mill agreed with the utility principle but had an issue with the quantitative element .
  • Developed a system og higher and lower pleasures.
  • To pursue pleasures of the intellect were 'higher' than say the pursuit of pleasures of the body.
  • Higher = Reading, Art, Music.
  • Lower = Sleep, Food, Sex.
    • Mill wanted to reformulate the utilitarian theory to reflect the fact that not all pleasures are equal.
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Weaknesses of Mill's Theory

  • It may be very dfficult to distguish between higher and lower pleasures.
  • It is not possible to rely on one moral principle, namely the greatest happiness for the greatest number, to solve all moral problems.
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Other Utilitarianism Theories

Preference Utilitarianism: Peter Singer

  • The goal or 'telos' of ethical action should not be happiness but the statisfaction of one's preferences.

Negative Utilitarianism: Karl Popper

  • Actions should not strive to create maximal pleasure. The avoidance of pain is seen as being as being a more valuable goal than the creation of happiness.

Welfare Utilitarianism: Robert Goodin

  • the goal of an action is to provide the necessary conditions in which to live comfortably.
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Strengths of Utilitarianism

  • It supports the view that human well-being is good.
  • Actions should be judged according to their effect on this well-being.
  • A person's motivesmay be good or bad, but only consequences matter.
  • It encourages democracy and the interests of the majority.
  • Circumstances can be judged without reference to previous ones.
  • It does not rely on religious principles.
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Weaknesses of Utilitarianism

  • It requires people to predict the long-term consequences of an action.
  • There is no guarantee that circumstances will turn out exactly as predicted.
  • not every action done out of good will is going to result in good consequences.
  • Happiness changes from one person to another.
  • It does not allow for someone doing what they believe to be morally right whatever the consequences.
  • The theory cannot be used to decided what is truely good.
  • The majority is not always right.
  • The theory can lead to injustice, perticularly on the minority.
  • It makes no allowance for personal relationships.
  • People may not be motivated by pleasures and happiness
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