Utilitarianism Overview AQA

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Telological and deontological Thinking

Teleological ethics is one of the principles on which Utilitarianism is based. They focus on the consequences/result which any action might have.  Thus, in order to make correct moral choices, we have to have some understanding of what will result from our choices. When we make choices which result in the correct consequences, then we are acting morally; when we make choices which result in the incorrect consequences, then we are acting immorally.  A deontological approach is the opposite to this because it focuses on the act itself.

Utilitarianism is an example of a teleological theory because an action's morality is based on whether its consequence brings the Greatest Happiness. This Greatest Happiness Principle or the Principle of Utility, or the ‘The greatest happiness for the greatest number is the main principle of a number of ethical theories that fall under the umbrella of ‘Utilitarianism’.  

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Principle of Utility and Hedonistic Utilitarianism


headonic calculus:

Bentham’s Utilitarianism can be viewed as Hedonistic  as it seeks to find the greatest good.  Hedonism is the belief that pleasure is the chief “Good” and Bentham argued that pleasure was the sole good and that pain was the sole evil. This lead Bentham to believe that it’s a moral fact that pleasure and pain should be identified as what we should or shouldn’t do.

principle of utility:

The rightness or wrongness of an action, Bentham believes, is based on utility, meaning usefulness of an action. In this situation the term usefulness means the amount of happiness is produced. Utilitarianism is a teleological theory because of this, as I means it determines a good act  by the consequences of the action. However Bentham argued that it must be the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

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Bentham and Mill (not my own resource)

The theories of Bentham and Mill lead us onto the basic principles of both act and Rule Utilitarianism. The distinction between act and rule Utilitarianism is to do with what the principle of utility is applied to. According to Act Utilitarianism the principle is applied directly to a particular action in a particular circumstance. According to Rule Utilitarianism the principle is applied to a selection of (a set) of rules which are in turn used to determine what to do in particular situations.

Act Utilitarianism is usually associated with Bentham.  Its general principles can be explained as follows.  A person must decide what action will lead to the greatest good in the particular situation you are facing and apply the principle of utility directly. They need to look at the consequences of a particular act and what will bring about the greatest happiness. Since the same act might in some situations produce the greatest good for the greatest number, but in other situations not, Utilitarianism allows moral rules to change from age to age, from situation to situation. There are no necessary moral rules with the exception of one that we should always seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number in all situations.

Rule Utilitarianism is usually linked to the utilitarianism of Mill.  Rule utilitarians believe that rules should be formed using utilitarian principles’ for the benefit of society. An action is judged right or wrong by the goodness or badness of the consequences of a rule that everyone should follow in similar circumstances.  Rule Utilitarianism enables us to establish rules which will promote the happiness of humanity and will generally be right in most circumstances (e.g. telling the truth, keeping your promises). Strong Rule utilitarians believe that these rules created to bring the greatest happiness should never be disobeyed.  Weak Rule utilitarians say that although there should be generally accepted rules or guidelines, they should not always be adhered to indefinitely. There may be situations where the better consequence might be achieved by disregarding the rule.  An example of this would be ignoring the rule ‘don’t lie’ if you are hiding a Jewish Prisoner Of War in your house, and a Nazi soldier asks you if you have seen them.  Clearly it is necessary to lie in this situation to preserve the life.

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