Utilitarianism

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  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 25-04-13 19:40

Utilitarianism

  • Jeremy Bentham (Motivation, Utility, Hedonic calculus)
  • John Mill (Quality)
  • Henry Sidgwick
  • Act Utilitarianism
  • Rule Utilitarianism
  • Preference Utilitarianism (R M Hare/ Peter Singer)
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
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Jeremy Bentham

  • Teleological theory (look at the consequences)
  • Theory of utilitarianism devised by Jeremy Bentham
  • Born in London and lived at a time of great scientific and social change
  • Worked on legal reform
  • Can divide his theory into three parts:
    • View on what drove human beings and what goodness and badness were all about
    • Principle of utility which is his moral rule
    • Hedonic calculus= his system for measuring how good/bad a consequence is
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Jeremy Bentham- Motivation of Human Beings

  • Maintained human beings were motivated by pleasure and pain, can be called a hedonist
  • ‘Nature has placed mankind under two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.’
  • Believed  all human beings pursued pleasure and sought to avoid pain and saw this as a moral
  • Pleasure and pain identify what we should and shouldn’t do
  • As a hedonist Bentham believed pleasure was the sole good and pain the sole evil
  • Bentham’s utilitarianism is called hedonic utilitarianism
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Jeremy Bentham- Principle of Utility

  • Greatest good for greatest number
  • Rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its ‘utility’/usefulness
  • Usefulness= the amount of pleasure/happiness caused by an action
  • Greatest happiness principle
  • ‘an action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number’
  • Greatest good is the greatest pleasure or happiness and the least pain or sadness
  • Good is the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain
  • The theory= democratic (the pleasure can’t be for one person alone)
  • Possible consequences must be measured clearly to establish which option generates the most pleasure and the least pain
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Jeremy Bentham- Hedonic Calculus

  • Weighs up the pain and pleasure generated by available moral actions to find the best option-
    • Duration
    • Remoteness
    • Purity
    • Richness
    • Intensity
    • Certainty
    • Extent
  • The balance of pleasure and pain is compared with those of other options and the best result determined
  • The action that leads to this best consequence is the morally correct one to pursue
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John Mill

  • Son of a follower of Jeremy Bentham
  • Member of parliament
  • Maintained the well being of an individual was of greatest importance
  • Happiness is most effectively gained when individuals are free to pursue their own ends, subject to rules that protect the common good of all
  • Accepted principle of utility
  • Protect the common good (universalistic)
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John Mill- Quality of Pleasure

  • Concerned if the greatest good for the greatest number was purely quantitative, what would stop one persons pleasure from being completely extinguished if the majority gained pleasure from that act
  • some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others
  • He developed a system of higher and lower pleasures, preferring the higher ones
  • ‘It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied’.
  • Maintained the pleasures of the mind are higher than those of the body
  • There is a link between the two eg to be able to enjoy poetry and art we need to eat and drink to survive
  • To pursue purely bodily pleasures (food, drink, drugs and sex) was not as high an objective as those that are intellectually demanding
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Henry Sidgwick

  • Balance of pleasure over pain is the ultimate goal of ethical decisions
  • Closer to Bentham
  • Questions how can we decide which pleasure is higher?can something be right even if motives are wrong?
  • Starting point for modern day approaches  
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Act Utilitarianism

  • Related to Bentham
  • Whenever possible the principle of utility must be directly applied
  • When faced with a moral choice you must decide what action will lead to the greatest good in this particular situation
  • When determining whether an action is right it is the value of the consequences of the particular act that count
  • I may break any law if, in that situation, greater happiness is will result
  • Closely associated with Jeremy Bentham
  • Weaknesses:
    • It is difficult to predict the consequences
    • There is potential to justify any act
    • There is difficulty in defining pleasure
    • There is no defence for the minorities
    • It is impractical to say we should calculate the morality of each choice (hedonic calculus)
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Rule Utilitarianism

  • Related to Mill
  • Focuses on general rules that everyone should follow to bring about the greatest good for the community
  • Establishes the best overall rule by determining the course of action which, when pursued by the whole community, leads to the best result
  • I must obey the rule even if it doesn’t lead to the greatest pleasure for me
  • Rule takes priority over situation
  • Weaknesses:
    • It is difficult to predict the consequences
    • It is difficult to define what constitutes happiness
    • There is no defence for the minorities
    • To invoke rules means that the approach becomes deontological
    • Followers can either be strict rule-followers or rule-modifiers but neither seems satisfactory: strict rule-followers can be irrational and Rule-modifiers can end up being no different from act utilitarian’s
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Preference Utilitarianism

  • More recent form of utilitarianism
  • Associated with R.M Hare, Peter Singer and Richard Brandt
  • Judges moral actions according to whether they fit in with the preferences of the individuals involved
  • Asks:
    • What is in my own interest? What would I prefer in this situation? Which outcome would I prefer?
  • Utilitarianism aims to create the greatest good for the greatest number so it’s necessary to consider the preferences of others in order to achieve this
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Preference Utilitarianism- R M Hare

  • In moral decision making we need to consider our own preferences and those of others
  • ‘Equal preferences count equally, whatever their content’
  • People are happy when they get what they prefer
  • What we prefer may clash with others
  • We need to ‘stand in someone else’s shoes’ and try to imagine what someone else might prefer
  • We should treat everyone else, including ourselves, with impartiality
  • Argues for universalisability
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Preference Utilitarianism- Peter Singer

  • Take the view point of an impartial spectator with a broadly utilitarian approach
  • ‘our own preferences cannot count any more than the preferences of others’
  • When acting morally we should take account of all the people affected by our actions
  • All accounts must be weighed and balanced and then we must choose the action which gives the best possible consequences for those affected
  • The ‘best possible consequences’ means what is in the best interests of those concerned
  • Different from Bentham, Mill and Sidgewick as not considering what increases pleasure and diminishes pain
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Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Strengths-
    • It is straightforward
    •  It is relatable
    •  When we act it is only natural to weigh up the consequences
    • Idea of promoting the ‘well-being’ of the greatest number is important
    • Preference  gives us the valuable principle of being an impartial observer
  • Weaknesses-
    • Consequences are difficult to predict
    • Ignore the importance of duty
    •  Can advocate injustice
    • Allows an evil majority to prevail the minority
    • How do we measure one pleasure against anothers?
    •  Bernard Williams said  should not ignore integrity and personal responsibility
    •  John Rawls argues utilitarianism is too impersonal
    •  H.J Mccloskey argues it makes us do abhorrent things in order to follow utility
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