Utilitarianism

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  • Created on: 01-05-13 22:35

Topic

Utilitarianism

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Jeremy Bentham

Bentham devised the utilitarian theory. Human beings are hedonists; they pursue pleasure, which is good, and seek to avoid pain, which is bad.

The utility principle: the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its ‘utility’, or usefulness.

Usefulness refers to the amount of pleasure or happiness caused by the action.An action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

The hedonic calculus: this weighs up pain and pleasure based on intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, purity and extent.

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Act utilitarianism

Act utilitarian’s maintain that the good action is the one that leads to the greatest good in a particular situation.

Act utilitarianism is flexible, being able to take into account individual situations at a given moment.

However, it has the potential to justify virtually any act.

It may be impractical to suggest that we should measure each moral choice every time.

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John Stuart Mill

The well-being of the individual is of greatest importance, and that happiness is most effectively gained when individuals are free to pursue their own ends, subject to rules protecting the common good.

Focused on qualitative pleasures- some pleasures are higher (mind) and more desirable and others lower (body) and less desirable. ‘It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.’

Higher and lower pleasures are related but higher pleasures are more important. People may, in error, seek the lower pleasure over the higher while still recognising the higher is a greater pleasure.

An appreciation of higher pleasures must be cultivated or there is a danger that a person declines into gratuitous pursuit of bodily pleasures.

For those who are experienced, self-consciousness and self-observation provide a benchmark standard of morality.

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Rule utilitarianism

Rule utilitarian’s establish the best overall rule by determining the course of action which, when pursued by the whole community, leads to the greatest result.

Rule utilitarianism overcomes some of the difficulties of act utilitarianism.

However, it may still permit certain practices, such as slavery, that appear to be morally unacceptable, because minority interests are not protected.

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Preference utilitarianism- Singer’s practical ethi

Preference or best consequences mean what furthers the best interests of those affected, rather than what creates the most pleasure and least pain.

What matters is the satisfied of all affected individuals’ interests.

An individual cannot be sacrificed for others, as their interest must be respected as much as anyone else’s.

Preference utilitarianism maximises the satisfaction of people’s preferences.

People should deliberate on the general principles of how they should live, rather than consider each situation every time.

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Evaluating utilitarianism

It’s reasonable to link morality with the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain and misery.

Its natural to consider the consequences of our actions when deciding what to do.

Utilitarianism offers democratic morality that promotes general happiness and opposes individual pursuits.

It’s a common sense system that doesn’t require special wisdom.

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Difficulties

Utilitarianism relies on knowledge of consequences, but predictions may be mistaken or not apparent until years into future.

It is difficult to quantify pleasure.Some pain is good for us and some pleasure may be bad.

The problem of justice: utilitarianism doesn’t set out how pleasure is distributed.

Utilitarianism fails to consider different views on what happiness is.

Utilitarianism has proved popular and useful in the centuries since its original formation, with updated version suggested by Sidgwick and Singer.

Singer’s preference utilitarianism raises questions about the criteria for granting a person interests and resolving clashes of interests.

Utilitarianism remains persuasive because of its practical dimension, which provides organisations with clear-cut systems for making decisions.

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