Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism

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  • Created by: oyinlola
  • Created on: 11-05-13 10:11

Jeremy Bentham

  • Jeremy 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 (usefulness)
  • Usefulness refers to the amount of plesure or happiness caused by the action.
  • An action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
  • The hedonic calculus weighs up pain and pleasure based on intensity; duration; certainty; propinquity (remoteness); fecundity; purity and extent.
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Act Utilitarianism

  • Act utilitarians maintain that the good action is the one that leads to the gratest good in a particular situation.
  • Act utilitarian is flexible, being able to take into account individual situations at a given moment.
  • However, it ha the potential to justify virtually any act.
  • It may be impactical to suggest that we should measure each moral choice everytime.
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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 pleasure are higher (mind) and more desirable and others lower (body) and less desirable.
  • "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." - Mill
  • 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 pleasure 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-observance provide a benchmark standard for morality.
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Rule utilitarianism

  • Rule utilitarians establish the best overall rule by determining the course of action which, when pursued by the whole community, leads to the greatest resul.
  • 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

  • Peter singer's practical ethics.
  • Preference or best consequences means what furthers the best interests of those affected, rather than what creates the most pleasure and least pain.
  • What matters is the satisfaction of all affected insividuals' 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 shold 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.
  • It's 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

  • Utilitarainism relies on knowledge of consequence, but predictions may be mistaken or not apparent until years into the 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 versions suggested by Henry Sidgwick and Peter Singer.
  • Singer's preference utilitarianism raises qestions about the criterria for granting a person interests and resolving clashes of interests.
  • Utilitarianism remains persuasive because of its practical dimension, with provides organisations with clear-cut systems for making decisions.
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