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  • Created by: Charlotte
  • Created on: 15-05-08 16:00

Key Features

* The greatest good for the greatest number - first termed by Francis Hutchinson

> Teleological - determined by consequences

> Single principle ethic

> Hedonic- pleasure seeking

> Democratic - majority determines what is right

> Secular ethic - not based on God

> Egalitarian - everyone equal. Bentham argued 'Each to count for one and no more than one'

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Jeremy Bentham

> Argued for the principle of utility - actions judged as good or bad depending on results

> We should choose to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number

> Universal ethical hedonism - if an action increases pleasure, it is right

> Hedonic Calculus; intensity, duration, purity, extent, fecundity, propinquity, certainty

- 'Utility' refers to the tendency of producing happiness, not usefulness

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Bentham's Hedonic Calculus


- Conclusive
- Guidelines, offers structure
- Flawless evaluation of pleasure
- Simple to understand


- Subjective
- Unrealistic, impractical e.g. time limits may occur which it doesn't allow for
- Couldjustify immoral acts
- Uncompassionate, doesn't consider human feelings
- Cannot take consequences into account

> Bentham founder of British Utilitarianism
> Social context; French+ IndustrialRevolutions, social upheaval, Dickensian England
> Pleasure is subjective - it is presumed that it is quantative rather than qualitative-unrealistic/impractical/uncompassionate

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John Stuart Mill

> Developed a theory referring to qualitative not quantitative pleasures

> Argued that pleasures of the mind take precedence over physical ones

> Humanity's primary concern should be for the 'higher order of things'

> Said 'It is better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a fool satisfied'

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Nina Rosenstand

Utilitarianism in the Work Place

> Contemporary philosopher

> In hospitals - QUALY (quality, life, adjusted years), used to determine who is most worthy of saving

> Job front - marks awarded for different desirable attributes

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# Evaluation of moral choices influenced only by personal preferences - no consideration of consequences

# Consensus that human wellbeing is intrinsically good, actions should be judged according to this

# Jesus preached ethic of love - 'Do unto others...' (Matthew 7:12)

# Motives may be good or bad but only the consequences have an effect

# Provides a democratic approach to decision making - majority's interests priority

# Current circumstances can be judged without reference to similar situations - every case is different

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# We may be unaware of all the consequences of our actions for ourselves/others

# Pleasure is subjective, therefore some may find it pleasurable to inflict pain on others

# People may have different ideas about what is right and the best outcome

# Theory gives no credit to motivation - some people may attempt good things which fail, they should be acknowledged for this

# According to Bentham's theory, if the majority wanted to commit acts of torture it would be permissable - the majority may not always be right

# Theory relies on single principle - we cannot solve every dilemma with this

# Values such as love/justice have no place - majority may support unjust

# No allowances for personal feelings; we have a duty to those we love and must sometimes act on instinct rather than the most utilitarian way

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Forms of Utilitarianism

Act: Deals with the consequences of individual acts, acceptsno general rules, situational, promotes happiness

Rule: Allows respect for existing rules, collectiverules for society

Preference: Should act in a way reflecting the preference of those concerned

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Scholarly Opinion

J C C Smart: Pro Utilitarianism

> It has its weaknesses but no moral system is perfect

> Sometimes acting for the greatest number can cause short term suffering- a reasonable exchange

> Utilitarianism offers an objective basis for making moral decisions

Bernard Williams: Anti Utilitarianism

> It can lead to unjust actions - if slavery brings more happiness than pain, does it become reasonable?

> Overstates the importance of things that are measurable. How do we measure love/truth?

> How far in the future do the effects of one's actions need to be calculated?

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