What Is Utilitarianism?

A theory that measures how 'good' or 'bad' and action is depending on the consequences it has.

It is also based on utility - meaning that it is concerned with what actions have the most useful outcomes.

Utilitarianism is a t e l e o l o g i c a l approach = morality based on actions and not motives. The ends justifies the means as long as an act produces the greatest amount of happiness.

There are 3 types of Utilitarianism:

1) Act

2) Rule

3) Preference

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Act Utilitarianism

  • Looks at the consequences of each individual action
  • considers whether to do an action based on what will bring about the greatest happiness. for the most amount of people.
  • The principle of utility is applied directly to an individual and particular actions in particular circumstances.
  • Calculates the utility (being that the most happiness is created for greatest number) of an action each time said act is performed.

E.g would it be right to speed up the death of a homeless man with no family to save a father of two?

Yes, because more happiness is created than pain because the father and his children will benifit as oppose to the one man without relatives.

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Rule Utilitarianism

  • Looks at the consequences of having everybody follow the same rule
  • Calculates the over utility of accepting or rejecting the rule
  • Desgned and in the hopes of promoting happiness for the whole of humanity which needs fundemental rules (E.g do not lie)

Eg: Would it be right to speed up the death of a homeless man to save a father of two?

No because altering a persons treatment is immoral because not everybody is created equal and this does not promote happiness for the whole of humanity.

If that rule was to be universalised it would permit that for every sick father a homeless man can be killed. That is not protecting innocent life nor protecting the happiness of that individual.

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Jeremy Bentham (ACT)

He was a hedonist who believed that pleasure is the 'chief good'.

He has a 3 part theory

1) Hedonistic Utilitarianism (what motivates us as human beings) - "nature has placed mankind under two sovreign masters being pleasure, and pain."

pleasure is the sole good and pain is the sole evil. Humans are motivated by avoiding pain and achieving pleasure

2) The principle of utility (how useful an action is in creating a good outcome) - an action is seen as moral if it produces most pleasure for most people.

3) The hedonic calculus (-> turn over for this->)

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The Hedonic Calculus

1) PURITY - how free from pain is the act?

2) REMOTENESS - how near is the happiness of the act?

3) RICHNESS - will it lead to other pleausres?

4) INTENSITY - how powerful is your action?

5) CERTAINTY - how likley is your action likley to result in happiness?

6) EXTENT - how many people are affected?

7) DURATION -  how long will the pleasure last?

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Strengths                                                                                     universaldemocraticstraightforwardconsequencialistmajority interest always consideredRationalQuantifiable


Whats good for one might not be good for everyonedoesnt account for personal relationshipsignores rights of the minority (could be used to justify bad actions) E.g gang mugs a boy. More pleasure for gang, so more moral to ignore the victim?


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John Stuart Mills (RULE)

He argued that pleasure is not the same as happiness and that there are higher and lover pleasures.

You gain pleasure through physical acts such as sex, or sports which then leads to instant gratification becuase is is persude in a end in its own right. (People part take in physical acts to gain a short amount of plasure at a given point in time)


Real intrinsic happiness comes from part taking in mental activities such as reading, debating or reading poetry. This, according to Mill, will lead to internal satisfaction and happiness is created as a by product through these activities as oppose to doing something to achieve happiness to begin.

He attempted to shift from quanitity of happiness to quality.

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