- based on HEDONISM- seeking happiness-finding pleasure and avoiding pain
- utility principle- the amount of rightness or wrongness of an act is measured by the pleasure or pain it generates- a democratic way of thinking.
- the only things to take into consideration when deciding how to act are the consequences.
- an action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number
- a consequentialist theory.
- lived at a time of great scientific/social change- demands for democracy
- worked on legal reform and wrote "principles of morals and legislation" in which he put forward his ethical theory:
- what drove humans and what goodness and badness is
- principle of utility from the latin "utilis" which is his moral rule.
- hedonic calculus, his system for measuring how good/bad a consequence is.
Motivation for Humans
- believed humans were motivated by pleasure and pain so he is a HEDONIST.
- "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure".
- Pleasure=sole good: Pain=sole evil.
Principle of Utility
- rightness/wrongness of an action is determined by its "utility" or usefulness.
- theory is known as the greatest happiness principle.
- GOOD=MAXIMISATION OF PLEASURE
- BAD=MINIMISATION OF PAIN
- theory - democratic as the pleasure can't be for one person alone.
- intensity of pleasure, duration, certainty that it will come about
- how quickly it will come about, how must more pleasure it will lead to
- how pure it is, how many people will experience it.
- wrote "On Liberty" and "Utilitarianism" and "On the subjugation of women"
- maintained well-being of the individual was the greatest importance. Happiness is gained when individuals are free to pursue their own ends.
- concerned for the greatest good for the greatest number being purely quantitative; what would stop one person's pleasure from being extinguished if the majority gained pleasure from that act (sadistic guards).
- to address this difficulty, he focused on quantitative pleasures.
- created a system of higher and lower pleasures "it is greater to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied".
- maintained that pleasures of the mind are higher than those of the body.
- Mill believed that to pursue bodily pleasures e.g. food, drink, drugs, sex was not as high an objective as those which are intellectually demanding.
ACT UTILITARIANISM- Bentham
- maintain that whenever possible, the principle of utility must be directly applied for each individual situation.
- when determining whether the act is right, it is the value of the consequences of that particular act that counts. I may break any law, if, in that situation, greater happiness will result.
- have benefit of flexibility, being able to take into account individual situations at any given moment.
BUT- dont know if knock-on effects of decision, make comparisons with alternatives.
- has potential to justify virtually any act if, in that particular case, the result generates the most happiness.
- impractical to suggest we should measure each moral choice every time, especially as we may not have all the information required by the hedonic calculus.
- can have extreme results e.g. girl goes to cinema but gives money to tramp so goes home-has no money for cinema- happens everytime so all leisure activity would end.
- people don't agree on what's pleasurable;hard to know consequences of action.
RULE UTILITARIANISM- Mill
- focuses on general rules that everyone should follow to bring about the greatest good for that society.
- establishes the best overall rule by determining the course of action, which, when pursued by the whole community leads to the best result.
- in a particular situation, I must obey the rule even if it doesnt lead to the greatest pleasure for me in this particular situation.
- maintains that you must always drive on the left hand side of the road in the UK, even in situations that doesnt bring about greatest pleasure e.g. traffic jam.
- i should never lie as lying doesnt bring about greatest good for the community.
- R.M. HARE- a maniac is searching for a man who hides in my shop, our gut instinct is to lie but we can't because that's not the best for the community.
- could still permit certain practices e.g. slavery as there is no guarantee that the minority of interests will be protected.
- believes that if 'competent judges' (those who have experienced both kinds of pleasure) were appointed to choose between pleasures of intellect and lower pleasures of the flesh, they would choose intellectual ones.
- by no means obvious that people who have experienced both intellectual pleasure and physical pleasure prefer the former. Many might prefer to drink a glass of fine wine than read Aquinas.
- even if majority of 'competent judges' agreed with Mill, does the fact that the majority of people support something make it right? e.g. slavery was seen to be perfectly acceptable by the Romans. The majority of society today believes that you can do whatever you want as long as you dont harm anyone else. Does that make it true?
- doesn't solve problem regarding justice. He only solves one of the objections of the sadistic guards.
- R.M. HARE-> "The language of Morals" -> you must consider what you and everyone else like and dont like. "Equal preferences count equally, whatever their content"-> unlike Mill who thought there were high and low qualities, it is based soley on its preference and we can't outweigh another.
- takes into account the preferences of those involved, except where they come into direct conflict with those of others.
- the right thing to do is act in such a way which maximises the satisfaction of the preferences of all involved.
- gets round the idea of there being a variety of ideas of happiness.
- different from act and rule as act->decides whats right or wrong depending on pleasure. rule-> moral actions conform to rules which lead to the greatest good.
- concentrates on EVERYONE's preferences- otherwise would be egoist.
- seen to be UNIVERSALISTIC (can be applied to every situation) also EUDAIMONISTIC (it's fundamentally the greatest happiness for the greatest number) CONSEQUENTIAL (it looks at the consequences of an action rather than action itself)
- we should take position of impartial spectator- "our own preferences cannot count any more than the preferences of others"
- the preferences of everyone should be taken into account when considering how to act.
- singer suggests this includes animals too.
- believes the best possible consequences are associated with what people prefer so differentiates from Mill and Bentham who believe that it should be weighed up in order of how much pleasure and pain it produces.
- e.g. racism-> suggests you believe your opinion is greater than others. Goes against the principles of acknowledging other's interests and gives greater values.
- questions if something can be right on util principles even if the motives for doing so are wrong.
- Henry Sidgwick- you don't only have to act with the motive of Universal Benevolence for the action to be right. Motive is secondary to the result but it can itself be seen to be good if the result is happiness.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- reasonable to link morality with pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain and misery.
- natural to consider the consequences of our actions when deciding what to do.
- offers a balanced democratic morality that promotes general happiness.
- common sense system that's applicable to real life situations. No need for special wisdom.
- they signify a working morality that can be brought into operation in organisational rather than individual matters.
- relies on consequences-we don't know what these will be.
- how do you measure pleasure? can they really be quantified? What about pain which is good for us?
- whilst utilitarianism ensures a maximum pleasure result, it doesn't set out how that pleasure is distributed. It enables most people to receive pleasure but doesn't guarantee anything for minorities. 5 bullies get pleasure from bullying one single boy.
- "A theory of Justice" John Rawls identifies above issue:
- "A short story of Ethics" Alasdair MacIntyre notes that Util. could justify horrendous acts as being for the pleasure of many. Nazi policy of extermination could be seen as pleasurable for the greater pop. He focuses on happiness as the cause of the problem.
- what is happiness? It asserts that there is common agreement on what brings pleasure and pain. e.g. there are some people who gain pleasure from experiencing pain.
- In "The Methods of Ethics" Sidgwick produced a more complex account of utilitarianism. He rejected Bentham's view that people pursued their own pleasure and replaced it with Hedonism.
- W.D. Ross argued that Util. is a single-factor moral theory. Prima Facie duties must take priority over the 'greater good'. For example, a father would instinctively choose to save his own son over a stranger who had the ability to cure AIDS. However, a Util would be required to save the stranger because the resulting pleasure derived from eliminating a pandemic that costs thousands of lives every year would outweigh the pain derived from the death of his son.