Historical Recap of Utilitarianism
- Unrest in Britain during 18th century (social, scientific, religious)
- Poor & lower classes were exploited by the upper classes and the Church.
- Science rejected the Churches' authority.
- People started demanding and protesting for their rights.
- A new system of ethics was needed for society to uphold morality.
Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)
Theory of utilitarianism accredited to Jeremy Bentham & John Stuart Mill.
Born in London and lived in the times of mass social and scientitfic change.
Revolutions occured during his time and these demanded human rights and greater democracy.
He was a lawyer who worked on legal reform, especially in London.
Proposed his theory of Utilitarianism in 'Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)' which was based on 3 main factors.
3 Main Factors
STEP ONE: Established what motivates human beings.
STEP TWO: Used the principle of utility to determine how useful actions are in bringing about good consequences.
Teleological & consequentialist theories are not interested in whether actions are intrinsically good but how instrumentally good they are.
STEP THREE: Devised the hedonic calculus - a system which measures how good or bad a consequence is.
What Motivates Human Beings?
Bentham was a HEDONIST.
Hedonist = someone for whom happiness or pleasure is the supreme ethical measure.
Bentham observed that humans main motivation was pain and pleasure.
Seeking pleasure & avoiding pain is a MORAL FACT.
- Benthams' utilitarianism = hedonic utilitarianism OR universal ethical hedonism
'Two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure'
The Principle of Utility
Utility - useful. Principle of utility considers how useful an action is. An action is only useful if it causes pleasure or happiness, this is know as: greatest happiness principle (GHP)
Bentham believed 'An action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number' (GGFGN).
Society is a collection of individuals and when faced with a moral dilemma people should act in a way that brings the most happiness and pleasure to the most people.
Benthams' utilitarianism -> ACT UTILITARIANISM
Act utilitarianism - based on actions. End justifies the means. If the consequences are good, then the motivation, even if it is bad, isn't judged.
Bentham -> reductive empiricist
Principle of utility will replace metaphyscial beliefs about God & Morality.
Bentham believed that talk of abstract 'inalienable rights' was 'nonsense on stilts.' In other words - looking to far for something that is not there.
Only the principle of utility offers an understanding of rights based on concrete, observable verification.
Consequences of different actions must be scientifically measured to establish which option generates the most pleasure and the least pain.
Bentham believed all pleasure and pain should be measured quantitatively. Good or bad actions can be worked out by predicted results. A person can calculate which action is more likely to produce the right result by reaching a happiness score.
Quantitative results can be measured by using the hedonic or felicific calculus.
1. DURATION -> how long will it last?
2. INTENSITY -> how intense is it?
3. PROPINQUITY -> how near or remote?
4. EXTENT -> how widely it covers
5. CERTAINTY -> how probable is it?
6. PURITY -> how free from pain is it?
7. FECUNDITY -> lead to further pleasure?
1. It has flexibilty in approaching a wide range of issues.
2. It is practically applicable to real-life situations.
3. The Hedonic Calculus provides a useful framework for decision making.
4. There is an end goal with which humans can readily identify. It seems reasonable to link morality with the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain - this connection would recieve popular support.
5. Seems natural to consider the consequences of our actions when deciding what to do.
6. The relative autonomy of the agent making the decision (when a person is able to decide freely for themselves when & how to act in a moral way, regardless of any external considerations)
1. It is very difficult to know what the consequences of an action will be therefore it is difficult to determine if an action is right. Utilitarianism depends on accurate predictions of the future but predictions may be mistaken or not apparent until years in the future.
2. Absolute moral rules are sacrificed.
3. Bentham's theory does not distinguish between different kinds of pleasure or pain.
4. How do we define happiness? Does it mean the same to everyone?
5. There are difficulties in making hedonic calculations e.g. how far into the future should calculations reach?