Summary of Utilitarianism

  • Created by: lvekoo
  • Created on: 04-10-20 23:35

27/09/20 - Summary of Utilitarianism

What is meant by utility and maximising utility?

Something has utility if it is useful in the bringing about of an end goal.

Utilitarians strive to promote overall goodness

  • what is hedonistic utilitarianism?

someone who has an end goal of happiness

  • therefore to promote goodness to a hedonist would be to promote overall happiness

“the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people” 

   - Jeremy Bentham

  • to improve individual well-being, promote pleasure

to improve total goodness, promote total pleasure and reduce total pain

nothing else matters

Who was Jeremy Bentham and what is Bentham’s quantitative Hedonistic Utilitarianism?

Jeremy Bentham was a hedonistic utilitarian (1748-1832)

He is regarded as the father of modern utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham was an empiricist, hedonist and reductionist

  • an empiricist is someone who believes in gaining knowledge from observation

  • a hedonist is someone who believes that the principal goal in life is the pursuit of happiness

  • a reductionist is someone who believes that no happiness is better or worse than another

“the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry”

Hedonistic Utilitarianism suggests that morality depends on what promotes the most happiness

He observed that people naturally strive for happiness and pleasure and so the maximisation of this should be the criteria for moral decision-making

  • “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters; the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.”

 -  Jeremy Bentham

Bentham's Hedonistic Utilitarianism was a theory of normative ethics

  • quantitative; morality refers to the amount of pleasure gained for all (rather than the quality)

  • hedonistic; goodness is calculated only in terms of pleasure

  • maximising; all decisions should be made with the intention to maximise total amount of pleasure

  • impartial; the objective pleasure/pain measure is all that counts (emotional attachment does not count)

  • relativistic; morality is determined in individual circumstances rather than overall

  • teleological; considers the amount of pleasure as a consequence (the end justifies the means)

What is Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus/ Hedonistic Calculus?

The Hedonic Calculus is a way to calculate the total pleasure and pain that an action will bring about

It allows the theory to be applied to any act

Summary of Bentham’s Hedonistic Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism says that one should strive to promote overall goodness. Bentham observed that “nature has placed mankind under the governance of two masters… pleasure… and pain”; people naturally strive for pleasure and happiness as the end goal (telos), and therefore goodness is calculated only in terms of pleasure. This theory, also known as the theory of utility, states that “the greatest happiness for the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong” and so one should try to maximise the amount of happiness from a course of action. By using Bentham’s Hedonistic Calculus, the method that he invented in order to quantify happiness, all actions can be compared and contrasted to find the one that would result in the greatest happiness in any given


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