HideShow resource information


"The Greatest Happiness for the Greatest Number of People" 

Utilitarianism is a teleological theory of ethics, and so therefore is a consequentialist theory. Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) began the idea of Utilitarianism, a way of working out how bad or good the consequence of an action would be. He wanted to develop an ethical theory which established whether an act was good or bad depending on its benefit for the majority. 

The Principle Of Utility the usefulness of the results of actions - "the greatest good for the greatest number" good being pleasure or happiness. An act is right or wrong depending on how good or bad the result is. Since this theory is based on the greatest number it is quantitive

Since good is defined as pleasure or happiness it means this is a hedonistic theory. This theory is based on the ancient idea of pursuing physical pleasure and avoiding physical pain. The most moral acts are the ones which maximise pleasure and minimise pain - Utilitarian Calculus

"The principle of utility aims to promote happiness which is the supreme ethical value" 

"An act is right if it delivers more pleasure than pain and wrong if it brings about more pain than pleasure"

By adding up the amounts of pleasure and pain for each possible act we should be able to choose the good thing to do. 

Happiness = pleasure minus pain

This leads us to the Hedonic Calculus. This is a way to help us work out what to do in a situation to get the best possible consequences. 

It has 7 elements. 

1 - the intensity of pleasure (how deep) 

2 - the duration of the pleasure (how long) 

3 - the certainty of the pleasure (how certain or uncertain) 

4 - the remoteness of the pleasure (how near or far) 

5 - the chance of succession of pleasures (how continuous) 

6 - the purity of the pleasure (how secure) 

7 - the extent of the pleasure (how universal)

Bentham's Utilitarianism is described as Act Utilitarianism 

Act Utilitarianism -

You need to look at the consequences on an action and bring about the greatest happiness by applying the principle of utility directly.

Act Utilitarianism is very flexible and allows moral rules to changes depending on the situation. There is only one rule to follow and that is we should seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number in ALL situations. 

It does have some weaknesses and they are that it is often to predict the consequences. It also means there is the potential to justify any act e.g. Murdering someone. It is also difficult to define pleasure, is it mental or physical and what does it consist of? It also means there is no defence for the minority, if you have to kill one man to save five then you should kill that man according to this principle however he could have the cure for cancer. Lastly it is impractical to have to calculate




thanks, looks good



Well structured, and this is good for those that need quick revision notes (reminders) thanks so much Kate :D




Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Ethics resources »