Utilitarianism is the idea that an action is good if it pleases the most amount of people.
It is a teleological theory that looks at consequences as a posed to actions themselves; this means it is a consequentialist theory.
Utilitarianism began with Jeremy Bentham who decided to work how good or bad the consequence of action would be. He was concerned with legal reform and wanted to develop an ethical theory which established whether something was good or bad based on the number of people it was pleasing.
Bentham called this The Principle of Utility, utility meaning usefulness of the result of the actions. The principle of utility can be described as 'the greatest good for the greatest number'; the fact that it focuses on the greatest number, this makes it quantitative.
In Bentham's principle of utility, when using the word 'good' he means happiness or pleasure, this makes the theory hedonistic. The Greek philosophers who thought similar things came up with the idea of eudaimonia which means 'well-being'. Both Plato and Aristotle agreed that 'good' ensured the greatest happiness, and according to Aristotle, the ultimate end of human desires and actions is happiness, and through pleasure happiness is acquired.
Bentham developed his ethical system around the idea of pleasure and it is based on ancient hedonism, which pursued physical pleasure and avoided physical pain. According to Bentham the most moral acts are those which maximise pleasure and minimise pain.
Happiness = Pleasure minus pain
The Hedonic Calculus
In order to come up with a way to work out the good thing to do and the possible consequences of an action, Bentham came up with the Hedonic Calculus. It was a way of measuring and had 7 elements:
1. Intensity of pleasure
2. Duration of pleasure
3. Certainty of pleasure
4. Remoteness of pleasure
5. Chance of succession of pleasure
6. Purity of pleasure
7. Extent of pleasure
Bentham argued that we should be guided by the principle of utility and not by rules, his view is described as…