Utilitarianism - University of Hawaii

Utilitarianism - University of Hawaii

Jeremy Bentham J.S. Mill Utilitarianism The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds

that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. J.S.MILL The utilitarian principle: Act to promote the greatest good (happiness) for the

greatest number. Benthams Act Utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832 Philosopher of ethics & politicallegal theory

Democrat, reformer Bentham=s project Was to find an objective basis for moral decision making. He rejected notions of moral sense, right reason, fitness of things common in his day.

He found pleasure to be the only objective good, and pain the only evil. A Key Assumption: Psychological Hedonism Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to

point out what we ought to do. Jeremy Bentham Benthams Hedonistic Calculus: Assumes that pleasures & pains are quantifiable Assumes pleasures are equal Sets up a simple calculation

that reveals which actions are the more morally worthy We can calculate the merits of any action according to criteria 1. Intensity 2. Duration 3. Certainty or uncertainty 4. Nearness or remoteness

5. Fecundity 6. Purity 7. Multiply 1-6 by number of affected individuals. Sum the values of all the pleasures on the one side and those of the pains on the other.

The balance, if it be . . . pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act . . . if on the side of pain, the bad tendency. J. Bentham The result:

Questioning the assumptions: Quantity of pleasures being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry. J. Bentham But are pleasures really equal? Is happiness really quantifiable?

Questioning the implications Is it too much to ask each individual to calculate each act? What is the ideal reach of the theory? What does it require? Does its premise (psychological hedonism) undermine its ethical principle?

Mills Rule Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill 1806-1873 Used utilitarian theory to promote 19th C. social reforms Tries to correct Benthams theory

From Act to Rule There is no time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on general happiness. J. S. Mill Rule Utilitarianism

Based on past experience & knowledge, we can determine what acts in general produce happiness over unhappiness apply the Utilitarian principle to general rules, or moral codes as a whole. i.e. the Ten Commandments Or the Bill of Rights

Pleasure Correction All pleasures are not equal. No intelligent being would consent to be a fool. j. s. mill Distinguishes base from noble pleasures. Advantages of

utilitarianism: It recognizes the social context of morality. Best applies when large numbers are affected by an action. Highlights a common sense belief about ethical behavior Actions should promote positive

consequences. Critique of utilitarianism How can it be consistently applied? Seems to sanction morally abhorrent actions Promotes a kind of cost-benefit analysis

Ecological ethics, Business Ethics: Modern slavery, Sale of Organs, consumer protection Does Utilitarianism ask too much? Issue of knowledge How far into the future must we

calculate the consequences? How accurate can our knowledge of the future ever be? An ambiguity: When am I moral? When I intend to promote GH? When I in fact promote GH? Issue of Self-Sacrifice

Places the collective above the individual Asks us to subordinate individual interests for the good of the whole Do these facts undermine the core values of individuality? Self reliance? Autonomy? Independence? Questions of Happiness

How is happiness to be defined? A. By the individual? This leads to relativism or subjectivism. B. By some objective standard? This implies there is another standard that grounds utilitarianism.

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