Utilitarianism – revision • Based on the ‘principle of utility’; one should always do what will provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number in a situation that provides moral choice.

• Bentham originally devised the utilitarian theory, which was later developed by Mill.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) • He sought for a moral theory, in which whatever was done in, a society would be judged right or wrong in accordance to whether it benefited the majority of its citizens. • Bentham worked with the definition of ‘society’ as a collection of individuals and the righteous action would secure the happiness for all of those individuals. • He believed that everybody has an equal right to happiness, irrespective of his or her situation. • The ‘Hedonic calculus’, was suggested by Bentham, as a means of measuring the pain / pleasure brought by a moral choice in terms of: duration, intensity, certainty and the chance of pleasure/pain leading onwards. • Each action, Bentham believed, was strictly either good or bad, in accordance to the predicted results based on the Hedonic calculus. This method determines whether the action will bring the maximum amount of happiness, equally shared between the maximum numbers of people. • Bentham took the view that acting according to this principle would itself bring about an individual’s greatest happiness, allowing for the ‘principle of utility’ to be followed for the simple pleasure of doing so. Problems of Bentham’s utilitarianism • It is based upon quantitative measure. Firstly, who / how do we measure the amount of pleasure brought by an action, and who are we to judge another’s action? • Secondly, utilitarianism relies strictly on its predictive value. Who can predict the future and how are we to account for unforeseen events? • Thirdly, what counts as pleasure? Pure, emotional pleasures are easily quantifiable. Some pain can lead to greater pleasures, e.g. removing s tooth to prevent further decay and pain. John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) • Wanted to define ‘pleasure’ more clearly and carefully. This was succeeded by shifting the emphasis of from quantity to quality. • Higher & lower pleasures were distinguished because of the new emphasis. Higher pleasures were in the mind, and lower pleasures were associated with the body. However, the two are obviously linked, as for example you are not able to experience intellectual pursuits if you are starving and freezing. • Once the minimum requirements of the body have been satisfied, then the pursuit of the higher pleasures can be attended too; mental, cultural and spiritual well-being. Example = The designer who eats and drinks in moderation in order to spend more time designing elegant clothing is morally better than the one we is anxious to toss off quick designs and then pursue bodily pleasure in large quantities (sex, food & drink) • “It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied”. – Mill Problems of Mill’s utilitarianism • How, in practise do we distinguish properly between higher and lower pleasures? & how do we distinguish one higher pleasure from another? If all activities provide the same level of pleasure, then if does not matter which activity we choose. However, human life is more complex as every activity is both quantifiably and qualitatively different.

Example = an hour of reading Shakespeare is not equivalent to playing an hour of Mozart.

• Where do physically and intellectually challenging pursuits fit into the higher / lower pleasure bands? E.g. Kung-Fu & sailing. • We cannot simply rely on the single principle of the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’. Life’s ethical dilemmas bring about conflicts between what we feel our duties are what reason tells us and the need to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

Example = A bus crashes with a man, his son and a doctor who is close to finding the cure for aids. The man has just enough time to save one person. The GH4TGN principle obviously would lead to the conclusion to save the doctor as ultimately, he would save further lives. However, the moral duties and the bond between father and son would lead the man to save his son. It is difficult to think that other people would act differently in this situation.

Act & Rule Utilitarianism

Act Utilitarianism – applied to individual actions.

• Act utilitarianism states that, when faced with a choice, we must first consider the likely consequences of potential actions and, from that, choose to do what we believe will generate most pleasure. Pros – It is flexible and can take into consideration individuals.

Cons – It can justify almost any act.

           Neglects the interests of minorities.

It is impractical to suggest that we can measure each individual situation Rule Utilitarianism

• The rule utilitarian, on the other hand, begins by looking at potential rules of action. To determine whether a rule should be followed, Mill looks at what would happen if it were constantly followed. • The distinction between act and rule utilitarianism is based on a difference between consequentialist calculations — specific to a case or generalized to rules. • Rule utilitarianism does not allow expectations within the rules and if an action, external to the rules, is able to provide the greatest happiness, it is not permitted. • If everybody obeys a rule, which maximises happiness, then happiness will obviously be maximised. • Rule utilitarianism emphasises the equality of all & resists the interest of particular groups. Pros – It promotes equality and does not favour an individual group. Cons – The rules would not be simple. E.g. ‘do not lie’ – except in the following circumstances (followed by a very long list). N.B – Mill was right to recognise that true happiness may come as a by-product of some over endeavour. Is there no difference in striving to be a good dancer or good pilot? Business application • The geographical extent of the happiness. Who is the firm trying to make happy? E.g., the cheap goods that are made abroad provide much-needed jobs, yet are viewed as unethical. • Time span / duration of the happiness. Are we looking to pro-long happiness, or to provide future happiness? The certainty of the happiness is decreased if we are looking at prolonging happiness for a long duration.

• What is ‘happiness’? There is no set definition, if there was, conflict would be decreased. Health is a general happiness for western inhabitants while anti-material societies would rather focus on knowledge and love.

• Mill would favour LT-happiness. • Bentham would promote that the greatest happiness will be for those who produce the greatest amount.

Try Learn together, TSR's study area

revision notes




a study planner

of discussions

Which is the best season?
Study resources

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE