• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Utilitarianism: Explanation And Study of Criticisms

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

Utilitarianism: Explanation And Study of Criticisms The dictionary definition of Utilitarianism is: 'The doctrine that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principal of conduct.' When making a moral decision, we should look at the outcome of an action. Whatever brings the greatest happiness to the most people is the morally 'right' decision. It is a consequentialist principal where the majority rules. It is also relative as each situation is looked at differently and will have a different outcome. Utilitarianism is known as the theory of utility. The meaning of utility is usefulness. Each action is judged by its usefulness in bringing about desired consequences. The word utility was first used to describe a group of social reformers. They attempted to make laws and practices of use-useful to people. One of the earliest Utilitarians to live by this principle was Epicurus - he stated: "Friendship goes dancing round the world proclaiming to us all to awake to the praises of a happy life." Utilitarianism is the view that people should do whatever brings about the most good and the least bad for everyone affected. This is sometimes called "cost-benefit analysis" or "end justifies the means" morality. Usually, the utilitarian thinks "good" means happiness or pleasure. Similarly, the utilitarian calls unhappiness and pain "bad". Problems with utilitarianism in general include the following: We can never know what the consequences of any act or rule maybe. We may try to determine the worth of individuals. The majority maybe permitted to harm the minority. Some actions maybe to terrible to commit, however good their consequences. There are three kinds of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism and preference utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism is concerned with individual acts, while rule utilitarianism is concerned with the rules we follow when we act. Act utilitarians think that we should do whatever act will bring about the most good and the least bad. ...read more.

Middle

Its purity Its extent (the number of people affected by it. He believed that a good life was one with pleasure and the absence of pain. The other exponent of Utilitarianism is John Stuart Mill. He had a strict upbringing having very little contact with the outside world. He was around intelligent people a lot of the time as his father's friends consisted of philosophers, politicians, and economists-one being Bentham. He joined the Utilitarian Society, which met at Jeremy Bentham's house - this is where Mill became interested in the theory. Two of his important books were 'On Liberty' in 1859 and 'Utilitarianism' in 1861. Mill wanted to modify Bentham's theory of Utilitarianism to make it more acceptable. There were a number of things Mill did to change Utilitarianism. Bentham suggested that all pleasures were of equal value; no pleasures were higher or lower than others. This evoked criticism so the main point he made was that of changing qualitative pleasure to quantitative pleasure. He divided pleasure into two, higher and lower. The higher pleasures were associated with the mind, and the lower pleasures with the body. Once the basic lower pleasures of the body (food, water etc.) have been reached, we can then go in search of higher, intellectually challenging pleasures. Mill said: "Better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." Mill also linked Utilitarianism with Christian morality. He connected the theory with the teachings of Jesus. He said that the 'ideal perfection of utilitarian morality' was abiding by the 'Golden Rule'-'Do onto others as you have them do to you.' This made many more people accept Utilitarianism as it linked with their religion. Mill introduced rules into Utilitarianism. The rules introduced were ones that generally brought about the greatest happiness for the greatest number. For example, Mill argued that society needs the principal of truthfulness as it brings the most happiness on the long run. ...read more.

Conclusion

Surely it is better for a hundred people to be happy than five. There are other ethical theories that have many rules you have to learn and abide by. Utilitarianism has one simple absolute, which can be applied to all situations with a positive outcome. In times of difficulty, it eases people out of difficult situations. They cannot be blamed for making the wrong decision if they claim it was for the happiness of the majority Prejudices the decision maker may hold are eradicated in Utilitarianism, as they have to stick to the main rule. There is some flexibility for emotions in moral decision making according to Rule Utilitarianism. This strand of the theory allows respect for the rules that are created to better our society. Even these rules do not have to be kept all the time if you are a weak rule Utilitarian. Some people would see this kind of Utilitarianism more compassionate than Act Utilitarianism. One of the main strengths is that it prevents the few people that think they better the rest from dictating society. Utilitarianism acts as a good weapon for reform. Utilitarianism is a theory that Christians can relate to. Mill brought it closer to the Christian church by introducing Rule Utilitarianism. This would be closer to the principals Jesus lived by. For example, it was against the Jewish law to work on the Sabbath but when people were in need, Jesus bent this rule and healed them. The largest connection Christianity has with Utilitarianism is the death of Jesus. He was crucified and died for the sins of mankind sacrificing himself for the majority. However, Utilitarianism does accept evil where Christianity most certainly does not. Philosophers like Bentham and Mill worked to produce a theory that could aid us make complex decisions with a desirable outcome. The different types of Utilitarianism make it easier to live by, yet it is hard not to let our emotions override our actions. Despite the many flaws in the theory, it is simple and easy to apply. Isobel Manley ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Political Philosophy section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Political Philosophy essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Analyse the main strengths and weaknesses of Marx's sociological thought.

    3 star(s)

    Therefore leading to conditions being created that will enable workers to see the truth about their lives. Marx stated: "What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."5 C.M, pp.67-68 Although class consciousness replacing false consciousness can

  2. Advantages and disadvantages of utilitarianism

    John Stuart Mill developed the principle by referring to qualitative rather than quantitative pleasure. Mill was concerned that Bentham's theory was limited to the law and the lawmakers and primarily concerned with promoting pleasure. Thus he set about introducing a version of the theory of utility for the common person,

  1. Does J.S.Mill abandon Utilitarianism?

    However there were some specific ideas that Mill objected to. One of these ideas was the way in which Bentham believed that pleasure was the be all and end all of life, that you couldn't feel anything better than physical pleasure.

  2. Explain Bentham's version of Utilitarianism.

    This is because it is good when it is the maximum amount of good for the maximum amount of people. As a result Bentham claimed that if someone is faced with a problem they should think of a solution that would bring the maximum amount of happiness to the maximum amount of people.

  1. Extended Essay on Bentham's Utilitarianism.

    Bentham believes that all are entitled to happiness (egalitarian). The faults that arise from this are when people chose to 'bend' this rule, such as criminals or deviants. Mill suggests that criminals and deviants from society should have the entitlement of equal happiness taken away.

  2. Notes on John Stuart Mill's On Liberty

    Harm Principle, which goes like this: the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. Or, in other words: That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of

  1. What is Utilitarianism?

    Happiness is determined in terms of pleasure. Bentham was a hedonist - pleasure seeker. His aim was to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Pleasure is the sole good or intrinsically good, and pain is the soul evil or intrinsically evil.

  2. What is meant by the Clash of Civilisations? What criticisms can be made of ...

    of two civilizations in the Spain or UK but only as local conflict. Furthermore Pakistani ? Indian conflict may be seen as conflict between two neighbour states. As it usually is neighbour states are hostile to each other whenever one side improves one of, perhaps, military aspects of itself.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work