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What are the advantages of utilitarianism?

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Introduction

Utilitarianism 7 a) What are the advantages of utilitarianism? (10 marks) The ancient Greeks devised the belief that our lives should revolve around achieving pleasure, and Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher and a hedonist believed that pleasure was the sole good in life and pain the sole evil. Eudemonia, meaning 'happiness' and 'living life to your potential' was the term adopted by Plato and Aristotle to describe the goal in life. This happiness could be the result of both physical and intellectual satisfaction. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory devised by Jeremy Bentham, that focused primarily on the idea of promoting happiness when making moral decisions, where decisions are made applying the principle of utility, which states that 'an action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number.' Utilitarianism appears to have many advantages, its strengths revolving around its consideration of consequence, as it seems natural to consider the consequences of an action when deciding what to do. The principle appears to encourage a democratic approach to decision making, as the majority's interest is always considered, and the dangerous minority is not allowed to dominate. The theory certainly does not support individual pursuits that are at the expense of the majority. Jesus' also supports this in the Bible preaching in the ethic of love, requiring men to work for the well being of others, 'Do to others as you would have them do to you.' ...read more.

Middle

It is important to think about the implications of only considering the consequences, and look further into what the theory attempts to do. It is through doing this, that weaknesses begin to appear, and we start to ask questions. The theory fails to consider different views on happiness is and does not answer the question of 'What is pleasure?' as it is different for different people. People have different tastes and often disagree on what gives them pleasure and pain. It appears straightforward to use Bentham's hedonic calculus, which measures amounts of pleasure and pain according to criteria including intensity, duration, certainty, extent, remoteness, richness and purity. However, this leads us to ask the question of whether different pleasures and pains can be so easily quantified. Surely it is not possible to compare seeing children grow up to eating a chocolate bar, how can these pleasures be quantified? This also leads to the idea of pleasure not being the ultimate and exclusive goal as few pleasures are completely pure, most have a measure of pain mixed in with them. Surely pain is good sometimes as it can lead to pleasure (in extreme cases there are people who find pleasure in experiencing pain) and is there for a reason. ...read more.

Conclusion

right if and only if it conforms with that learnable set of rules, the adoption of, which by everyone would maximise intrinsic value' It allows us to establish rules to guide our conduct which will promote the general happiness of humanity and which will hold good stead in most situations. The key difficulty however, was established by R. M. Hare which he identified as the distinction between generality and universality. He argued that the rules had to be universal so they could apply to any act even if the act's circumstances are highly specific. General rules lay down broad principles without considering exceptions and special circumstances such as slavery. This is permitted even though it appears to be morally unacceptable, as minority interests are not protected. Utilitarianism has problems causing it to be seen in an unacceptable light. This is because it allows 'morally wrong' actions, fails to consider the full consequences, ignores the minority, does not make allowances for special responsibility or justice and mentions nothing of how to determine 'happiness.' The interests of everyone do not appear to be protected and feelings for individuals concerning special responsibility appear to be ignored. Finally there is the idea of the end justifying the means - as long as the end result is good then whatever is done to achieve it does not matter. Caroline Neal 12M ...read more.

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