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

What are the main features of utilitarianism as an ethical theory (10) Examine and consider criticisms which have been made against utilitarianism (10)

Extracts from this document...


What are the main features of utilitarianism as an ethical theory (10) Examine and consider criticisms which have been made against utilitarianism (10) In this essay I plan to explain the main features of utilitarianism, and the criticisms that have been made against it. I will also examine some philosopher's opinions on utilitarianism. Utilitarianism comes in many different forms, the forms that I plan to concentrate on are; act and rule utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism come in two forms itself; strong and weak utilitarianism. The first thing I will do is explain what is commonly known by utilitarianism, this is an ethical theory by which actions are judged according to their anticipated consequences. One well known phrase that explains the basic form of utilitarianism is 'the greatest good for the greatest number'. This means that an action is to be considered as good or right if more people are positively affected than are negatively affected. This is a teleological and a priori theory, this meaning that it uses the consequences of an action to tell whether it is right or wrong, and that it does not depend on experience but a presupposition. Two philosophers who are widely acclaimed as the founders of utilitarianism are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham's utilitarian views were quantitative, he suggested that happiness should be measured in terms of; its duration, its intensity, how near, immediate and certain it is and how free it is from pain and whether or not it is likely to lead on to further pleasure. ...read more.


full, are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely, to the attempt to answer questions, without firstly discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer."4 Moore thought that 'goodness' is indefinable, and if you try to define 'good' then you have to use another term such as 'right'. Other philosophers that have tried to bypass how many things are good in themselves have argued that right actions are the ones that have the best results, however this is measured. This can be referred to as 'ideal utilitarianism', which accepts general principles such as 'thou shall not kill', arguing that these principles have themselves been based on utilitarian grounds. Others have thought of something else known as 'preference utilitarianism' arguing that we should act so as to maximize the satisfaction of peoples preferences, and the preferences of person concerned should be taken into account, thus allowing people to say what for them constitutes pleasure or pain for them. A philosopher called Henry Sidgwick had an opinion on utilitarianism and this is; "Here I wish only to point out that, if the duty of aiming at the general happiness is thus taken to include all other duties, as subordinate applications of it, we seem to be again led to the notion of Happiness as an ultimate end categorically prescribed, only it is now General Happiness and not the private happiness of any individual. ...read more.


The basic principle of utility; 'the greatest good for the greatest number' would lead people to think it a commonsensical theory. But this is not the case, as I have shown above it is in fact very complicated, and this is one of its problems. If it were to be used in practice it would take time to work out a specific actions consequences, and these may not be correct. I think that it has too many valid arguments against it to be considered as worth while ethical theory, and I do not think that it is just this theory but all teleological theories. This is because I do not think that you can just look at the consequences of actions to see whether they are right or not, but her things have to be taken into account as for example the past. This is one of the things that utilitarianism fails to. Therefore in my opinion utilitarianism like all other teleological theories is useless. I used the following resources in writing this essay: Ethics and Religion, Joe Jenkins Ethical Theory, Mel Thompson On Liberty and Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill http://www.la.utexas.edu/cuws/ http://www.utilitarianism.com/ 1 Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation 1789 2 J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism 1863 3 J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism 1863 4 G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica 5 Henry Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics book 1 6 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment 1866 7 D. D. Raphael, Moral Philosopher 1981 8 Ethics and religion, Joe Jenkins Thomas Taylor ...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. Analyse The Main Features of Classical Liberalism

    However, critically, although there is the freedom and the absence of restrains, there are no resources in negative freedom for one to fulfill what they want to do. There are no barriers or restraints stopping someone from buying a private jet, apart from money.

  1. Advantages and disadvantages of utilitarianism

    which also substituted 'pleasure' for happiness "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" and moved from mere quantity to involving the quality of happiness as well. He argued that pleasures of the mind should take priority over physical pleasures and that, since basic human requirements for survival were fulfilled, a

  2. Extended Essay on Bentham's Utilitarianism.

    This is called consequentialism. An action is a posteriori, i.e. if the consequences bring maximum pleasure and minimum pain. 2)

  1. Utilitarianism: Explanation And Study of Criticisms

    avoid making exceptions to the rules The best rule might just be to be an act utilitarian. Preference utilitarianism is also not a totally secure theory because it is difficult to predict the inclinations of the party concerned. Utilitarianism is a purely consequentialist theory: Consequentialism claims that what we ought

  2. Deontology- a theory based purely on obligation or duty.

    Kant accepted as truth that these laws along with personal laws concluded the exact connotation of "rightness". Obligations, also stressed throughout his writings, he argues, arise from practical reasoning. An example in which Kant explains practical reasoning is "the lying promise".

  1. A Study of Carl Rogers' Theory of Personality

    The fully functioning person, in contrast, is completely defense-free, open to experience, creative and able to live "the good life". Empirical support for the fully functioning person is somewhat mixed. The openness to experience characteristic has been supported (Coan, 1972; cited in Maddi, 1996).

  2. How and why does Locke explain the creation, value and protection of property?

    The purpose to studying political theory is not to attempt to understand political thinkers in terms of what period they were writing in and to understand the state of society during the thinkers lifetime, that is the job of history.

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