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Assess the strengths and weaknesses of a utilitarian argument for the abolition of the death penalty

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Introduction

Assess the strengths and weaknesses of a utilitarian argument for the abolition of the death penalty. A different way of looking 'objectively' at morality is Utilitarianism. Both founders of Utilitarianism were child prodigies. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) could read Latin and Greek when he was five years old and graduated from Oxford at 16. J.S. Mill (1806-1873) could speak fluent Greek at the age of three and was helping his father to write economics when he was 14. Both men were radical empiricists. They thought that knowledge had to come from the senses and not just be invented by the mind. ...read more.

Middle

For Bentham, laws should be passed only if they maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the majority of people. This is how Utilitarianism works. Instead of relying on vague ideas about feelings or conscience you classify and measure any action in terms of how many units of pain or pleasure it will produce. For Utilitarians, motives are unimportant, only consequences count. The stress is on the act rather than the agent. Bentham and Mill would argue that people's motives couldn't be seen or measured, but the consequences of their actions can be. ...read more.

Conclusion

Mill also thought that most ordinary people should normally stick to traditional moral rules, rather than 'calculate' what they should do all the time. Perhaps this makes Mill a Rule Utilitarian - someone who believes that morality should still be about obeying moral rules, even if rules are decided upon Utilitarian grounds. There are typically three types of Utilitarians - Act, Rule and Preference. Act utilitarianism simply deals with the consequences of individual acts, and accepts no general rules, except that we should promote the greatest happiness. Rule utilitarianism allows respect for those rules that are established in society in order to allow the greatest happiness to the greatest number. ...read more.

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