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Examine the key features of utilitarianism and its strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism

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1a) Examine the key features of utilitarianism and its strengths and weaknesses. Utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham and is a teleological theory where the moral value of an action can be judged by the likely consequences. The aforementioned Bentham lived in an era of great social and scientific change and unrest. He therefore, because of his social surroundings developed a theory that stated that right actions are those that produce the most pleasure for everyone affected and wrong actions consequently are those that do not. He coined the phrase 'the greatest good for the greatest number' - which summarises his aim which was to iron out the deep inequalities of his time. Bentham, being a Hedonist, believed that all humans naturally pursued pleasure and conversely tried to avoid pain. To measure this pain and pleasure, Bentham created the 'hedonic calculus', in which happiness was measured with seven different elements, including duration of happiness, the intensity of it and the purity of it. However if applying even one of these factors, let alone all seven, it causes a problem. For example it is impossible to know the duration of the pleasure or pain, because we would all quantify it differently, some are more susceptible to feeling pain, unlike others who are much stronger. We can never predict an accurate duration of the pleasure and a some argue that it is not possible for pleasure to be quantified. If the probable pain of an action out weighs its pleasure then Bentham says that it is morally wrong and visa versa. ...read more.


Among the weaknesses is that it is difficult, if not impossible to predict consequences, what is an important factor of utilitarianism. The theory also disregards motivation and goodwill, which is also an important factor in achieving happiness. Furthermore, it says that the majority is always right and does not protect the minorities, e.g. Nazis in WWII and the Jewish community, where they quite obviously were not right. Also it is very unrealistic. To expect people to act in the interests of others above themselves is probably wishful thinking more than anything, so it's application because of this would undoubtedly be difficult. b) Comment on the view that the strengths of utilitarianism are outweighed by the weaknesses. The utilitarian approach to deciding what the right thing to do is to try and make the most amounts of people happy. Both Bentham and Mill believed this, they were both hedonists, believing that the most important thing in life is to be happy. However their theories differed in the way they measured pleasure. Bentham measured happiness considering the quantity of pleasure whereas Mill measured it by the quality of happiness that would occur. Both of these have flaws though, but whether these flaws outweigh the weaknesses is what will be examined. Utilitarianism provides a clear method for deciding on a course of action that disregards personal confusion. Bentham's aim was to achieve a specific scientific formula to calculate how much pleasure and pain is produced from each proposed action. ...read more.


Additionally, the theory gives no credit to motivation. Not every action done out of good will is going to result in good consequences, but the attitude with which it is performed should be worthy of some credit. Utilitarianism though is a theory that Christians can relate to, as Jesus preached an ethic of love, requiring people to work for the well-being of others. 'Do to others as you would have them do to you'. 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. In my view, the weaknesses do indeed outweigh the strengths. Despite the fact that its focal point is to concentrate on happiness of the majority of people rather than an individual, the hedonic calculus, one of the very key features, is not practical enough to apply it to real-life situations, because pleasure and pain are hard to determine by it. Another key feature that is severely flawed it the fact that humans do not always agree on what actions bring pain and pleasure, and utilitarianism is weakened by the fact that people have to agree with each other. Yes, there are the strengths as mentioned above, but the theory is not practical in the main stream due to the flaws in its key features, and so as it would be extremely difficult to apply, it would be impossible to come to any conclusion other than it's weaknesses overwhelm the strengths. ...read more.

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