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Explain Utilitarianism

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Introduction

Explain Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a teleological theory of ethics. The theory began with Jeremy Bentham as a way of working out how good or bad the consequence of an action would be. Bentham was concerned with social and legal reform (the conditions in which people lived and worked were appalling), wanting to develop an ethical theory that established whether something was good or bad according to its benefit for the majority of people. In ?Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation? (1789) he establishes this, calling it the principle of utility. Here, Utility means the usefulness of the results of actions, which is what gives utilitarianism its name, as the latin root word ?utilis? means useful. The principle of utility is often expressed as ?the greatest good of the greatest number?. Bentham defined ?good? in terms of pleasure or happiness. An act is right or wrong according to the good or bad consequences. ...read more.

Middle

According to an Act Utilitarian, the principle of utility is applied directly to a particular action in a particular circumstance, thus enabling a flexible, consequentialist, relativist approach. John Stuart Mill also being a hedonist, accepted that happiness is of the greatest importance. Despite this, he recognized the flaws of Bentham?s approach- it is not possible to make an accurate prediction of consequences and pleasure is not the same for everyone. He felt pleasure could not be quantified. In light of this, he defined pleasure more carefully, shifting the emphasis from quantity to quality. Claiming that ?some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others?, he made a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Higher pleasures are associated with the mind- intellectual pursuits, mental discipline etc. and lower pleasures are associated with the body- satisfying the need for food, water, sleep and sex. The higher pleasures are more desirable than the lower ones, which led to Mill saying ?It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied?. ...read more.

Conclusion

There may be situations where the better consequence might be achieved by breaking a rule. A fire engine, for instance, would be able to break the speed limit to put out a fire in an emergency. However, to invoke rule means that the approach becomes deontological not teleological. Strict rule followers seem irrational, as they would obey a rule, even if disobeying would bring greater happiness. Weak rule followers seem to be no different from Act Utilitarians. Sidgwick criticized Mill?s approach, arguing that it is difficult to properly distinguish between higher and lower pleasures- it is too subjective, If reading Shakespeare and painting produce the same degree of pleasure, there is nothing to choose between them. Sidgwick felt life is more complex, as everything is quantitavely and qualitatively different. Preference utilitarianism is a recent form of Utilitarianism associated with R.M.Hare, Richard Brandt and Peter Singer. A preference utilitarian judges a moral action according to whether they fit in with the preferences of the individuals involved to achieve the greatest good. Hare argues that in moral decision making we need to consider our own preferences and those of others. ...read more.

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