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Outline the main features of Utilitarianism andExamine critically criticisms that have been offered against utilitarianism

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Outline the main features of Utilitarianism The theory of Utilitarianism determines the rightness or wrongness of an action by its consequence. In particular the amount of pleasure or ability to avoid pain, which the action produces. Because of this it is called a teleological theory of ethics. If the consequences are good then even if the motivation was bad it is not brought under judgement. The main founders of this theory were Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill who outlined the principle of utility. Utilitarianism in many ways can be summed up by the phrase 'greatest happiness for the greatest number'. This is known as the greatest happiness principle. For Utilitarian's the motives are not important. Only consequences count. The action not the person doing it counts. As people's motives cannot be seen and they can lie about their motives, the only thing we can judge for sure is the outcome of their choice and action. This means Utilitarianism can also be know as consequentialism. For example say a large group of people are stuck in a cave because a fat man is stuck in the only exit of this cave. The only way to free themselves would to dynamite their way out, therefore sacrificing the fat man. Do they all free themselves at the cost of one life or do they not kill him and all die? ...read more.


In his view, therefore, the prison guards would not be able to justify their pleasure by taking refuge in their greater number. This type of philosophy discussed by Mill is also known as rule utilitarianism. It focuses more on general rules that everyone should follow to bring about the greatest good for that community. Rule utilitarianism establishes the best overall rule by determining the course of the action which, when pursued by the whole community, leads to the best results. A rule utilitarian will maintain that should always drive on the left hand side of the road in the UK, even in situations in which that doesn't bring about the greatest pleasure to them such as being in a traffic jam but this will ensure the greatest good if everyone acts in the same way. It can also seem to overcome some of the difficulties encountered in act utilitarianism. For example a woman would be able to see a film, because a rule that allows people leisure time would be acceptable. Utilitarianism from here therefore attempts to provide a universal meaning for assessing the moral value of an action before it is performed. It makes no reference to judging every action on its own merits and with no regard for rules or moral absolutes. ...read more.


"That men are happy with their lot never entails that their lot is what it ought to be. For the question can always be raised of how great a price is that is being paid for the happiness. Although Mills rule utilitarianism attempts to bring justice to children in the sweatshop the intense misery of the children, and the loss to society by their lack of schooling would he hopes show us that it is wrong to use them in this way. Thus utilitarian's would argue, justice can be supported using utilitarianism. Finally a utilitarian could be seen to be at one with god as we are looking at the well being of others and the majority. For a religious believer, god's law overrides the will of the majority, however powerfully demanded, and there can be no compromising the will of god simply to satisfy the masses. The believer is prepared to speak out for moral views that may be quite contrary to popular voice. The will of god is expressed frequently, not exclusively, in moral absolutes rather than in situationist principles, which may be adapted according to circumstances. The ultimate failing of utilitarianism lies in its rejection of absolutes in favour of a forever changing morality. Although God can be seen to be a Utilitarian as god has set the world so that in the end the greatest number of people will receive the greatest good, no one else can set this type of authority over the world. ...read more.

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