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The strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism

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(i) What are the main advantages of utilitarianism? (21 marks) (ii) Identify the main problems of utilitarianism. To what extent do these make utilitarianism unacceptable? (9) Utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham and is a modern form of the hedonistic ethical theory which teaches that the end of human conduct is happiness, and that consequently the discrimination norm which distinguishes conduct into right and wrong pleasure and pain. The aforementioned Bentham lived in 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 who produce the most pleasure for everyone affected and wrong actions consequently are those who 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 avoids pain. ...read more.


Rule utilitarianism, which was developed by Mill, highlights the centrality of rules in morality and establishes the best overall rule by determining the course of action which results to happiness. Rule states that you must obey the rule even if it doesn't lead to the greatest pleasure. The rule should always take president over any given situation. A key distinction between Bentham's and Mills theories lie differences. Act utilitarianism was one of Bentham's key ideas. Bentham approached this idea to be that he treated each individual separately, without any rules to guide the individual. Mill on the other hand proposed that one should make rules based upon the consequences of that action. E.g. stealing tends to cause pain, so we should have a rule against stealing. So, despite supporting the same principle idea, we can see that Mill and Bentham arrived at two very different approaches to morality, with Mill avoiding some of the fundamental and debateable idea put forward by Bentham. ...read more.


In addition, with negative utilitarianism; the good could possibly mean people being happy and the bad could mean people being un-happy, or the good is people getting what they want in life and the bad is people not getting what they want out of life. Although most utilitarian's agree that whatever the good and bad are, we ought to bring about as much of the former and as little of the latter as possible. E.g. suppose that I have a choice to make: I can either make the happiest man in the world even happier than he already is, or I can alleviate some of the suffering of the unhappiest man in the world. This would mean that if I were to alleviate some of the suffering from the unhappiest man, the happiest man would still be happy and not affected from the choice but yet the unhappiest man becomes happier than he already was. Therefore, I should always choose to alleviate suffering rather than promoting happiness. ?? ?? ?? ?? Kerrie Freeman ...read more.

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The student makes lots of accurate and good points in this essay and describes utilitarianism for the most part correctly (with the exception of the second question where a number of mistakes are made). Unfortunately the student does not answer either of the questions that have been set. In consequence almost everything that has been written is irrelevant.

Marked by teacher David Moss 31/03/2012

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