• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

What are the merits and draw backs of utilitarianism as a guide to moral conduct?

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

What are the merits and draw backs of utilitarianism as a guide to moral conduct? What is utilitarianism? "The greatest good of the greatest number". Simple. Or is it? In any real situation, there are many people involved; they will all be affected in different ways; there is no reason why the "greatest number" should receive the "greatest good". What is usually meant in practice by that slogan is something like the following procedure for choosing between two or more actions. 1. Look at the state of life after each action. Look in particular at the level of happiness of each person in the various situations. 2. Add up, somehow, those levels of happiness in each case. 3. Compare the results. The one, which leads to the maximum total happiness, is the (morally) right one. The thing to notice about this is that it actually involves a lot of quite separate principles. I think it is fair to say that they are all part of the idea of utilitarianism. Someone who accepts some of them but not others may reasonably be called a utilitarian, even if they would see the procedure above as a vague outline. ...read more.

Middle

For instance, suppose that I could, by putting my grandmother through tortures, relieve a large number of people from one minute's toothache. No matter how small the amount of suffering from which each person is lifted of, and no matter how great the amount I cause to my grandmother, if the number of people is large enough then the total amount of suffering in the world will be decreased in this manner. Therefore I ought to torture my grandmother. This seems to me, unacceptable. This I see as a major weakness in utilitarianism. Of course, there are ways round this problem. For instance, we could model happiness and misery with a number system, containing values higher and lower in the sense that no multiple of one was as big as the other. So, we can get around that particular problem. But, there are others, though I wouldn't claim any of them as an actual rejection of utilitarianism. I shall take the utilitarian principles I listed above, and describe some objections to them. * Actions, as such, have no moral value. What matters is their effect on the state of the world. ...read more.

Conclusion

Good grief! In practice, what the utilitarian recommends is entirely different. I should make guesses as to the likely effects of the actions I'm considering, estimate the ends levels of happiness, and do the best I can at adding them up in my head. Anything more is impossible, and in any case I can't be blamed for things I can't predict. I'd now like to suggest that there are merits to utilitarianism, despite its drawbacks. The first point is one I've made already: utilitarianism does a pretty good job of giving answers to ethical questions. Most of us are capable of guessing "what will happen if..." and imagining others' responses to situations. Also considering "the greatest good of the greatest number" can be an effective way of defeating prejudices and selfishness. This ethical harmony is, after all, quite close to such principles as "Do to others as you would have them do to you" and "Love your neighbour as yourself". Lastly, I think any theory of ethics has to acknowledge that happiness and suffering are in themselves good and bad. This is why utilitarianism does as well as it does. But clearly happiness and suffering, pain and pleasure, aren't the whole story. - 1 - Sam Granshaw ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Practical Questions section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Practical Questions essays

  1. What are the Main Features of Utilitarianism as an Ethical Theory?

    doing so, in theory, abandoning the utilitarianism criteria and in doing so are also using other ways of deciding. The next question that we have to ask ourselves is, 'Is happiness quantifiable'. Is it sensible to believe that actions can be changed into a mathematical formula that measures their respective

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

    reading a book. The lower pleasures refer to pleasures mainly of the body e.g. sex. A recent example of this would be to use the case of the American soldiers torturing the Iraq prisoner. In Bentham's theory, this act would have been seen as ok because the pleasure of the soldiers outweighed that

  1. Evaluate the claim that conscience is a reliable guide to ethical decision making.

    While the methodology of an acquired conscience differs, the basic premise - that conscience is developed during childhood, and is developed by largely universal experiences - remains the same. From this we could deduce, particularly from Piaget's view, that while conscience is not pre-ordained it is a natural extension of the human condition.

  2. The Ethical Debate Concerning Cloning.

    decision making about many things which once were outside our powers to control, ameliorate, avoid, or cure. The real question, however, is which God or whose God we are playing? It used to be thought that God has a monopoly control over life and health and death.

  1. Evil and Suffering

    Augustine based his theodicy on the teachings in Genesis, primarily believing that every God made organism is 'good'. He did not believe it an illusion like Mary Baker Eddy, but alike Aquinas, views it as a 'privatio boni'; a deprivation of good, originating from Adam's disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

  2. Utilitarianism. Identify the main problems of Utilitarianism. To what extent do these make Utilitarianism ...

    Act Utilitarianism does not take into account any of the moral issues associated with the action. Each action is assessed on the consequence alone, so for example they feel it is acceptable to lie if it would be for the greatest good of the other people, however they do not consider the moral reasons behind the importance of not lying.

  1. Identify the main problems of Utilitarianism. To what extent do these make Utilitarianism unacceptable? ...

    The whole principal is concerned with the product, the end result being maximum possible utility and thus happiness. An advantage of utilitarianism is therefore visible as it is an ethic which aims for moral consequences, it quotes 'an action is only right if it brings about pleasure or prevents pain'.

  2. What is the task of Kant's groundwork of the metaphysic of morals supposed to ...

    They hoped to escape the epistemological confines of the mind by constructing knowledge of the external world, the self, the soul, God, ethics, and science out of the simplest, indubitable ideas possessed innately by the mind. Leibniz in particular, thought that the world was knowable a priori, through an analysis of ideas and derivations done through logic.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work