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Is a good action always that which promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number?

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Introduction

Is a good action always that which promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number? What is it that makes an action good? What is 'good'? Good is a very abstract word in that it is not attributed a concrete meaning. If the word is looked up in the dictionary the meanings would resemble the following: morally excellent, obedient or well behaved, enjoyable, of the best quality, etc... but these are not real meanings they are just suggestions of how and when the word should be used. But what gives this word its individuality is that it has different levels, different shades of understanding. Each individual has a different interpretation of the word making it unique. ...read more.

Middle

For example cannibalism, if everyone became a cannibal the consequence would be the end of human kind therefore this would be considered bad in Kant's view. Yet another view is the utilitarianist view. Utilitarianism looks to the consequences of actions before making a moral decision, a bit like Kant's principle. They believe that a truly moral ethical act will give the greatest pleasure. The greatest happiness principle is also a utilitarianist principle: the greatest happiness for the greatest number. However some may criticise whether one man's constant torture is worth the world's happiness. According to utilitarianist views the only thing that matters is the happiness or the happiness caused. But this view could eventually lead to hedonism, which believe that all pleasure is good. ...read more.

Conclusion

This idea also neglects the idea of rights, should our rights be trampled on just to get good results? For example freedom of speech or faith? It also ignores backward looking reasons such as promises and obligations. Although Raphael's example may not be realistic, and may not apply to our lives, it states a weakness in these principles and should therefore be acknowledged. In conclusion to this topic, we must consider all views of what is considered a good action. The answer lies in each individual's opinion. So is a good action that which promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number? We have seen that this principle has a weakness that should not be ignored. A good action should not cause unhappiness or pain, not even to a minority although it may promote the greater good. A good action must be one that pleases everyone without exclusion not just the majority. ...read more.

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