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Is what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number necessarily morally right?

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Introduction

Is what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number necessarily morally right? The question posed in the title above is one that utilitarianism tries to answer. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory, first developed by Jeremy Bentham, which is only interested in the ends (consequentialist) and not the manner in which those ends are achieved. The way utilitarianism determines between a right and wrong action, is by seeing which promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and this is known as the Principle of Utility. Bentham also believed that it was possible to calculate the amount of happiness using Hedons (Positive), and Dolors (Negative) as the units of measurement, and therefore the action that has the most Hedons is the right action. This was known as the Utilitarian Calculus. However to answer the title question we need to see whether Bentham's theory always results in an action that is necessarily morally right. ...read more.

Middle

This poses a moral problem, as most people would agree that it is not a morally correct thing to have inequality. Another problem of the utilitarian calculus is that not everything can be quantified, and therefore not everything can be calculated using Hedons and Dolors. Things such as love and emotion cannot be quantified, but these too can bring us pleasure and happiness, and there is that danger that we might ignore them because they cannot be easily measured. Many writers have criticized Bentham's work, and it was John Stuart Mill's aim to improve on Bentham's ideas. Mill introduced the distinction between higher and lower pleasures. He claimed that Bentham's utilitarianism made humans no better than pigs, if all we aimed to do was have sex, eat and sleep. Mill therefore said that it is not just the quantity that matters (e.g. five sweets may be better than one), but also the quality, which he described as pleasures that stimulate the mind. ...read more.

Conclusion

However a Rule Utilitarian would say that it is not right, because everyone, no matter what the circumstance, should follow the same rule. In this situation not breaking the speed limit would result in bringing less happiness compared to if you broke the speed limit, and therefore you cannot be considered a utilitarian. If on the other hand you are a Rule Utilitarian who believes that sometimes it is fine to break the rules on utilitarianism terms, then you are no longer a Rule Utilitarian and are effectively collapsing back into an Act Utilitarian. To conclude, something that promotes the greatest good for the greatest number can be morally right however it is not always the case. As shown above there are many problems with utilitarianism and it does not approach such ideas as fairness. Utilitarianism is results based (consequentialist) and does not care about the manner in which the results are achieved. This is a major problem when talking about morality and therefore my opinion is that, what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number is not necessarily morally right. ...read more.

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