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"The greatest happiness for the greatest number" Using ToK thinking and terms, how far is the good basis for an ethical system?

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Name: Jonathan Tam Class: 13A International Baccalaureate - Theory of Knowledge Yew Chung International School "The greatest happiness for the greatest number" Using ToK thinking and terms, how far is the good basis for an ethical system? This statement mainly tackles with the problems arise by ethics. Theory of Knowledge tells us to investigate a problem in four ways: logic, perception, emotion and language. Language could be one of the most important areas of debate. First of all, how to we define "happiness"? Do we talk about instantaneous happiness, or long term happiness? An instantaneous happiness might lead to a long term regret, so will this still be considered as "happiness"? If long term sadness outweighs instantaneous happiness, how do we place such happiness in terms of importance? We usually define happiness as "the possession of those circumstances or that state of being which is attended enjoyment"1 and it has no time limit. So in both cases we can still define it as happiness. Perception, in this case, is nothing more than the means for us to sense pleasure thus determine our source of happiness. ...read more.


We are able to evaluate the benefits and consequences of committing a particular action2 thus able to commit an action that we believe is best for us. All the above only relates to how an individual determines happiness. If we are to deal with the "greatest number" part of the statement, then we will have to refer to some other philosophers. Some philosophers believe that, the ends justify the means. For example, if we can get from Point A to Point B, it does not matter which route we took, as long as we arrive at that place safely. This is what utilitarianism believed. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory, first developed by Jeremy Bentham, which is only interested in the ends 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 Utility3. However, even the greatest number is satisfied does not mean that it is ethically justified and makes it a moral action. The problem with Bentham's utilitarianism is the idea that the manner in which the ends are achieved is not important. ...read more.


Since the 100 units of happiness of Leanne are irrelevant to egoists, they will prefer the teacher to give all chocolates to themselves (in this case even Jonathan will want all the chocolate because all the other units of happiness is irrelevant). However if they are all altruists or utilitarianists then they will agree to give the chocolates all to Leanne because this will satisfy others (altruists) and get the greatest units of happiness (utilitarianists). In the above examples, we see that it is very hard to judge whether an action is morally justified. It is even harder to determine if the greatest number is satisfied (due to the fact that there are three kinds of philosophical thinking and each will give a different result). There is no one correct answer to whether the above statement is ethical or moral. More importantly is that there are other sources which gives us happiness but cannot be quantified (e.g. love, care or other forms of emotions). This is why people need other criteria to help judging, for example science or religion, as these sources have other evidence (scientific formulae and the Bible). Word Count: 1472 1 From Dictionary.com "happiness" 2 For some of us we are physically mature but mentally native, right? 3 http://www.la.utexas.edu/research/poltheory/bentham/ipml/ipml.c01.n01.html 1 ...read more.

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