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Utilitarianism is a good ethical theory. Why and why not?

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Introduction

"Utilitarianism is a good ethical theory" - Why and Why Not? Utilitarianism declares there are no moral absolutes, therefore "x" action is always right, or "x" action is always wrong. Instead, an action is "right" if it secures the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This allows the theory to be applied to more complex moral dilemmas, for instance, whether or not to torture a suspected terrorist in order to find the location of a bomb that could kill many more people. Somebody who believes in moral absolutes would possibly say that to torture is always intrinsically, inherently wrong - however this belief would mean that possibly many people would die, when they could have been saved. Some people would see moral absolutes as being impractical and even harmful to others in this case, and therefore a theory where the end justifies the means is preferable. ...read more.

Middle

Some would say that one benefit of Utilitarianism is that they would reject the idea that actions are right or wrong because God says so. For those who are not religious, and cannot measure right and wrong in terms of what is written in the guidelines for a religion (i.e. What God declares is right or wrong) this theory is a logical way of evaluating the most useful action for the greater number of people. Religion also can have contrasting moral laws; it is acceptable to have more than one wife in some religions, but in others that is forbidden. The Hedonic Calculus was devised by Bentham, to calculate whether or not an action would be "right" in terms of Utilitarianism. The Hedonic Calculus considers the duration of the happiness achieved, the intensity of it, the extent of it, the certainty of it, the purity of it, how near in time it will be achieved and its fecundity. ...read more.

Conclusion

Has the war actually caused more pain than it has achieved happiness? In my opinion, Utilitarianism is a good ethical theory because it requires people to think about others before themselves and to consider how their actions have consequences on those around them. It also encourages people to assess their actions against an objective and uniform set of criteria. On the other hand, it is not a flawless theory and every moral code has impracticalities or areas of controversy and debate. Life is so incredibly complex and unpredictable, every situation has a range of possible outcomes, and an infinite number of contributing factors, and there is no guarantee of every factor affecting the happiness/ pain outcome of a decision being previously considered. It is always possible that there are unseen factors affecting the situation, or just far too many to keep track of. ...read more.

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