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

Utilitarianism (Weaknesses and strengths)

Extracts from this document...


Utilitarianism (Weaknesses and strengths) Utilitarianism states that "an action is right if it produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number". The two greatest promoters and followers of utilitarianism are Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and his student Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Although Mill was the one who perfected the theory, it is Bentham who was the theory's chief popularizer and an example that people followed. According to Bentham the correct ethical standard is the principle of utility, which states that an action should only be done if it brings the maximum amount of happiness to those who are affected by that action. This principle brings about the first concern with utilitarianism because how can you fully decide which people would be affected? The principle of utility only refers to the individual actions by individuals, meaning if more happiness is produced by actions the better the world would be. These actions must be voluntary as the moral responsibility depends on the person concerned having the real choice of whether to perform the action or not. Bentham gave us an illustration of how to choose which action to perform. ...read more.


This noble character can be very hard to achieve though so it's not a very sufficient solution. Consequences also play a very important role because decisions are made according to the calculation of those consequences. The rightness of an action depends on its producing the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness and this involves the action's effects. In most circumstances it is impossible to calculate all the consequences of that action and so it is impossible to know the greatest net happiness produced. You might be able to predict what consequences the action would have in short amount of time but because you can't predict the future you cannot know all the possible outcomes. An example could be drawn up for this - a doctor saves both a child and mother in a difficult birth. His concluding words are, "You'll be alright now Mrs. Hitler." - a utilitarian doctor would think that he would be making a lot of people happy by following the utility principle. The problem, however, is that he couldn't predict the future, and therefore made the wrong decision because Hitler ended up killing millions of Jews. ...read more.


If you did that, you would not be taking into account the benefit or happiness of the greatest possible number of people. Utilitarianism is scientific and impartial - make quantitative measurements and apply the principle of utility, giving no special treatment to ourselves, or anyone else because of race, gender and religion. It is an objective theory- it affords you a method for calculating how you should act regardless of personal confusion. Unlike most other ethical theories, utilitarianism has the apparent advantage that it includes in its range not only rational - i.e. human - beings, but all sentient beings, which can experience pain and pleasure. So, animals are not left out by utilitarian ethicists and cruelty toward animals can be consistently condemned by utilitarian theory. I think I have presented a sufficient amount of strengths and weaknesses in the utilitarianism theory to make an educated opinion on whether it is a good theory to follow. Overall the general idea is very good and it makes a lot of sense but it isn't really good enough to judge on the decisions that will affect the rest of your life, but it can work with small decisions e.g. should you have a mars bar all to yourself or share it with another person? Written by Diana Rough L6-6 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Ethics 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 GCSE Ethics essays

  1. Explain how a Hindu marriage service might guide a couple in their married life?

    One of the most important principals in Hinduism is ahimsa or harmlessness. It is always considered wrong to take life, even someone else is ill or in pain. If someone is suffering, this is believed to be the results of karma.

  2. What is utilitarianism? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the theory?

    To weigh up whether an action is morally right or morally wrong, Bentham formulated the hedonic calculus. The hedonic calculus weighs up the pain and pleasure of an action using seven principles: intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, purity, and extent.

  1. Outline the main features of Jeremy Bentham's guide to making moral decisions.

    Even if something brings less pleasure than a good thing is, it is better because it is of a higher quality and therefore has more value (a human life greater value than a pigs' life.) Mill also saw Bentham's view of Act utilitarianism as inadequate.

  2. Utilitarianism. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism

    Also, people will often make decisions in the moment and may not have time to think over all the consequences of an action. Some actions may create long term effects that are impossible to predict. Critics of the hedonic calculus say that the quantative nature of the calculus can not be applied to moral issues and decisions.

  1. Euthanasia should be a mater of choice.

    The patient? Only they know the suffering they feel and have rights over their life. If the patient is unconscious or unable to make the decision themselves then who is left with the responsibility?

  2. "Miller's plays show is that happiness can only be achieved by making moral compromises" ...

    It also shows that happiness can be achieved by moral compromise. "I was guilty as hell...fourteen months later I had one of the best shops in the state again...bigger than ever". This therefore shows that through lying and betrayal (in that Joe put all the blame on Steve in court)

  1. With reference to abortion, examine and comment on the view that the sanctity of ...

    It might also ignore the rights of the majority. A man might achieve such pure ecstasy from killing 100 people so that his positive utility outweighs the negative utility of the 100 people he murdered. Utilitarians argue that justification of either slavery, torture or murder would require improbably large benefits to outweigh the direct and extreme suffering to the

  2. "Medical research in the U.K. is being suffocated by excessive governance and ethical review".

    This means the review process would be more difficult as sometimes ethical and scientific reviews are hard to separate for reasons mentioned earlier in this article, hence decisions made by committees could become more controversial than ever before. Community Considerations In the past much conflict resulted in the presence of

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