• 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  1. Should our moral beliefs be based on the utilitarian principle of securing the greatest ...

    In fact, not only Nike and Gap, many other manufacturing firms also produce in these poorer countries. There have been a lot of debate over the issue, are they doing the right thing? By setting factories in those countries, firstly Nike get cheap labors, and also low cost facilities.

  2. What are the main features of classical utilitarianism? Assess the strengths and weaknesses ...

    Is it still ethical to save his life? Another major flaw in this theory is the problem of special responsibility, that is responsibility for children or parents. Would it therefore be more ethical to save your daughter opposed to a scientist with the cure for cancer if it was only possible to save one?

  1. 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.

  2. Problems with Utilitarian and Kantian Ethics.

    Admittedly, it is a noble theory, naturally with good intentions but it seems as though his Christian background had too much (dare I say) of an affect on him. It is unrealistic and inapplicable to our society and humanity, because sometimes we need to lie, sometimes we need to deceit and sometimes we need to kill.

  1. Discuss whether moral judgments are subjective or objective

    Thus making many general statements meaningless, the topics of art, music, literature, love, and religion fall into neither category. In the process emotivism also write offs many individuals thoughts and ideas as worthless. If the principal of verification is upheld then the majority of conversation is literally insignificant.

  2. Kantians believe promises should always be kept even if breaking brings about benefits because ...

    Also my friends son doesn't respect the lives of patients and is going to use the patients to get money or for personal satisfaction. What kind of person will I be because I am disrespecting my job and disrespecting people that need medical attention by using them to keep my promise.

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