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

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

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

What are the main features of classical utilitarianism? Assess the strengths and weaknesses of classical utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a teleological theory of ethics. This is an action judged as moral or ethical from the consequences the action has caused. The key principle of utilitarianism is epitomised in the phrase 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number.' This philosophy was founded by Jeremy Bentham(1748-1832) and is also associated with John Stuart Mill who augmented the theory in the nineteenth century. Bentham defined the principle of Utility as the action in bringing about the maximum happiness in all involved. According to Bentham the correct ethical standard is the principle of utility, the word 'utility' is the tendency of something to produce happiness. Bentham was a hedonist and, like Epicurus, believed that pleasure was the sole good and pain the sole evil. For him an act is right when it is instrumentally good, it contains qualities which lead to pleasure. This can be calculated on the Hedonic Calculus. By using the Hedonic Calculus quality of the happiness can be assessed. ...read more.

Middle

This overcomes certain problems with Bentham's theory. For example, with Bentham's it was possible to defend sadistic guards torturing a prisoner. However, with the addition of quality of pleasure to the Hedonic Calculus Mill considers the quality of the guards' pleasure so low that it is still viewed as immoral. This raises the question of whether it would be better to be a human dissatisfied or a pig satisfied. Socrates proves that intellectuals are not happy yet no-one is fully able to experience both situations. Mill states that the pleasures experienced by a human or Socrates are of far better quality than those experienced by a pig or fool. Mill therefore rejects quantitative because of the human ability to experience 'higher,' intellectual pleasures. There are, however, certain arguments raised by the idea of utilitarianism. One of these is the problem of consequence, which is the fact that we cannot be sure of the events the action will cause down the line. For example, a man might save a drowning boy who grows up to become a tyrant like Hitler who causes masses of pain to millions of people. Is it still ethical to save his life? ...read more.

Conclusion

Another benefit is that everyone is treated equally and counting only as one in contrast to another person, no matter who they are. This raises the debate over whether certain people should be counted as more than another, for example a family member and whether all people are actually, as claimed, all treated as equals. We know that quality of pleasure is assessed and so the pleasure of someone in the wrong morally is not given equal weight to those in the moral right. The whole aim of utilitarianism is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number and it is true that the majority of pleasure is followed. This is a suitable conclusion in many situations but we have to consider whether this is always a good thing. W.D.Ross considered the duties he thought should be put beside happiness such as fidelity, justice, beneficence, self-improvement and nonmalificence. It is also not always beneficial to have constant majority rule as this excludes many minorities such as pressure groups like Greenpeace or previously the Suffragettes. It also excludes disabled people and could lead to eugenics as initiated by Hitler as he ethnically cleansed Germany of all Jews and other minorities. Hannah Fleming L6E 6.10.03 ...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. What is utilitarianism? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the theory?

    He believed in hedonism or that all human beings are motivated by pleasure and pain. He believed that pain and pleasure identified what we should and shouldn't do. Pleasure is the sole good and pain is the sole evil, hence Bentham's theory of utilitarianism is referred to as hedonic utilitarianism.

  2. Utilitarianism. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism

    Bentham argued that all human actions arise from the theory of hedonic calculus. Utilitarianism as a concept ensures that the most amount of people are satisfied which would mean that fewer conflicts would arise. Utilitarianism advocates that if the majority gains the most pleasure form the activity, it is morally correct and valid.

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

    The good that has come out of it has certainly been comprehensive and will benefit researchers and ethics committees in many ways mentioned above. Also the objectives of the latter is much better defined and regulated. Conversely has this bid to increase research in a bid to improve scientific advance affected the public safety?

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

    Furthermore, Nike may get easy access to those potential markets, such as China, India and so on, as they can sell the products in the place where they are produces with reduced distribution cost. For the countries that Nike are operating in, they get foreign investments, and more job opportunities.

  1. "The greatest happiness for the greatest number" Using ToK thinking and terms, how far ...

    For example a child is drugged so that she looses conscience but the drug doesn't do any harm to her body. And while she is unconscious a group of paedophiles remove her clothes and photo her nude without abusing her.

  2. Utilitarianism (Weaknesses and strengths)

    those affected by an action, that action is right if it brings pleasure (or prevents pain), and wrong if it brings pain (or prevents pleasure.) To assess the quantity of pain and pleasure Bentham introduced the hedonic calculus. He proposed an idea that human pleasures and pains are measurable, and

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

    Bentham assessed pleasure of the basis of actions. He was not concerned with whether or not these actions abided by rules or the law; he was only interested in the happiness they generated. Bentham was also an egalitarian and believed that all are entitled to happiness.

  2. Explain the main differences between Act and Rule Utilitarianism.

    therefore I consider that the latter form is more appropriate as a basis for morality because it emphasis the equality of all and resists the interests of particular groups being given priority over others - for example, why, should the happiness of those in the affluent and powerful West have

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