• 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 utilitarianism as anethical theory?

Extracts from this document...


What are the main features of utilitarianism as an ethical theory? (10) Utilitarianism is a teleological ethical theory. Deontological ethical theories concentrate on moral rules that cannot be broken because the act itself is bad, whereas teleological theories concentrate on the consequence of an action instead. 'For a teleological thinker, the ends justify the means'. Followers of teleological ethical theories decide whether an act is good or bad from the consequences it will produce. Therefore, whereas a deontological thinker would say stealing was wrong, a teleological thinker might say stealing in situations where the consequences bring the greatest good to the greatest number was acceptable. Therefore, for teleological thinkers a way in which to determine the good or bad outcome of an action needed to be devised. This led to the principle of utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham developed the theory of utilirarianism. His theory formed three parts. The first part is what he believed motivated human beings. He was a hedonist in his belief that pleasure was what motivated human beings, them turning away from pain, and that pleasure was the sole good and pain was the sole evil. "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure" Bentham developed the utility principle that stated the rightness ...read more.


Rule utilitarians would say that jumping traffic on any day was wrong, because the law is in place for the greatest good of the community. This form of utilitarianism is associated with John Stuart Mill and involves sacrificing your personal happiness sometimes to obey laws and rules enforced to create law and order which benefit everybody in the long run. Examine and consider criticisms which have been made against utilitarianism. (10) Act utilitarianism is seen as a way of justifying breaking laws. For example, if murdering a person can be justified because it causes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, then people would go around murdering for the good of mankind. People can only really establish what is better for society on a personal level, their opinion of whether their act of murder is right might not be other people's opinion on whether it is right. Therefore, act utilitarianism is not effectively sound. However, to counteract this argument, rule utilitarianism has been brought about by John Stuart Mill. This states that laws in society should be followed as strictly as possible, so that the greater good for society is achieved and leaves little option for personal perception to corrupt an act of evil or good. ...read more.


In A Theory of Justice by John Rawls, this issue is highlighted and it explains the need to protect minorities. The fourth criticism is that utilitarianism gives no definition on what definitely causes pain or pleasure. One person's pleasure may be the other persons pain, so making decisions for the majority of people is impossible. The premise on which utilitarianism is based is weakened because there is no definite answer on what causes pain or pleasure, so no rule can be made for general purposes. In conclusion, despite its faults, utilitarianism has proved very popular, even by today's standards. People have followed hedonism especially, seeking their own pleasure from their actions.. 'It remains a persuasive ethical theory due its practical dimension, which provides organisations with clear-cut system for making decisions.' Personally I think utilitarianism is a posh name for common sense, and that there is no way people can write law books for ethics in life, but instead people should use the theories as rough guides to decisions. Everyone makes decisions differently, and there can be no handbook to being a good person, it has to come from within. However, I respect John Stuart Mill's theories more than Bentham's original plan, as he explain mind pleasures are more important than bodily pleasures, and this clarified an issue that was severely wrong with basic utilitarianism. ...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. Outline the main features of Jeremy Bentham's guide to making moral decisions.

    He also believed in consequentialism. This meant judging rightness and wrongness of actions depended on our evaluation of the consequences. Therefore good and bad can only be judged after the event has taken place. This meant intention did not matter, only the result of the action did.

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

    However, looking at all the examples mentioned above, should the student attend the lecture but dismiss his personal thing which may be important? Should people download software instead of spending 200 pounds to buy same software - e.g. Microsoft price its Windows operation system at similar level in many developed

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

    Utilitarianism is a straightforward way of making a decision. It is simple and easy to understand, although it is often difficult to judge what makes people happy. Also, it is important to recognise that pain is not necessarily a bad thing, grief aids the sufferer in the long run, guilt is a lesson of conscience and self sacrifice is commendable.

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

    However, one should aim to pursue mainly intellectual pleasures. When given a choice between a pleasure of the body and a pleasure of the mind, one should aim for the pleasure of the mind. Mill also believed that some ideals, such as justice, truth, and love, were good whether or not people desired them or were made happy by them.

  1. Explain how Aristotle and Alasdair Macintyre applied Virtue Theory to moral decision making?

    Whether they call for a change of emphasis from obligation, a return to a broad understanding of ethics or to a tradition of practices that generate virtues, their dissatisfaction with the state of modern moral philosophy remains the foundation for change.

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

    Utilitarianism has been criticized for only looking at the results of actions, not at the desires or intentions which motivate them, which many people also consider important. An action intended to cause harm but that inadvertently causes good results would be judged equal to the result from an action done with good intentions.

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

    For example, flirting with girls will definitely give instantaneous happiness to boys as an adolescent, but will this be the same when they become adults? They would probably think this is silly and would have preferred not doing it.

  2. What are the main features of Utilitarianism as an ethical theory? Examine and consider ...

    Bentham stuck to the policy, that in every circumstance, the right course of action can be determined by what outcome would provide the greatest pleasure for the most people, for example, the building of a hospital would benefit a community much more than the building of an art gallery.

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