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What are the main features of utilitarianism as anethical theory?

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Introduction

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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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