Examine the key ideas of Utilitarianism and to what extent are the strengths outweighed by the weaknesses?

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Examine the key ideas of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist, relative, teleological theory that judges an action by whether or not it benefits the majority. Jeremy Bentham is the founder of Utilitarianism. Bentham put forward act utilitarianism, which focuses on trying to create happiness for the majority, otherwise known as universal hedonism. It is also egalitarian, as it treats all individuals as equals. The principle of utility is the greatest pleasure for the greatest number. The theory is consequentialist because it looks at the results an action will produce, and it is anti-legalistic. It does not necessarily follow the laws if they create a barrier between creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number. As Bentham said ‘We are governed by two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.’

To allow people to follow the theory and apply it to a situation, Bentham created the felicific calculus. The felicific calculus is a quantitative mathematic measure of emotions. Some of the principles of the calculus are duration, extent, purity, fecundity and propinquity. Duration is how long the pain or pleasure lasts, extent is how far it reaches, purity is whether or not it is accompanied by pain, fecundity is how far into the future and propinquity is the remoteness of the pain or pleasure. As Bentham stated ‘Push-pin is as good as poetry’ as in the early version of Utilitarianism, all pleasure is equal.

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As time progressed John Stuart Mill decided to change some of the main aspects of Utilitarianism after a breakdown at age 20. Mill said that all pleasures are different, so he created the idea of higher and lower pleasures. A higher pleasure might be going to the opera, whereas a lower pleasure would be considered as watching non educational television. This was so people could distinguish between different forms of pleasure. Mill also put forward weak rule and strong rule utilitarianism. The reason why Mill mentions rules, not laws, is because rules evolve over time and are therefore more ...

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