Explain the strengths and weaknesses of Utilitarianism

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Explain the strengths and weaknesses of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a teleological, secular theory which is a form of hedonism. It is a product of the enlightenment and is rooted in man’s deep desire to be happy. Although Bentham did not coin the term ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ (the most well known phrase associated with utilitarianism), he is usually credited with the development of the theory. He claimed that God is governed by two masters; pleasure and pain. He also devised the hedonic calculus, consisting of seven criteria, as a means of objectively quantifying pleasure over pain.

        James Rachels called this theory ‘a survivor’.  It appeals to anybody who is a decision-maker.  He said until you are in a position of leadership, you can never understand how your decision affects others.  The fact that the principle of utility can be applied universally, to any situation also works in favour of this ethical theory.  It is also relatively straightforward, constantly weighing up happiness and consequences.  The Principle encourages a democratic approach in decision-making which is also seen as an advantage.  The majority’s interest is always considered and a dangerous minority is not allowed to dominate.  However, everyone’s happiness is taken into consideration and for this reason it is observed that nobody’s happiness is more important than anyone else's. The theory also appeals to theists as its principles are compatible with the teachings of Jesus, who preached an ethic of love, requiring men to work for the well-being of others. ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.  (Matt 7:12).

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        The fact that the principle rests on the evaluation of consequences is also viewed as a strength.  It is seen as more reasonable to judge a moral choice in view of its consequences, rather than only by personal preferences.  Furthermore, it means that present circumstances can be judged without reference to past precedence.  In this way the theory is greatly similar to ‘situation ethics’ that allows certain actions to be taken which suit the particular situation.

        Nevertheless, the principle of utility has come under fire from a number of different sources.  For example, a number of philosophers have asked whether ...

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