Utilitarianism. Identify the main problems of Utilitarianism. To what extent do these make Utilitarianism unacceptable?

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Eilish Scanlan   12ATh

1)What are the advantages of Utilitarianism?

Jeremy Bentham, born 1748 was ‘an extremely shy and sensitive person, who always felt insecure in the company of strangers.’ In matters of religion, he was an atheist and he opposed to both Monarchy inherited upper class. He was interested with the social conditions of his day. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, however he changed his course halfway through his studies saying he was ‘going to set out to reform it into the perfect system.’ The idea he based this aim on was the ‘Principle of Utility.’ He defined this is the action that is right or creates the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people. Happiness or pleasure to Bentham is maximum pleasure and minimum pain or suffering. He said that whatever increased or led to pleasure is morally good and whatever led to pain or the decrease of pleasure is morally bad. Bentham used something called the Hedonic Calculus to measure the amount of pleasure and pain in an action. This concerned , , , , , , and . However, it is impossible to calculate the pleasure or pain an action brings Bentham’s use of the Hedonic Calculus was no longer used. Bentham failed to realise that his theory is only the basis of Utilitarianism and that his idea has many faults, for example, he did not make any distinctions between the types of pleasure or pain he was calculating.

John Stuart Mill was one of the most educated philosophers. ‘He was not allowed to go to public school, but was very carefully educated from infancy under the tutelage of his father.’ At the ages of 8 he had mastered several languages and by the age of 12 he had worked his way through many of the philosophical classics. His father was a friend of Bentham and followed him in the idea that ‘a mans character and even his intellect can be completely determined by his education.’  Mill set out to correct Bentham’s theory as he thought it was too broad in the areas it covered and that he could adjust the theory. Mill stated that higher pleasures were a lot more valuable than the basic ones that Bentham refers to. Thomas Carlyle accuses Bentham of referring to one ‘swinish pleasures’ and therefore it was a pig philosophy. ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.’ From this quote we can see that J.S. Mill agreed with Carlyle’s accusation and stated that he’d rather be a human than a pig even if he were unsatisfied.

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Both Utilitarians said that their work was ‘an attempt to lay down an objective principle to determine when a given action was right or wrong.’ This was called the Prinicple of Utility which means that the action is right if it provides the greatest happiness for the greatest number, for example, a set of traffic lights help the greatest number to keep them, and others out of harm’s way. They both identified happiness with pleasure so if it was interpreted in this way, if the action did not increase the happiness or please of the greatest number, the action was ...

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