An introduction to the concept of utilitarianism theory

Utilitarianism Critical Essays

This is considered in The Theory of Legislation, where Bentham distinguishes between evils of the first and second orders. As Alastair Norcross has said, "suppose that Homer is faced with the painful choice between saving Barney from a burning building or saving both Moe and Apu from the building…it is clearly better for Homer to save the larger number, precisely because it is a larger number… Can anyone who really considers the matter seriously honestly claim to believe that it is worse that one person die than that the entire sentient population of the universe be severely mutilated?

Were the offence considered only under this point of view, it would not be easy to assign any good reasons to justify the rigour of the laws.

Basic concepts In the notion of consequences the utilitarian includes all of the good and bad produced by the act, whether arising after the act has been performed or during its performance. Those of the first order are the more immediate consequences; those of the second are when the consequences spread through the community causing "alarm" and "danger".

But, for the most part, the consideration of what would happen if everyone did the same, is the only means we have of discovering the tendency of the act in the particular case.

How you doing Bill? Applying carefully selected rules at the social level and encouraging appropriate motives at the personal level is, so it is argued, likely to lead to a better overall outcome even if on some individual occasions it leads to the wrong action when assessed according to act utilitarian standards.

Ethics Theories- Utilitarianism Vs. Finally, it is necessary to consider the extent, or An introduction to the concept of utilitarianism theory number of people affected by the action. He says that such an assumption: Similarly, Hare refers to "the crude caricature of act utilitarianism which is the only version of it that many philosophers seem to be acquainted with.

However, Bentham wanted such transparency to apply to everyone. Utilitarians also assume that it is possible to compare the intrinsic values produced by two alternative actions and to estimate which would have better consequences.

In the 20th century, philosophers noticed further problems in the utilitarian procedures. James Mill argued for representative government and universal male suffrage on utilitarian grounds; he and other followers of Bentham were advocates of parliamentary reform in England in the early 19th century.

Just take a brief look at normal conversation. When we are "inculcating" or in situations where the biases of our human nature are likely to prevent us doing the calculations properly, then we should use the more general rule utilitarianism.

Methodologies As a normative system providing a standard by which an individual ought to act and by which the existing practices of society, including its moral code, ought to be evaluated and improved, utilitarianism cannot be verified or confirmed in the way in which a descriptive theory can, but it is not regarded by its exponents as simply arbitrary.

This is largely by design, Bentham said that rights were non-sense on stilts. His seminal work is concerned with the principles of legislation and the hedonic calculus is introduced with the words "Pleasures then, and the avoidance of pains, are the ends that the legislator has in view.

In sum, according to utilitarianism, morality is a matter of the nonmoral good produced that results from moral actions and rules, and moral duty is instrumental, not intrinsic. In assessing the consequences of actions, utilitarianism relies upon some theory of intrinsic value: Smarta British Australian philosopher.

Few could stand by and watch a child drown; many can ignore the avoidable deaths of children in Africa or India.

Jeremy Bentham

Predicting consequences[ edit ] Some argue that it is impossible to do the calculation that utilitarianism requires because consequences are inherently unknowable.

Additionally, critics have suggested the significant limitations of an ethical system that attempts to reduce human behavior and action to simple rational calculations of pleasure versus pain, but at the same time they acknowledge its considerable impact on nineteenth- and twentieth-century normative ethics.

In economic policythe early utilitarians had tended to oppose governmental interference in trade and industry on the assumption that the economy would regulate itself for the greatest welfare if left alone; later utilitarians, however, lost confidence in the social efficiency of private enterprise and were willing to see governmental power and administration used to correct its abuses.

If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.

BBC Hulton Picture Library The 20th century saw the development of various modifications and complications of the utilitarian theory.

Classical economics received some of its most important statements from utilitarian writers, especially David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. It is usual [37] to say that Mill is committing a number of fallacies. Utilitarianism sometimes requires us to commit serious injustices.

This is the view taken by Peter Singer, who says: Demandingness objection[ edit ] Act utilitarianism not only requires everyone to do what they can to maximize utility, but to do so without any favouritism.

Beginning from this view, the Utilitarians created systems of moral behavior as standards for how an individual ought to act in society. One of them, for example, was with the process of identifying the consequences of an act—a process that raises conceptual as well as practical problems as to what are to be counted as consequences, even without precisely quantifying the value of those consequences.

It is responsible for formulating and, if necessary, reformulating the general moral rules. Another obvious weakness of utilitarianism is in its potential rejection of basic human rights.

After he learned more about American law and realized that most of it was state-based, he promptly wrote to the governors of every single state with the same offer.

Thus, the persecution of innocent people does not result in the best happiness for society. Whereas, intellectual pursuits give long term happiness because provide the individual with constant opportunities throughout the years to improve his life, by benefiting from accruing knowledge.Utilitarianism is one of the most important and influential moral theories of modern times.

Ethics: Utilitarianism, Part 1

In many respects, it is the outlook of David Hume, writing in the midth century. But it received both its name and its clearest statement in the writings of Jeremy Bentham () and John Stuart Mill ().

His first chapter serves as an introduction to the essay. In his second chapter, Mill discusses the definition of utilitarianism, and presents some misconceptions about the theory.

The third chapter is a discussion about the ultimate sanctions (or rewards) that utilitarianism can offer.

Ethics Theories: Utilitarianism Vs. Deontological Ethics

In theory and in practice, Utilitarianism has continued to be influential, with the work of Bentham and Mill proving to be of the greatest importance and interest. Commentators on the writings of both men have continued the process of analyzing and codifying their work in order to more clearly define the doctrine.

Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics, or the ethics that define the morality of actions, as proposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.


It is defined by utility, the existence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Utilitarianism sees happiness as existing in low and high pleasures. Mill’s work Utilitarianism, originally published in Fraser’s Magazine (), is an elegant defense of the general utilitarian doctrine and perhaps remains the best introduction to the subject.

In it utilitarianism is viewed as an ethics for ordinary individual behaviour as well as for legislation. Utilitarianism is one type of consequentialist ethical theory. Classical utilitarians and founders of the tradition include Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill Utility is only thing that is fundamentally good Act Utilitarianism– .

An introduction to the concept of utilitarianism theory
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