A Concise Historical Overview John Stuart Mill ( CE ) G.E. Moore ( ) David Hume ( CE) Jeremy Bentham ( CE) R.M. Hare ( CE) Peter Singer ( )
Utilitarianism Historical Background The EnlightenmentVictorian Britain Rejection of metaphysics VoltaireRousseau Utilitarians Social Reformers Liberty, Fraternity, Equality French Revolution
What is utilitarianism? Derives from the latin word `utilis meaning useful. A normative, consequential morality. Good is whatever produces beneficial consequences. Utilitarianism has no intrinsic goods (Good irrespective of the consequences) Utilitarianism is instrumental (The results justify the means) Principle of utility
The Principle of Utility The good is that which will bring about the greatest sum of pleasure, or the least sum of pain, for the greatest number Pleasure Pain
Jeremy Bentham Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Principle of Utility Foundation for the Principle of Utility is Benthams Psychological hedonism: Pleasure and pain determine how people act.
Jeremy Bentham: Reductive Empiricist Bentham was a reductive empiricist Principle of utility will replace metaphysical beliefs According to Bentham talk of abstract `inalienable rights was nonsense on stilts. Only the principle of utility offers an understanding of rights based on concrete, observable verification
The principle of utility offers an understanding of rights based on concrete, observable verification Scientific and Ethical Revolution Darwin challenged the fundamentalist, literal, understanding of the Genesis creation story with his scientific theory of evolution, natural selection. Bentham reasoned that ethics was a science; where `good could be scientifically proven according to the principle of utility, felicific calculus. NEWTONNEWTON BENTHAMBENTHAM DARWINDARWIN Newtons laws of science explained how the world is governed by universal laws of nature which causally determine action.
PLEASURE All types of pleasure and pain can be measured on the same scale. What is good and bad for each person (i.e. what brings them pleasure or pain) is a matter for each person to decide by following the Felicific Calculus Bentham once said that "quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin [a simple child's game] is as good as poetry". Pleasures can be compared quantitatively because there is no qualitative difference between them
Benthams Felicific Calculus 1. DURATIONHow long will it last? 2. INTENSITY 3. PROPINQUITY 4. EXTENT 5. CERTAINTY 6. PURITY 7. FECUNDITY How intense is it? How near or remote? How widely it covers How probable is it? How free from pain is it? Lead to further pleasure? Pleasure can be `scientifically calculated according to the following 7 criteria of the Felicific Calculus
Benthams Mnemonic Jingle for his Felicific Calculus Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure – Such marks in pleasures and in pain endure. Such pleasures seek if private be thy end: If it be public, wide let them extend. Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view: If pains must come, let them extend few. A little ditty to remember the Felicific Calculus
Benthams Felicific Calculus Everybody is to count for one, and nobody for more than one. The Felicific Calculus Democratic and Egalitarian In keeping with Enlightenment thinking the Felicific Calculus was a rational and scientific way to measure pleasure. Bentham claimed that goodness could be empirically proven. No one persons pleasure is greater than anothers
Benthams Felicific Calculus When answering an examination question on utilitarianism try and avoid simply listing the felicific calculus – as this only demonstrates knowledge (something which lower grade students can achieve). Rather, select a particular feature of the Felicific calculus, perhaps propinquity, and show how it might be difficult to apply in practice e.g. Is the pleasure near or remote in terms of space (geographically close) or time – may have an impact in years to come. Apply to a national or international example to illustrate further understanding and evaluation: America withdrawing from the Kyoto agreement; Bush claiming the American way of life is non-negotiable. Can the felicific calculus overcome such political short-termism?
Jeremy Bentham Counter-cultural Pioneer of Social Reform Animal Rights Penal Reform Click on either of the above boxes for further information
Benefits of Utilitarianism
Appeals to Human Nature Human beings share a common interest in: (1)Benevolence and sympathy (David Hume) (2)Pleasure and Happiness (Bentham and Mill) (3) Pleasure, Friendship, Aesthetic Appreciation (G.E. Moore) (4) Peoples Welfare (R.M. Hare) (5) Peoples Preferences (Peter Singer) Peter Singer David Hume Jeremy Bentham J.S. Mill R.M. Hare G.E. Moore
Utilitarianism: Fair, Objective and Democratic Benthams felicific calculus claims that:Everybody is to count for one, and nobody for more than one. No one persons pleasure is greater than anothers. In a radical way utilitarianism challenges elitism and an aristocratic system that offers privilege to the select few at the expense of the majority. e.g. French Revolution: `Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. In the spirit of Marxism democracy is giving the proletariat rewards for their labour and power to determine their future.
Appropriate Ethic for a Secular and Scientific Age In a Post Enlightenment world, with the challenge to metaphysical and theistic foundations, utilitarianism has a high regard for individual autonomy. Although the felicific calculus was not the resounding success that Bentham may have wished, the importance of the quality of peoples lives, here and now, is something which governments take seriously. Peter Singers Preference Utilitarianism recognises the importance of respecting peoples desires and inclinations when assessing moral dilemmas. Hume Voltaire
Quality of Human Life or Sanctity of Human Life? Personhood Sentience Rational Self-conscious Communicate Establish Relationships Preference Utilitarianism replaces sanctity of human life with the criteria for personhood Due to advances in scientific technology it is possible to maintain life even when it is of low quality e.g. life support Machines, Motor Neurone Disease In a world of limited resources is it more sensible to respect a patients wish to die, voluntary euthanasia? (And so reduce needless suffering and equally redistribute funds otherwise spent keeping a terminally ill patient alive with a low quality of life.) Peter Singer Pope John Paul II
Utilitarianism Suitable for Government Jeremy Bentham J.S. Mill Bentham and Mills political reforms had significant impacts on public policy e.g. Penal reform, Greater Equality for women, Animal Rights Government policy has an interest in promoting the quality of life for its electorate e.g Education, Health care, Law and order. Tony Blair
Utilitarianism has Some Common Ground With Christian Ethics Benthams Principle of Utility has been compared to Jesus Golden Rule, Love your neighbour as yourself or Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rationale behind Christian teaching of redemption may be understood in a utilitarian manner: the vicarious suffering by Jesus on the cross to redeem humanity is self- sacrificial for the greater good of the greater number. Utilitarianism upholds the message of a benevolent God showing interest for the well-being of human beings; but rejects belief in a metaphysical God!
Problems of Benthams Utilitarianism
Problem of Utilitarianism: Commits the Naturalistic Fallacy (G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica) Cannot deduce an OUGHT from an IS (G.E. Moore) Cannot move from FACT to VALUES Cannot move from EPISTEMOLOGY (knowledge) to ETHICS
Problem of Utilitarianism: Commits the Naturalistic Fallacy From the mere statement of psychological fact that people actually desire happiness for its own sake one cannot deduce the evaluative conclusion that pleasure is desirable, i.e. that it ought to be desired. People may desire something that they ought not to desire, something which is not really desirable. e.g People may desire to take hard drugs as it produces pleasure. But is taking hard drugs good?
The Felicific Calculus Is Too Impractical When making decisions in the heat of the moment, lacking reflection, it is not practical to apply the felicific calculus to moral dilemmas. Adding up `pleasure units is a dubious exercise and is difficult to measure accurately. The whole idea of assessing different varieties and intensities of pleasures is too subjective.
The Felicific Calculus Too Impractical? J.S. Mills response J.S. Mill argued that instead of the felicific calculus people should come up with general principles which over the passage of time have promoted the greatest happiness. By following such principles and rules individual judgements are supported by past events and so are less pressurised and less subjective in their moral judgements. This development is a major reason why some have labelled Mill a `rule`utilitarian – as he advocated following such rules as opposed to continually using the felicific calculus or even his own Greatest Happiness Principle.
Principle Of Utility May Undermine Freedom Recent International Example In 1989 the Chinese government suppressed the student uprising in Tiananmen Square, claiming the State, not the educated students, knew what was in peoples best interest. Giving students freedom to determine their future was not deemed acceptable. In Aldous Huxleys Brave New World a utopian society is projected where people are genetically engineered with differing levels of IQ: Alphas to Epsilons (A-E) Citizens receive state indoctrination and soma drugs to promote a feeling of happiness. However, the price of this inauthentic happiness is the encroachment upon personal freedom.
Im claiming the right to be unhappyIm claiming the right to be unhappy (John, The Savage, Brave New World) In Aldous Huxleys Brave New World, John, the Savage, rejects a life of artificial drug (soma) induced happiness. When questioned by the Controller John asserts his right to be unhappy. John understands that a life of depth and meaning is one which embraces and learns from hardship and sorrow. A life which pursues a drug induced happiness is one which misses the richness that comes from experiencing pain and sacrifice. It is helpful to illustrate answers with examples from literature. Equally important is lateral thinking, here with John Hicks theodicy. Hick asserts that `Virtues are better hard won than ready made. Aldous Huxley
Living in a Fools Paradise Tolstoys The Death of Ivan Illych is a story of how many people live a life of deception – fooling themselves into believing that their lives are happy by finding meaning in superficial pleasures. Yet on his death-bed Ivan Illych, a once wealthy lawyer who is struck down by a terminal illness, realises people only really liked him for the material benefits he was able to offer them. He realises that he has lived a life where superficial pleasures fooled him into thinking he was happy, when in fact his life lacked depth & meaning. A life filled with the instant gratification of the latest designer label is not a life of fufilment.
Utilitarians Universal Altruism Lacks Justification Each person desires his / her own happiness. Therefore each person ought to aim for his or her own happiness. Therefore everyone ought to aim at the happiness of everyone This jump from Egotistical Hedonism to include the welfare of others lacks support. ?
Egoism to Altruism Sentiment of Sympathy Innate within human beings is an elementary feeling for the happiness of humanity and a dislike of seeing them in misery. Economic growth should be pursued as a means of bettering conditions for all. Smith claimed even economic inequality caused greater wealth for all. But Problem! People are Too egotistical Society is a collection of individuals who work together for the common good. Philosopher David Hume Adam Smith Soon after being elected President George Bush withdrew America from the Kyoto agreement, claiming The American way of life is non-negotiable. Marx argues that in a Capitalist society the competition for limited resources means the bourgeois will seek to exploit the proletariat.
People Are Separate And Unique Professor Simon Blackburn has argued thatUtilitarianism does not take seriously the separateness of persons – the idea being that it subordinates the rights of the individual to solidarity with the general welfare. (Being Good, p.92) e.g. In World War II the right of the pacifist Methodist minister, Lord Donald Soper, to speak out against the war was denied as it was thought his words would undermine the war effort and was detrimental to the general welfare of the country.
Will of the Majority Does Not Always Make for Good Law Strange as it may seem the will of the majority does not always make for good law. Analysis / Evaluation / Implications / Analysis / Evaluation / Implication For example, the majority of the UK public are in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia. (2001: 82% Opinion Poll) There is a danger that people follow their desires and inclinations as opposed to thinking through the implications of their decisions. e.g. How might the ethos of society change, affecting weak and vulnerable people, such as the elderly?
Will of the Majority Does Not Always Make for Good Law Analysis / Evaluation / Implications / Analysis / Evaluation / Implication Interestingly Mill was all too aware of this criticism of Benthams utilitarianism. In On Liberty Mill drew an important distinction between public and private acts. Any law which has a serious detrimental effect on the qualitative well being of others is wrong. He famously remarked, Your freedom to punch me ends where my nose begins.
Not simply the amount of pleasure produced But how that pleasure is distributed W.D. Ross Unlike Bentham, W.D. Ross was concerned that utilitarianism could ignore justice. Justice is not concerned simply with the amount of pleasure produced. But, rather how and on what basis that pleasure is distributed. Do people or groups deserve to receive pleasure? Bentham
Utilitarianism: Counter-intuitive W.D. Ross As an intuitionist W.D. Ross rejected utilitarianism on the grounds that it ignores intrinsic goods that are counter, or contrary, to our intuitive, innate, sense of right and wrong. Even if it could be shown that happiness was greatest by lying to people there is something simply wrong about lying and deception which would make people wish to reject such an ethic.
Utilitarianism: Lack of Intrinsic Goods Utilitarianism is a consequential morality and so lacks intrinsic goods, such as trust, honesty and dignity. This creates an ethos of uncertainty where people are never really sure if they are valued. e.g YUPPIES ( Young Urban Professional People ) In the early 1980s many middle-aged businessmen, who had shown great loyalty accruing high profits for their companies were sacked over-night; to be replaced by YUPPIES. YUPPIES were considered to be of greater immediate use to the company, being younger and so cheaper in the short run.
Utilitarianism requires a non-utilitarian framework in order to work Professor Alasdair MacIntyre argues that utilitarianism is effective as an ethical theory only when it operates within a non- utilitarian framework, where intrinsic, deontological values enable people to flourish. e.g. Happiness may be promoted in a society that upholds intrinsic values of justice, liberty and honesty. Alasdair MacIntyre
Case Studies Application of Utilitarianism To Moral Issues
Should I.V.F Be Used To Help Infertile Couples? The Roman Catholic church condemns the use of I.V.F as being contrary to the sanctity of human life principle and teaching of natural law. Lord Robert Winston and Baroness Warnock support the use of I.V.F. to relieve the suffering of infertile couples. What would a classical utilitarian think? Give reasons for your view. Lord Winston John Paul II Baroness Warnock Paul VI
The Survival Lottery (by Professor John Harris) Patients Y and Z will die unless they receive organ transplants – in which case they will live for a further 20 years. There is a lack of donor organs. Faced with the prospect of imminent death patients Y and Z propose a `National Survival Lottery – where each week a persons number will be pulled out at random, killed, and their organs donated to help those in need of a transplant – thereby saving a greater number of lives. Explain a utilitarian response to the suggestion of a National Survival Lottery. Professor John Harris
The Survival Lottery Some further points to consider… Is there a difference between killing and letting die? (Patients Y and Z do not think so!) Is ones individuality undermined? Would the National Survival Lottery create a climate of fear, or would people become accustomed to the unlikely probability? What about those who have brought their illness upon themselves, e.g through heavy smoking, should they benefit equally? How would a sub-class of people be protected from not being victimised? Can society take away the intrinsic right to life? Where does its authority lie? Professor John Harris
Public Opinion Polls in the UK show that the majority of people would like to see voluntary euthanasia legalised. e.g. 82% The UK is an increasingly secular society where the Quality of Life is considered to be more important than the sanctity of human life. 20% of patients in Intensive Care Units are being treated with no likelihood of survival. Would a utilitarian agree with the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia? Legalise Voluntary Euthanasia?
Legalise Voluntary Euthanasia? Legalise Voluntary Euthanasia? Some further points to consider… Would voluntary euthanasia undermine the role of the doctor? (cf. the Hippocratic oath, the medical duty to preserve innocent human life.) Is the current law of `the principle of double effect satisfactory in a secular society? Consequences of restrictive laws? Will people pursue a policy of illegal euthanasia? Would legalising voluntary euthanasia pressurise vulnerable members of society? (The Church of Englands concern, On Dying Well 1993) Is voluntary euthanasia a private, or a public, act? (How does it differ from suicide?) Pius XII J.S. Mill Hippocrates Williams Kevorkian
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David Hume ( CE) David Hume was an empiricist, who rejected the authority of the church and those pertaining to metaphysical foundations, Take in hand any volume of divinity or school of metaphysics…and let us ask: Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. Rather, Hume thought that morality was founded upon emotions, and in particular feelings of sympathy with fellow human beings. This is what Hume means by the term passion, when he says, Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. Utilitarianism develops Humes empirical approach, rejecting God as the author of morality, and expands the notion of sympathy to include the `Greatest pleasure / happiness for the greatest number.
Jeremy Bentham ( CE) A radical empiricist Principle of Utility Felicific Calculus Psychological Hedonism Morality: could be scientifically proven Pioneer of social reform A Hedonistic Utilitarian
John Stuart Mill ( CE ) A Weak Rule utilitarian Greatest Happiness Principle Quality, not Quantity Advocated classical liberalism Happiness, not pleasure Pioneer of social reform A Eudaimonistic Utilitarian
G.E. Moore ( ) An Intuitionist or an Ideal Utilitarian? G.E. Moore is famous for his analysis of ethical language in Principia Ethica, 1903, where he famously asserted that: Good is a non- definable property. This led to Moore being labelled an intuitionist, as We know what`yellow is, and can recognise it whenever it is seen, but we cannot actually define it. In the same way we know what `good means but cannot define it. (Ethica, 1903) However, closer analysis reveals that, it seems self evident that our duty is to do what will produce the best effects upon the whole, no matter how bad the effects upon ourselves may be and no matter how good we ourselves may lose by it. (Ethica, p.143) As an Ideal utilitarian Moore suggests that there are three intrinsic goods: Pleasure, Friendship, Aesthetic appreciation – and so right actions are those which increase / promotes these in the world for the most people.
R.M. Hare: Welfare Utilitarian R.M. Hare It is significant that the experiences from being a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II influenced R.M. Hares moral philosophy. Peoples desires and needs for satisfaction are important. It is possible to intuit what will promote peoples well being. A whole life perspective should be adopted when making moral judgements. Principles of integrity and justice are important as they promote welfare. Critical reflection is important to assess the changing needs of human welfare.
Peter Singers Moral Philosophy: Four Simple Claims? The above may sound simple and appealing. But, think how Singers philosophy would change your life?! 1. Pain is bad. 2. Most non-human animals feel pain. 3. When taking life we should look not at race, sex or species but at other ethically relevant characteristics of the individual being killed. 4. We are responsible not only for what we do but also for what we could have prevented. Analysis / Evaluation / Implications / Analysis / Evaluation / Implication
Peter Singers Ethical Earthquake
The 5 Old and 5 New Commandments Analysis / Evaluation / Implications / Analysis / Evaluation / Implication 1. Treat all human life as if it is of equal worth. 2. Never intentionally take innocent life. 3. Never take your own life and try to prevent others from taking theirs 4. Be fruitful and multiply 5. Treat all human life as always more precious than any non-human life. 1. Recognise that all worth of life varies. 2. Take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions. 3. Respect a persons desire to live or die. 4. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted. 5. Do not discriminate on the basis of species.
Personhood Ethically Relevant Characteristics Rational Self-conscious (Biographical as opposed to merely biological) Sentient Act intentionally Communicate Establish relationships Peter Singer The criteria for personhood should replace the sanctity of human life
Ha Wa Mi Be Hu Contribution Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. Empiricist Sympathy (feeling) fosters idea of others, Expanding Circle. Rejection of theism. The question is: not can it reason, can it talk, but can it suffer. (Bentham) Sentience applies to animals so they have interests and are ethically significant. Qualitative differences between pleasures / pain. Peter Singers Application Ethical self-interest requires universalization, promotes welfare for all. Individuals find meaning in their lives when they focus on others / larger goals Maldistribution of wealth! Superficial pleasures do not outweigh 3 rd world suffering Vindication of the Rights of Women 1792 – oppressed group of society Singer is counter-cultural: Animal Liberation – global pioneer of animal rights Philosopher (Periodic Table)
The Enlightenment The Enlightenment is known as The Age of Reason and was a time when great optimism was expressed in humanitys intellectual powers. Rejected theological dogma, with its emphasis on faith and ecclesiastical authority. Placed reason, empiricism and human autonomy over and above metaphysical belief and God.. Utilitarians rejected God as the author of morality, as empirically Gods existence could not be proven, and replaced the authority of the Bible as the source of morality with the principle of utility - as no one could doubt the reality of pleasure and pain. The Enlightenment 18 th century Voltaire Leibniz Newton Hume
The French Revolution In 1789 the battle-cry of the French revolution was Rousseaus Liberty, Equality, Fraternity reflected the challenge by the masses against the elite aristocracy. The political structure of France, where the wealthy noble-people lorded it over the majority of the poor peasants, came to an abrupt end; many of the landed gentry losing their lives at the guillotine. The French Revolution 1789 CE Sentiments of sympathy for the well being and happiness of others became a central aim of ethics throughout Europe. Jean Jacques Rousseau and David Hume advocated sympathy and benevolence.
Victorian Britain Charles Dickens, in his novel Hard Times, highlights enforced debtors prisons, exploitation of child labour and the subjugation of women. England in the 1800s was a class-riddled society. The pioneers of utilitarianism, Bentham, Wollstoncraft and Mill, campaigned for social change – promoting structures which would enable the majority of people to live fulfilled and happy lives. e.g. Penal and Electoral Reform. Bentham Wollstonecraft J.S. Mill
Penal Reform Bentham campaigned for the reform of the Penal System, based on e.g. abolition of debtors prisons. Analysis / Evaluation / Implications / Analysis / Evaluation / Implication Psychological Hedonism (People respond to pleasure/pain) Punishment should be sufficient to deter others from offending but punishment should not cause unnecessary suffering.
The New Poor Law 1834 Bentham was the father of British innovation both in doctrines and in institutions. (JS Mill) In examinations it is helpful to offer a brief example of how Benthams utilitarianism changed British law. Benthams felicific calculus was the philosophy behind the Whig governments Social Reform of the New Poor Law. Edward Chadwick Man seeks pleasure and flees pain. The New Poor Law (1834) stated that life inside the workhouse must be less eligible (pleasant) than life as an independent labourer. Further, no able bodied man should be able to get relief outside the workhouse.
Bentham: Animal Welfare The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been with-holden them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. The question is not `Can they reason? `Can they talk? But `Can they suffer?