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Presentation on theme: "Utilitarianism."— Presentation transcript:

1 Utilitarianism

2 How ethical is the greatest good for the greatest number?

3 Lesson objectives To understand the basic principles of Utilitarianism and how this is applied to ethical situations. To introduce the main theorist Jeremy Bentham.

4 For the greater good…….. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory behind the justification ‘for the greater good’ Theory focuses on the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’

5 Teleological theory of ethics...
Teleological comes from the Greek word Telos meaning end. The theory looks at the consequences , the results of an action, to decide whether it’s right or wrong. For a Teleological thinker, the end justifies the means, and thus a thinker from this school of thought would judge the rightness of an action by the end it produces.

6 In this thinking, a choice that results in good end is morally better than a choice that results in bad end. Does this mean then that is stealing food to feed your starving family is justified because it results in good end?

7 Consequentialist and Deontological theories
Because Utilitarianism focuses on the results of an action, this makes it a consequentialist theory as it focuses on the consequences of an action. Utilitarianism is thus the opposite of a deontological ethical theories which concentrate on moral rules that cannot be broken. In deontological thinking therefore, stealing food to feed your starving family would be considered wrong as stealing is morally wrong.

8 Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832 Born into a wealthy family
Was a child prodigy and was found as a toddler sitting at his fathers desk reading a large volume of the history of England. Received his degree at 15 years old. Concerned with social conditions of his time and was a political philosopher and a political radical. Founded a movement called the Philosophical Radicals. Worked on legal reform. Wrote ‘The Principles of morals and legislation’ in 1789 in which he proposed his ethical theory of utilitarianism. His drive and belief in equality was the inspiration for the opening of UCL in London His preserved body is sill there in a wooden cabinet.


10 Although he never practiced law, he spent most of his life critiquing the existing law strongly advocating legal reform Concerned with social reform-hospitals and prisons Advocating that whatever is done is society should be judged on right or wrong according to how it benefits it’s citizens. He maintained that putting this principle into practice would provide justification for social, political, and legal institutions. He was a Hedonist.

11 What is Hedonism? The fact that ‘good’ is determined in terms of happiness and pleasure makes utilitarianism a Hedonistic theory. Hedonism is a term used to describe an attitude that makes happiness the goal of life.

12 Back to Bentham.... Utilitarianism gets it’s name from Bentham’s test question ‘ What is the use of it?’ He thought of the idea when he came across the words ‘ The greatest happiness for the greatest number’ As Bentham was concerned with social and legal reform, he wanted to develop an ethical theory which established whether something was good or bad according to it’s benefit for the majority. He called this the Principle of Utility

13 Principle of utility defined....
Utility here means the usefulness of the results of actions The Principle of utility is often described as ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ Good is defined in terms of pleasure and happiness and so an act is right or wrong according to the good or bad that results from the act, and the good act is the most pleasurable. Since it focuses on the greatest number, Bentham’s theory is Quantitative.

14 Act Utilitarianism In act-utilitarianism, you are required to promote those acts which will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

15 The Hedonic Calculus Duration (how long it lasts)
Remoteness (how soon is it going to occur?). Purity (how free from pain is it) Richness (to what extent it will lead to other pleasures) Intensity (how powerful is it) Certainty (probability of experience occurring). Extent (how many people are affected).

16 J. S. Mill Bentham’s Godson
Mill believed that quality was more important than quantity when it came to pleasure. For example, the pleasures of the mind are far superior to the gratification of the body’s desires. This deals with the problem of sadistic torturers, as their pleasure is of a significantly lower kind.

17 Mill highlights the main problems with Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus
He disagrees with it’s quantitative measure and it’s predictive value Mill was also concerned with what counts as pleasure

18 Rule Utilitarianism Looks at the consequences of having everyone follow a particular rule and calculates the overall utility of accepting or rejecting the rule

19 Harm Principle Mill is concerned with educating people and helping them distinguish between higher and lower pleasures. Mill was also concerned about the minority and how they can be protected. He came up with ‘the harm principle’ he argued that the ultimate greatest happiness of society at large was served by having a just society Which means having individual rights. Mill believed that certain general rules must be established in order to benefit the whole of society.

20 Higher and Lower Pleasures
Intellectual, Cultural, Spiritual pleasures are better than bodily/physical ones. Why? Idea of a competent judge – someone who had experienced both in full measure Competent judges would tell us to pursue intellectual pleasures as they are of better quality. Also – we would not give up our humanity to be a fully satisfied animal “Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied… better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”

21 Modern Utilitarianism - Preference
It is associated with R.M Hare, Peter Singer and Richard Brandt. Definition: moral actions are right or wrong according to how they fit the preferences of those involved. A preference utilitarian judges moral actions according to whether they fit in which the preferences of the individuals involved. This approach asks: ‘What is in my own interest?’ ‘What would I prefer in this situation?’ ‘Which outcome would I prefer?’ However, because Utilitarianism is concerned with the greatest good for the greatest number, it is necessary to consider the preferences of others in order to achieve this.

22 Peter Singer He says “our own preferences cannot count any more than the preferences of others’ and so, in acting morally, we should take account of all the people affected by our actions. These have to be weighed and balanced and then we must choose the action which gives the best possible consequences for those affected. However, preference utilitarians interpret the best consequences in terms of 'preference satisfaction'. This means that 'good' is described as the satisfaction of each person's individual preferences or desires, and a right action is that which leads to this satisfaction. Since what is good depends solely on individual preferences, there can be nothing that is in itself good or bad except for the resulting state of mind. Preference utilitarianism therefore can be distinguished by its acknowledgement that every person's experience of satisfaction will be unique.

23 Peter Singer For Singer, the ‘best possible consequences’ means what is the ‘best interests of the individuals concerned- this is different from Bentham and Mill, as he is not considering what increases pleasure and diminishes pain. The principle of equal consideration acts like a pair of scales- everyone’s preferences are weighed equally. So, killing a person who prefers to go on living would be wrong and not killing a person who prefers to die would also be wrong. Racism is also wrong, as it goes against the principle of acknowledging other person’s interests or preferences and gives greater value to the preferences of one’s own race.

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