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Utilitarianism: Bentham and Mill "A moral theory according to which an action is right if and only if it conforms to the principle of utility.” - Bentham.

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Presentation on theme: "Utilitarianism: Bentham and Mill "A moral theory according to which an action is right if and only if it conforms to the principle of utility.” - Bentham."— Presentation transcript:

1 Utilitarianism: Bentham and Mill "A moral theory according to which an action is right if and only if it conforms to the principle of utility.” - Bentham What is “utility”?

2 Jeremy Bentham ( ) A liberal reformer, his ideas led to political and social reforms in Great Britain: Legal reforms Poor and health laws Prisons Insurance laws

3 Utilitarianism Three major ideas build on each other Psychological hedonism: “sovereign masters” individuals care only about increasing pleasure and decreasing pain Hedonistic calculus: Pleasure can be accurately measured Ethical hedonism: a person should always do that which produces the greatest good for the greatest number

4 The Psychology of Hedonism Our material concerns are ultimately the basis of all concerns: pain and pleasure. Its one type: fundamentally physical All pleasure is measured, constantly So, the thing to measure is amounts of pleasure, not types.

5 Two masters: Pain and pleasure “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. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain. subject to it all the while.” - Bentham

6 7 Variables in Hedonistic Calculus Quantity Intensity Duration Certainty Propinquity: how close in time and space is the happiness to realization? Fecundity: will it produce future pleasure? Purity Extent: how many others will share in this pleasure? We all share in pleasures produced by one… This leads to a social ethic…..

7 Ethical Hedonism: Social Implications Utility principle will bring the greatest pleasure (good) to the one acting. Every man is obligated, out of the utility principle, to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. That is, good = pleasure, which means that good is socially determined and is relative The measure of good and evil is the effect on me and other people, now or in the future.

8 The most moral man is concerned with producing pleasure for the greatest number because his greatest happiness is tied up in society’s progress toward producing greater pleasures.

9 4 Sanctions that prevent excessive individualism Physical sanction Physical pain results from physical excess Political/Legal sanction Laws impose punishments Social/Moral sanction Society can enforce social disapproval through ostracism, censure Religious sanction The fear of God or eternal punishment

10 In political terms, "greatest good for the greatest number" required: Abolition of slavery Universal suffrage One person-one vote Freedom of speech and press J.S. Mill would add to this list: Public education

11 John Stuart Mill ( ) Refining Utilitarianism Activist, Liberal Elected to Parliament 1865

12 On Reading Bentham at 15 yrs… " "When I laid down the last volume... I had become a different being. The ‘principle of utility’ understood as Bentham understood it, and applied in the manner in which he applied it through these three volumes, fell exactly into its place as the keystone which held together the detached and fragmentary component parts of my knowledge and beliefs. “It gave unity to my conceptions of things. I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life. And I had a grand conception laid before me of changes to be effected in the condition of mankind through that doctrine.” - Autobiography

13 John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill Inherits philosophy of utilitarianism from his father and father’s friend, J. Bentham A child prodigy, taught by father James beginning at age 3 His father saw this as an experiment in “nurturing” At 14 had mastered college level subject matter At 21 had mental breakdown Essay: “Utilitarianism” Book: On Liberty

14 Mill disagreed with Bentham on types (qualities) of pleasure… Mill’s Hedonism was qualified by different types of pleasure, not just different amounts of it: There are Two basic types of pleasure: Physical Mental “It is better to be a man dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be Socrates dissatisfied, than a fool satisfied.”

15 We do not have a natural physical drive to seek pleasure for all… Rather we have an internal sanction A moral imperative to fulfill social obligations Its an inborn “ought” The more important of two sanctions Mill slips back toward the a priori…

16 Therefore there are two sanctions, not four… Internal sanction: inborn ought Internal sanction knows that all of man’s basic hopes and desires are really the same. a “feeling for humanity” External sanction: hope of favor and fear of displeasure. Based on pleasure, pain Self-imposed

17 Liberty Ideal society is one where everyone is free to express their qualities. BUT… We are creatures of habit and social custom And thus, lose sight of what really brings us pleasure Therefore our society develops more problems, making it less free. To change for the better, society needs its customs and laws changed.


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