April 3 2013
The Greatest Happiness for the Greatest Number
In the ethical debate, a divide has long existed between two models. One school of thought, notably Immanuel Kant’s Deontology, emphasizes the importance moral motivation, the other, represented by Consequentialism, emphasizes the importance of the outcome. Consequentialism is distinguished from the deontological model as it holds that the ultimate rightness or wrongness of one’s conduct is found in the consequences, or effects, of one’s acts. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism that recognizes happiness as the ultimate end of all individual and communal acts. Happiness for the Utilitarian is the maximization of pleasure and the absence of pain; it is fundamental to our nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Taking this aspect into consideration, Utilitarianism proposes that the moral ‘ought’ should be intended to maximize happiness from the greatest number. Jeremy Bentham, one of Utilitarianism’s most famous advocates, defines the principle of utility, or the greatest happiness principle, as one which …approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness. (Bentham, 65)
To live in accordance to the greatest happiness principle, Bentham has outlined the sources of our pleasures and pains, ranked them, and provided a process by which to calculate the total pleasure or pain of any given action. According to Bentham all of our pleasures and pains comes from four sanctions, or sources: the physical, the political, the moral, and the religious, which cover all pleasures and pains that issue from the “ordinary course of nature,” the governing body of a community,...