Betham Ethics

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‘Nature has placed mankind under the government of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure – they govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think…’ (Jeremy Bentham) The above statement made by Bentham is the way that he feels that people should act in situations where morals and ethics are compromised. Bentham suggests that we are governed by two sovereign masters; these are ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’. This is the way that we should make all decisions based on this theory. Bentham states that if we do something ethically good then we receive please for this act, and then on the other hand if we do something wrong then we will receive pain. The word utilitarianism simply comes from utility, Bentham looks and the choice that would be the most useful to the people involved. Bentham was one of the pioneers of Hedonic Utilitarianism this normative ethical theory looks to the greater good; the choice that we make should be based on the which outcome would provide the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people. Bentham’s theory benefits the majority and neglects the minority. Bentham described his theory as being qualitative, he believed that pleasure could be measured and if you had a decision to make then the ‘right’ answer would be the one that resulted in the greater amount of happiness for the greater amount of people. Bentham wished to create a universal theory that could relate to ethics and remove moral disagreement; he brought a scientific certainty to a moral decision. Bentham wanted to cut out personal confusion by creating a scientific formula to calculate how much please and pain is produced from the proposed actions. It was from this the he created the hedonic calculus, which had seven criteria; intensity, duration, purity, extent, certainty, fecundity and remoteness. Using these criteria Bentham believes that we should be able to calculate the best option to take by using the amount of pleasure or pain that may arise from moral actions. The formula works out which act has the best tendency and according the Bentham is right. The advantages of utilitarianism are that it caters for the majority of people, it ensures that the greatest amount of please is received by those that are involved. This should limit any conflicts as the majority is happier. However we must think, does this justify the pain experienced by the minority. We also use this theory in society today, for example the law and government. Things are decided by a majority vote, what produces the most amount of ‘net’ pleasure. This is good because it takes the point of responsibility away from an individual and puts it on a group, which results in no one person having this level of power. It also seems that in our day to day lives we make decisions based on utilitarianism; we make lots of non-moral decisions based on the consequences of our actions. Therefore I should be quite a simple principle theory to apply to moral decisions and it is just a natural extension of our daily decision making processes. Bentham’s principles of ethics also place a certain amount of reason on the actions that you perform. Instead of doing something because someone or something (link the bible) says so, as individuals we are able to justify and somewhat understand our actions and the reason in why we chose to do them. Bentham puts forward logic to decision making rather than adherence. When we apply this theory we also see some disadvantages. Bentham takes away from the individual. He sees it that the happiness of the majority surpasses the happiness of the minority. When we look at slavery in the 18th Century, American’s as the greatest number could justify using black slaves for cheap labour based on utilitarianism, but this does not make the action right. Utilitarianism also leads to an ‘ends justifies means’ mentality, however we cannot use this as we know that the end does not always justify the means. If so then we would be able to justify...
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