Examine the Key Ideas of Utilitarianism

Topics: Utilitarianism, Pleasure, John Stuart Mill Pages: 3 (977 words) Published: May 20, 2013
Examine the key ideas of utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is a relativist, consequentialist and teleological system of ethics based on the idea of ‘utility’. This means usefulness and utilitarian suggest that everyone should be the most useful thing. The theory was devised by Jeremy Bentham who said “an action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number”. He believed human beings are motivated by pleasure and pain. Bentham lived in an era of great social and scientific change and unrest; he wanted to produce a modern and rational approach to morality. He was hedonist and believed that humans naturally pursued pleased and tried to avoid pain, he created the hedonic calculus in which happiness is measured with seven different elements including duration of happiness, the intensity of it and the purity of it. His theory is also known as the act utilitarianism – this is the belief that solutions to situations might change depending on the consequences of the act. He says ‘by utility is meant that property of any object whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness’ which summarizes Bentham’s view on his entire belief of utilitarianism. John Mill Stuart modified the theory and criticised Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism and maintained that the well-being of a person was the greatest importance as Bentham’s theory allows sadistic pleasure for example, under Bentham’s theory, if 10 rapists were to rape the same woman, then using the hedonic calculus their action would be justified because more people are gaining pleasure at the pain of one woman, however, this would be morally wrong. Mills then developed higher pleasure and lower pleasure; lower pleasures would be physical pleasures such as sex, alcohol while higher pleasures would be things like love and friendship and believed everyone would desire higher pleasure ‘it is better to be a pig dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’. Therefore, rule utilitarianism fits...
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