Utalitarianism

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Outline the theory of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is the theory that an action is better if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. The 18th and 19th century saw rise to the theory of Utilitarianism which can be traced back to Jeremy Bentham. Francis Hutcheson put forward the initial principle of Utilitarianism 'The greatest happiness of the greatest number'. Utilitarianism is a teleological theory where depending on the consequences of the action, that action will either be good or bad. Utilitarianism comes from the Greek word 'utility' meaning usefulness. So, Utilitarianism is a theory of usefulness and as a result of this theory an action is correct if it creates the greatest happiness for the greatest good. This theory was developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham was the forefather of Utilitarianism and Mill, the son of Bentham's best friend, improved the theory after the death of Bentham.

At the time of the formation of Utilitarianism, revolution and change was taking place. France saw the rise of the French Revolution, America saw the civil and independence wars and Britain was taking part in the Industrial Revolution. Social reform was taking place and Bentham set himself the task of rationalising institutions and challenging time honoured practices. The demand for greater democracy and social reform was being increasingly heard. The Utilitarian approach, based on morality, saw change and new reform.

Utilitarianism is a teleological theory where the consequences of your actions determine whether an action is correct or not. If an action brings happiness, then that action is justified. However, if that action does not create the greatest happiness, then that action is wrong and should never be done again. This is how Jeremy Bentham lived his life. He believed that there two sovereign masters. These were pleasure and pain. He believed that the feeling of pleasure should be maximised whilst the feeling of pain should be avoided at all costs. For Bentham, there was no difference between pleasure and happiness as both promote a physical state of satisfaction. Bentham also argued that humans were always motivated by pleasure which is why it made sense to live by the basic happiness theory. Utilitarianism is an idea rooted into hedonism. Hedonism is the idea that pleasure is the only intrinsic good. In simple terms, a hedonist such as Bentham would strive to ensure pleasure at all costs. Bentham and Mill conjoined Utilitarianism to the theory of Hedonism arguing that both agree that a person’s actions should resort in the person ending up with maximum pleasure.

The main problem Bentham had was quantifying the amount of pleasure. Bentham believed that happiness was a quantitative value. Bentham believed we should be able to measure the amount of pleasure we experience. How were people meant to measure the consequences of an action to know how much pleasure or pain was achieved? Since there was no way of doing this, Bentham created the Hedonic Calculus. The Hedonic calculus contained seven sub sections in which we should question each action before we perform it. The seven categories were: Purity (Will it lead to pain?), Extent (How many people will be affected?), Remoteness (how close is the pleasure?), Fecundity (will it lead to other pleasures?), Duration, Intensity and Certainty. Bentham believed that anyone following utilitarianism should follow the calculus when about to perform a theory. Depending on whether the action will fulfil all the criteria, then action will be allowed to occur. For example a person would use the hedonic calculus to decide whether it is necessary to do the required action. If it doesn’t fulfil the criteria and doesn’t create the greatest happiness for the greatest number, then you shouldn't do it. Otherwise, you can according to Utilitarianism.

J.S Mill, another scholar who observed Utilitarianism, believed that pleasure is a qualitative value....
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