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Utilitarianism and Deontology

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Utilitarianism and Deontology

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  • November 2012
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Jeremy Bentham holds a view purporting that what we fundamentally value, and are motivated by pleasure and pain. He argued that happiness is a “matter of experiencing pleasure and lack of pain.” Bentham saw all forms of happiness as being equal. According to Bentham’s principal of utility, an action is acceptable, so long as it serves to promote the greatest amount of happiness. On this point, Bentham measured the value of pleasure and avoidance of pain according to his notion of utility (felicific) calculus.

In his book, Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, argued in favor of the basic principles of Bentham’s Hedonism, but also offered improvements to the philosophy. Mill upheld Bentham’s devotion to the “Greatest Happiness Principal” as the foundational statement of utilitarian value. He argued that," . . . actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure." Mill, however, disagreed when it came to Bentham’s idea that differences among pleasures could be quantified. He held that certain pleasure that we experience could differ from each other in qualitative ways. Mill distinguishes certain higher, or intellectual pleasures from those that are sensual, or lower pleasures. When it comes to the argument that many virtuous people have renounced happiness, Mill suggest that such people merely sacrifice personal happiness for the happiness of others, an action that he considers to be a high virtue. In the calculation of happiness, Mill suggests that no single man’s happiness should be counted as more important than the next.

A central challenge to Bentham’s view is that which he asserts all pleasures to be equal. As noted before, Mill combats this challenge by noting the difference between higher pleasures and lower pleasures. On this point, he draws distinction between...

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