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Betham Ethics

By murph87 Jun 06, 2013 1894 Words
‘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 Hitler’s actions during the Holocaust because he was just trying to purify the human race. An act cannot be judged simply on the outcome, there needs to be some judgement of the act its self, therefore the means needs to be able to justify its self. If not then we could day that murder is acceptable; as long as the end made the greater number of people happier. We all know that murder is wrong, but in a utilitarianistic world it could potentially be justified. Bentham theory could also be regarded as somewhat unrealistic. There are other factors in life that would stop someone from acting in the way that Bentham would like. For example if you were asked to kill you children to save 100 strangers, would you be able to act on behalf of the greater happiness. Any parent would struggle with a decision like this. Bentham would say that you had to kill your children; there are only 2 of them, so kill them to say the 100 people, could you? Realistically you would opt to kill the strangers although there are going to be 100 families whose happiness will be contravened. So in this instance you would not be acting on behalf of the greater good, you would be acting selfishly because you do not want to suffer, you are acting on behalf of your own happiness. If we relate utilitarianism to abortion we can see that there is a moral question as to whether abortion is the right thing to do or not. A utilitarian’s view on abortion could be that it is a good thing or a bad thing. They may argue that if you were to bring a baby into a world where the parents are not going to be able to provide for it, then this could then place a burden on society as the government would have to support that family, this could then lead to people in employment having to pay more taxes; so in this instance a utilitarian would be for abortion as it would provide greater happiness for a greater number of people. On the other hand there can be times when a utilitarian would be against abortion, for example if the number of babies being born decreased due to abortion then this could have a knock on effect to the rest of society because we need people to sustain society. Abortion could have also brought about the termination of an individual that could significantly affect society in their life. What if Sir Isaac Newton was aborted? Or in fact any significant icon in history? This would affect society as a whole and therefore produce negativity to abortion. To be able to make a decision we need to look at the out come and decide whether this act will produce the greater amount of happiness. This is a subjective argument, as different people will have differing opinions on this and terminating an unborn baby as an act in its self may cause pain. When we try and use the hedonic calculator to work this out it brings up the argument as to whether the unborn baby has happiness or are they too young to know what happiness is and be able to experience it. Bentham argues that they do not, they do not have emotions and therefore are unaware of what happiness is and they need to be taken out of the equation. Utilitarianism challenged whether abortion should be seen as an ‘evil’ act, arguing that the end justifies the means. They support a pro-choice position, which means that individuals should be able to deicide for themselves whether abortion is the right thing for them to do. Things like financial difficulty, education, work or other family members’ needs could all be considered as justification of the means towards a certain end. However it may also be the case that utilitarian’s would deny a woman an abortion if doing so would bring about the greatest good. Many other groups of society will argue that the baby has feeling and emotions that you need to take in to account as well; Kant for example, he believes that everybody has their own individual rights and that people should all be treated fairly. Kant believes that it is the action its self that should be justified as right or wrong. However Kant believes that everything should be universal, so if you were to tell one woman to have an abortion then you would have to tell ALL women to have abortions, and this is just not going to work. When we compare utilitarianism with Kantian ethics we can see that they differ on many levels. The most obvious being their differences in what makes a right act right. Utilitarianism would argue that the ends justify the means, and that as long as the greatest numbers of people are happy then it is a good act. However Kant believes in just the opposite, Kant says that the end never justifies the means, it is the action its self that gives us the obligation as to whether the act is morally good. For example if you were to tell a lie, Kant would say that lying is wrong, regardless of the result and whether that lie would bring happiness to more people compared to when telling the truth, lying is wrong. A Utilitarian would justify the action of telling a lie by the end result of more people experiencing happiness than if the truth was told. They also differ in Kant’s use of categorical imperatives, Kant believes that if you tell on person to do something then you should be telling everyone to do the same thing, it is a universalised code of conduct. The direct contradiction by utilitarian’s would be that there can be no universal laws as the decision is subjective to the situation as what gives happiness in one situation, does not ensure happiness as always being the result of this action. Another of the differences is that Kant believed that people should be treated as individuals and with dignity, and that we should never exploit another for any reason. Kant believes that every person counts and every person has the right to be treated in a ‘good’ way. Utilitarian’s would argue that, that would be irrelevant; the only thing that would matter is achieving the ends, no matter what the means. Although utilitarian’s and Kantian’s disagree on the above points they do have something in common. They disagree on the question ‘What is Good?’ but the do agree on the fact that there is only one intrinsic good although different. Kantians believe that this is duty and it is our duty that makes us d good things, and utilitarian’s believe that this is pleasure. In a Kantian world we perform good acts because we are duty bound to perform these acts, and it is the act itself which is classed as being good; And in a Utilitarian your good acts are performed because we receive pleasure from them and the greater amount of people will receive the greater amount of pleasure if we do them, and its is the ends that justify whether the act is good or not.

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