Utilitarianism is a teleological theory of ethics, and so therefore is a consequentialist theory. Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) began the idea of Utilitarianism, a way of working out how bad or good the consequence of an action would be. He wanted to develop an ethical theory which established whether an act was good or bad depending on its benefit for the majority.
The Principle Of Utility the usefulness of the results of actions – “the greatest good for the greatest number” good being pleasure or happiness. An act is right or wrong depending on how good or bad the result is. Since this theory is based on the greatest number it is quantitive.Since good is defined as pleasure or happiness it means this is a hedonistic theory. This theory is based on the ancient idea of pursuing physical pleasure and avoiding physical pain. The most moral acts are the ones which maximise pleasure and minimise pain – Utilitarian Calculus”The principle of utility aims to promote happiness which is the supreme ethical value””An act is right if it delivers more pleasure than pain and wrong if it brings about more pain than pleasure”Happiness = pleasure minus painIt has 7 elements.1 – the intensity of pleasure (how deep)2 – the duration of the pleasure (how long)3 – the certainty of the pleasure (how certain or uncertain)4 – the remoteness of the pleasure (how near or far)5 – the chance of succession of pleasures (how continuous)6 – the purity of the pleasure (how secure)7 – the extent of the pleasure (how universal)Bentham’s Utilitarianism is described as Act UtilitarianismAct Utilitarianism -You need to look at the consequences on an action and bring about the greatest happiness by applying the principle of utility directly.Act Utilitarianism is very flexible and allows moral rules to changes depending on the situation.
There is only one rule to follow and that is we should seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number in ALL situations.It does have some weaknesses and they are that it is often to predict the consequences. It also means there is the potential to justify any act e.g.
Murdering someone. It is also difficult to define pleasure, is it mental or physical and what does it consist of? It also means there is no defence for the minority, if you have to kill one man to save five then you should kill that man according to this principle however he could have the cure for cancer. Lastly it is impractical to have to calculate the morality of every decision.John Stuart Mill was also hedonist and accepted happiness is the greatest importance, however he focused on happiness not pleasure.He created the Greatest Happinesss Principle.
“The Greatest Happiness Principle holds actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”Mill agrees with the principle of utility but has altered Bentham’s approach but instead of quantity he believes in quality. “Some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others” and “it would be absurd that while, estimating all other things, quality is not also considered as well as quantity”Mill believes the quality of pleasure employs the use of higher faculties.A good example is the Christians and the Romans. The Romans used to get pleasure from watching Christians being eaten by lions. In this situation the greatest happiness (of the Romans) is from the Christians being eaten by lions which is surely wrong?Mill believes in intellectual pleasures such as poetry and music instead of immediate pleasures like eating, drinking or sex. He thinks happiness is not just adding up the units of pleasure but rather the fulfillment of higher ideals.Mill also thinks that it should be universal “Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, is a good to the aggregate of all persons” Each person ought to aim for his happiness and so therefore everyone ought to aim at the happiness of everyone.