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Flashcards in Utilitarianism Deck (14)
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What is Hedonistic Act Utilitarianism?


Created by Jeremy Bentham, Act Utilitarianism is based on act consequentialism. We should act in a way that maximises happiness, and no one’s happiness is worth more or less than anyone else’s. The best result is the outcome that produces the most happiness.


Who are the key thinkers in Utilitarianism?


Jeremy Bentham - One has to act to promote the greatest happiness. Used Felicific/Hedonic calculus to calculate the value of happiness on an open-ended scale. Did not distinguish between higher and lower pleasures. Pleasure, self interest and happiness are synonymous.
John Stuart Mill - Atheist politician, there are common laws that all societies have that increase our general happiness. Utility is whatever promotes happiness, happiness is pleasure without pain (moments of pleasure, rather than continual). Distinguishes between higher and lower pleasures.


What is preference utilitarianism?

  • pleasure, self interest and happiness are not synonymous
  • Robert Nozick we have a terrible desire to know reality.
  • what would I most like the result to be?
  • an action is right if it fulfils the most number of desires.
  • instead of ranking pleasures, you decide what you desire most.

What is negative utilitarianism

  • Karl Popper (early 20th cent.)

- instead of maximising happiness you should minimise pain.


What is good is “good” in utilitarianism?

  • Mill says it is an end. An action is a means to an end, the end is our motivation. The end is what we desire to happen, and most of us desire good.
  • Happiness is desired, we cannot demonstrate what is good.

Why should we question the principle of utility?

  • we cannot prove if something is good or bad, but it is the first rule of utilitarianism.

What is Mill’s proof of the principle of utility?

  • Happiness is good. We desire it, each of us desire our own happiness creating a general happiness. If all humans desire happiness then it must be good. Each person’s happiness is good for them, so general happiness must be good.
  • Only happiness is good. Everything of value must be proved to make us happy. External values such as travelling to go on holiday are not what makes the holiday good, but it allows it to happen. Constitutive factors such as sun and a beach are what makes the holiday. There are factors which allow happiness to be good.

What are discussions of Mill’s proof of the principle of utility?

  • G.E. Moore says desire has more than one meaning. You could desire something that is not worthy of being desired. Lacewing responds by saying what is worthy of desire are things desired by everyone.
  • Moore’s second criticism is everyone desires to be happy themselves, but may not want others to be happy. In this case, general happiness does not follow. Lacewing counters ethics is not what is good in general. we are not seeking general good, but it is a byproduct of combining personal happiness.

What is the criticism of balance of happiness and pain in act utilitarianism?

  • Bentham’s felicific/hedonistic calculus is too complicated. we should use preference utilitarianism instead
  • Lacewing says we are asking too much. Precision is not needed to know that utilitarianism is a good idea. Calculus is only needed when the rules clash.

What is the criticism of motive in act utilitarianism?

  • There are no rules for motive.
  • Bentham said there is no role for motive. Mill said there is. good character will help you understand what happiness is, the better your character, the more good you will want to do. As a result he is saying education = happiness

What is the criticism of conscience in act utilitarianism?

  • the sense of duty is over ridden.
  • Mill argues that we only recognise a sense of duty when we haven’t been moral. we can cultivate conscience such that by having a clear conscience we can achieve happiness.

What is rule utilitarianism?

  • an action is only right if it follows rules that if everyone else followed them, we would all be happy.
  • morality is a rule
  • we need to work out which set of rules we need to follow
  • it is okay to prioritise friends and family, as long as the end result is happiness

What are the objections for rule utilitarianism?

  • it is obsession with rules
  • should you tell the truth if following that rule leads to unhappiness
  • it cannot last any length of time, eventually someone will fail to follow the rules
  • is happiness the only thing we should value? what about progressing society?
  • by following rules, would we lose the morality and be following because they are rules?
  • what about making friends? do we make friends to increase happiness?
  • is it possible for morality to be a set of rules?

What is ideal utilitarianism?

  • G E Moore
  • happiness has to be principled in some way, it should be linked to other intrinsic goods such as beauty and intelligence.
  • there should be guidelines rather than freely deciding on whatever makes you happy. e.g. you cannot take happiness in someone else’s pain.