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What is Utilitarianism?

An ethical theory in which determines right from wrong by focusing on the outcomes. It takes account of the greatest good for the greatest number.


What type of argument and theory is this theory?

A teleological argument and an absolutists theory.


How is Utilitarianism a relativist theory?

Because it doesn't focus on rules.


How is this theory a consequentialist theory?

Because the consequences of the action, is expected to be good - for the greater good.


Who are the two key scholars of this theory?

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832 CE) and
John Stuart Mill (1806-1973)


What did Jeremy Bentham state?

That naturally we are ruled by two key things: pain and pleasure. We tend to overpower this than the divine authority.


What was Bentham's quantitative approach?

A process in which one has to calculate the amount of pleasure and pain that they might create. Their aim is to maximise their pleasure and minimise their pain.


What approach was Bentham's pain and pleasure theology?

A hedonism approach; because Bentham came to this conclusion through observation of human life.
EXAMPLE: When it is snowing outside, we would wear something warm to avoid feeling cold.


What are the three aspects of utilitarianism?

1. Goodness is relative to the results:
There is no agreement about what is good.
2.The principle of utility:
Seeks to achieve good to the greatest possible extent.
3.The hedonic calculus:
Seeks to calculate the outcome of an action. Ensuring goodness is superior.


Jeremy Bentham follows the Principle of Utility:

A maxim that judges any action to be right by tendency it appears. It always seeks the greatest balance of good over evil.


ANALOGY: The Trolley Problem:

Doesn't care about the action; but cares about the consequences of the action.



For Bentham, the Hedonic or Hedonistic Calculus or Felicific calculator was the idea that happiness and good are both good. Arguing that pleasure is the good and nothing else is the good. Not stating pleasure is an act which is morally good.


What are the seven criteria's for the hedonic calculus?

1. Performed (how strong is the pleasure)
2.Duration (how long will the pleasure last?)
3. Certainty (how likely is it that the pleasure will truly happen?)
4.Propinquity (how soon will the pleasure happen?)
5. Fecundity (how probable is it that pleasant sensations will follow?)
6.Purity (how unlikely is it that the action will lead to pain rather than pleasure?)
7. Extent (how many people will be affected?)


STRENGTHS of Bentham's approach:

-Allows decision to seem a lot easier.
-It is in favour of the majority.
-Natural to consider the consequences.
-Links morality with the pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain and misery.


WEAKNESSES of Bentham's approach:

-Denies any notion of individual rights.
- You cannot use pleasure for morality.
-There are dangers in pleasing the majority and hurting the minority.
- Theory can be fairly misinterpreted with the hedonistic calculus.
-Centric to society rather than Christianity beliefs.


What are the two types of Utilitarianism?

Act and Rules utilitarianism.


Whose approach was the act utilitarianism?

Jeremy Bentham.


Whose approach was the rule utilitarianism?

John Stuart Mill.


What is J.S.Mill's approach?

An absolutist approach.


What is his version theory about?

This theory is similar to Kantian ethics. Rule utilitarianism focuses on general rules that everybody should follow; in order to bring about the greatest good for that community. Moreover, it argues that we should invest in what would bring the greatest happiness for the community as a whole and society should live by this rule.


J.S. Mill follows the Principle of Liberty:

Which often leads to the greatest happiness, even though, some may damage themselves.


J.S Mill on Pleasure:

There are two forms of pleasure: higher pleasure and lower pleasure.


Higher Pleasure: (Highly Valued)

Intellectuality that can provide successful pleasure.


Lower Pleasure:

General acts that satisfy one for a particular period.


Pleasure in a situation:

An individual must obey the rules when in a situation even at the cost of their very own greatest pleasure.


Peter Singer:

We need to apply strictly and unemotionally the principles of utilitarianism. In his view, it is important to recognise that utilitarianism must have a universal quality, weighing the needs and preferences of others as much as my own.



-A large number of people benefit from Utilitarianism as the principle of this theory is greatest good for the greatest number.
-It is natural to consider consequences, so it is easy to use Hedonic Calculus.
-It is centric to the majority.
-It ensures that an individual avoids committing an immoral act as a result to accompany their own pleasures.



-Seems to place preservation of the rule above individual need. Values rule over person.
-The entire principle of liberty is a risk because it could result in a life being taken away or someone physically harming themselves for the 'greater good'.
-We do not know the consequences of our actions.
-It is impractical to calculate what you should do to such an extent in day-to-day life.