Explain the main features of the theory of Utilitarianism
The theory of Utilitarianism takes its name from the Latin word Utilis, meaning ‘useful’. It was first developed by Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and legal theorist of the 18th century. Bentham sought to produce a modern and rational approach to morality which would suit the changing society of the industrial age. Utilitarianism may be regarded as a relativist and teleological system of ethics, prescribing no fixed moral rules and judging an action by its consequences or end result (Greek: telos).
Bentham argued that one should maximise happiness for the majority, ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ a view which is known ...view middle of the document...
In the notion of consequences the Utilitarian includes all of the good and bad produced by the act, whether arising after the act has been performed or during its performance. If the difference in the consequences of alternative acts is not great, some Utilitarian’s do not regard the choice between them as a moral issue. Mill believed acts should be classified as morally right or wrong only if the consequences are of such significance that a person would wish to see the agent compelled, not merely persuaded and encouraged, to act in the preferred manner.
To bring reason and evidence to the field of ethics, Bentham then put forward what he regarded as a scientific process for making moral decisions, known as the ‘hedonic calculus’. This consisted of seven key criteria one must consider when making a moral choice:
Intensity: strength of pleasure
Duration: length of time
Certainty: sure to happen
Propinquity or remoteness: closeness in time
Extent: number of people
John Stuart Mill was a peer of Bentham’s. He agreed that the moral behaviour should seek to maximise happiness, Classical Utilitarianism. But he made some important developments to Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism. He sought in particular to address the absence of justice in utilitarianism. He regarded Utilitarianism as an important but flawed approach to ethics. While Bentham had regarded all pleasures as all equal or equivalent, Mill distinguished between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ pleasures. Higher pleasures would be those which engaged the mind (e.g. music or poetry), but lower pleasures would be those which engaged merely the body (e.g. eating, sex). Mill developed the idea of ‘competent judges’: those who had experienced the full range of pleasures could discriminate between what is higher and lower. A good society would be refined and constructive in its pleasures, and so Mill avoided the charge that Utilitarianism is a system of base gratification.
Another distinction between Bentham and Mill is the difference between Act and Rule theories of Utilitarianism. Bentham proposed an Act Utilitarian...