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Utilitarianism Essay

1828 words - 8 pages

1. Fundamental Tenets of Utilitarianism
2. Standards of Utility/History of Utilitarianism
3. The Utilitarian Calculus
4. Act and Rule Utilitarianism
5. Criticisms of Utilitarianism
6. Concluding Assessment

Basic Insights of Utilitarianism
n The purpose of morality is to make the world a better place.
n Morality is about producing good consequences, not having good intentions
n We should do whatever will bring the most benefit (i.e., intrinsic value) to all of humanity.
The Purpose of Morality
n The utilitarian has a very simple answer to the question of why morality exists at all:
– The purpose of ...view middle of the document...

Part Two.

Standards of Utility:
A History of

Intrinsic Value
n Many things have instrumental value, that is, they have value as means to an end.
n However, there must be some things which are not merely instrumental, but have value in themselves. This is what we call intrinsic value.
n What has intrinsic value? Four principal candidates:
– Pleasure
• Jeremy Bentham
– Happiness
• John Stuart Mill
– Ideals
• G. E. Moore
– Preferences
• Kenneth Arrow

Jeremy Bentham
Bentham believed that we should try to increase the overall amount of pleasure in the world
n Definition: The enjoyable feeling we experience when a state of deprivation is replaced by fulfillment.
n Advantages
– Easy to quantify
– Short duration
– Bodily

–Came to be known as “the pig’s philosophy”
–Ignores higher values
–Could justify living on a pleasure machine

John Stuart Mill
Bentham’s godson N
Believed that happiness, not pleasure, should be the standard of utility.


–A higher standard, more specific to humans
–About realization of goals
–More difficult to measure
–Competing conceptions of happiness

Ideal Values
n G. E. Moore suggested that we should strive to maximize ideal values such as freedom, knowledge, justice, and beauty.
n The world may not be a better place with more pleasure in it, but it certainly will be a better place with more freedom, more knowledge, more justice, and more beauty.
n Moore’s candidates for intrinsic good remain difficult to quantify.


Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize winning Stanford economist, argued that what has intrinsic value is preference satisfaction.
n The advantage of Arrow’s approach is that, in effect, it lets people choose for themselves what has intrinsic value. It simply defines intrinsic value as whatever satisfies an agent’s preferences. It is elegant and pluralistic.

Part Three.

The Utilitarian Calculus

The Utilitarian Calculus
nMath and ethics finally merge: all consequences must be measured and weighed.
nUnits of measurement:
–Hedons: positive
–Dolors: negative

What do we calculate?
n Hedons/dolors may be defined in terms of
– Pleasure
– Happiness
– Ideals
– Preferences
n For any given action, we must calculate:
– How many people will be affected, negatively (dolors) as well as positively (hedons)
– How intensely they will be affected
– Similar calculations for all available alternatives
– Choose the action that produces the greatest overall amount of utility (hedons minus dolors

Debating the school lunch program
Utilitarians would have to...

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