Explaining Utilitarianism

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Explaining Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism, in its most basic form is ' the greatest happiness for

the greatest number'. Coming from the Latin word, 'utilis', which

means useful. Jeremy Bentham wrote, in one of his books in 1789, that

utility is,

'a property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit,

advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness…or… to prevent the happenings

of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness'.

It is easy to assume that utilitarianism is based on the fact that if

something is useful, then it is moral. However, this is very wrong,

the theory is much more complex than this, being involved in

decisions, actions and consequences.

The theory of Utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham, in his

work, 'The principles of morals and legislation', which was a mix of

ethics and politics, both of which he was very interested in. Bentham

was hedonist, and felt that happiness and pleasure was the main

ethical measure. He believed that if an action is pleasant, bringing

about happiness for the individual and others, then it is morally

right. Bentham attempted to better the 'Golden rule' taught by Jesus,

which was to love out neighbour as ourselves. He wanted to better this

as he felt that in loving our neighbour, and in a moral situation,

resolving a problem by loving a neighbour could leave to harm to a

minority. He attempted to solve this dilemma with the 'Hedonic

Calculus' This would be useful in deciding upon the most correct form

of action by calculating how much happiness and pleasure would come

out of the options, and at the same time reduce the amount of

unhappiness. Seven factors were to be co...

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...y were going to achieve happiness from their

actions, and therefore were right. This could be simply an excuse.

Utilitarianism presents a difficulty when defining pleasure. Pleasure

and happiness for one person could be very different to that of

another person. This could lead to conflict, where a certain

individual or group could be enjoying their happiness or pleasure, but

on the other hand, a certain individual or group could be enduring

pain or displeasure as a result of the same actions. Most importantly,

and bizarrely, a weakness is that we can claim to be able to

'calculate' the quantity and quality of happiness and pleasure.

With the Hedonic Calculus, it could be said that it makes the use of

Utilitarianism simple and easy to use. One is able to gauge the

actions and decisions against it and make a judgement.
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