The Idea of Utilitarianism According to Jeremy Bentham

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Utilitarianism is a moral calculus – dependent upon a cost-benefit analysis – whose function is to maximize utility, which determines right from wrong. Jeremy Bentham, who argued, that the highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness, founded the doctrine; hence, according to him, the right thing to do is anything that maximizes utility. Moreover, Bentham contended against the opponents of the principle of utility that every moral argument must implicitly draw from the idea of maximizing happiness. “When a man attempts to combat the principle of utility, it is with reasons drawn, without his being aware of it, from the very principle itself” (35). As follows, all moral quarrels, when properly understood, are disagreements about the application of the principle in question. There is a difference, I think, that is worth mentioning. That difference is between the consistent Bentham and the more humane John Stuart Mill, who came a generation later. Mill, who wrote On Liberty, the classic defense for individual freedom, argued in it that the people should be free to do whatever they want – provided they do not harm others. This implies government should not intervene with individuals’ liberty, or impose upon them the majority’s belief about the best “way” to live. However, the notion of individual liberty and the protection from majority’s will, seem to be at odds with the principle of utility, which again, is the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, which critics contend since it violates individual’s rights. So how can one not enforce upon the majority’s will if doing will maximize utility? For Mill the answer comes easily, respecting individual liberty is necessary for utility to perpetuate – this of co... ... middle of paper ... ...inst his/her will is morally wrong. The second objection is to the common currency, which consistent Bentham recognizes as quantitative, not qualitative. Opponents argue that values cannot be translated into monetary terms. Utilitarians point to the “ticking time-bomb case” to prove that morality is a cost-benefit analysis after all, and that human life does have a price tag whether we acknowledge it or not. Lastly, I agree with consistent Bentham, that moral quarrels when properly understood do encompass to a large degree the application of the principle itself. However, I’d also like to think that morality, or the right thing to do, is more than a cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately, the approach to justice as it being concerned with the consequences/state of affairs has become predominant in today’s society, especially in my field of study: economics.
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