1020 Words3 Pages


Utilitarianism is mainly associated with the principle of Utility

summarised by Jeremy Bentham, a social reformer, in 1768. This

principle was to apply ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’

theory to all situations that may arise. This theory was that which is

good is the act which provides the greatest amount of pleasure and the

least amount of pain. This is a teleological theory as the action is

determined by the consequences of the action, and not the purpose of

the action. The theory considered pleasure and happiness to be the

greatest good.

The form of utility that Bentham believed in was Act Utilitarianism.

He believed that each action should be judged by its ability to bring

about the greatest good for the greatest number. As well as this it

moves from specific cases to general principles that should be

followed. The action itself is important, as well as its consequences

and the individual ‘morally right’ action should be seen in terms of

its consequences. Bentham measured the consequences by which action

would produce the maximum happiness and the minimum pain on a

quantitative scale, as he considered all happiness to be of equal

value. This version of the theory can be known as hedonic

utilitarianism as Bentham himself was a hedonist and believed in

pleasure being of large importance.

To help determine the amounts of pleasure and pain, Bentham devised

the hedonic calculus. The hedonic calculus ruled by seven criteria.

These are the intensity, dur...

... middle of paper ...

... all so

following the theory torture would be acceptable if it meant the most

pleasure and the least pain.

Utilitarianism may be regarded as a strong ethical theory as it helps

to teach the difference between right and wrong. Through using the

majority of people’s happiness as the main factor for a just action,

it expresses that decisions made are not just in self best interests.

However there are many problems with the theory in that it cannot be

applied to real life circumstances, where there may not be the time to

come up with a justified argument for or against an action. As well as

this not all people will gauge a situation the same, allowing for

conflicting opinions of other’s wellbeing. The theory can be used

effectively as it can encourage people to assess their own actions

before making a decision.

Open Document