What is a good life? How does one live a good life? And what makes a life worth living? All these questions have been the topic of debate for many centuries and influence the way in which many of us live. During this keynote address, I will be looking at how applying a Utilitarian Ethical framework assists an individual in living a good life. This will be achieved through an examination of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian ethical theory, the bombing of Hiroshima and of how the theory links to Christian perspectives.
Utilitarianism is a teleological ethical theory that focuses on the consequences of an act, not the act itself. Theorist, Jeremy Bentham believed that “morally appropriate behaviour will not harm others, but instead increase happiness or ‘utility’” (Mautner, 1997). However, unlike Aristotle’s ideology on eudemonia, which is known to be egotistic, Utilitarianism regards the happiness of others as more pertinent than the happiness of oneself, making it an altruistic theory. Bentham ultimately believed that “Nature placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. They (pain/pleasure) govern us in all, we do, in all we say, in all we think” (Bentham & Lafleur, 1948). It is this understanding of pain versus pleasure that drives the utilitarian mindset and influences an individual to act morally. In his introduction to Aristotle’s ethics, Professor J. Barnes stated that “the only ultimately good thing in the world is the happiness of sentient beings, and the only ultimate moral rule is one enjoining us to maximize the sum of that happiness” (Chattopadhyay, 1997). This philosophy reiterates utilit...
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...to live a good and ethical life one must strive to provide the most happiness for others.
The question still remains – What is a good life? For Aristotle, happiness was a “central purpose of human life and a goal in itself” (Desan, P., Ekram, D. T., Goldfinch, S., Kashdan, T. B., Park, D., & Setton, M., 2010). The ethical framework of utilitarianism takes this instinctual need for happiness as the basis of its belief systems, encouraging individuals to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the greatest amount of people. A thorough understanding of this ideology, along with real-world applications of the theory and its connection with Christian perspectives influence individuals to critically analyze the consequences of their actions. It is for this reason that Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarian ethical theory is essential in assisting individual’s to live a good life.
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