Jeremy Bentham : Father of Utilitarianism Essays

Jeremy Bentham : Father of Utilitarianism Essays

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Assess the merits of Utilitarianism (24 Marks)

Utilitarianism is a theory aimed at defining one simple basis that can be applied when making any ethical decision. It is based on a human’s natural instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Jeremy Bentham is widely regarded as the father of utilitarianism. He was born in 1748 into a family of lawyers and was himself, training to join the profession. During this process however, he became disillusioned by the state British law was in and set out to reform the system into a perfect one based on the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle,’ ‘the idea that pleasurable consequences are what qualify an action as being morally good’. Bentham observed that we are all governed by pain and pleasure; we all naturally aim to seek pleasure and avoid pain. He then decided that the best moral principle for governing our lives is one which uses this, the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle.’ This is that the amount of overall happiness or unhappiness that is caused by an action should determine whether an action is right or wrong. He stated,
‘the greatest happiness of all those whose interest is in question is the right and proper, and only right and proper end of human action’
Here Bentham is saying that the principle is the only valid of deciding and justifying our actions, that the principle should be applied regardless of any others, as it is the only true and reliable way of defining whether an action is right or wrong. An advantage of utilitarianism is that it can be applied to any situation. Unlike many moral approaches you are not restricted by rules such as ‘it is always wrong to lie,’ or ‘killing is never right.’ This allows the philosopher to consider any dilemma or problem in it’s own specific context. For example applying Kantian ethics, abortion or euthanasia would have to be defined as wrong, however a utilitarian has the scope to make there own decision considering a range of factors and situations.
Bentham realised that because this theory is based on the outcome of our actions it may be difficult to assess fairly which action will produce the most happiness. He therefore developed the ‘hedonistic calculus’, a form of calculating the happiness resulting from an act by assessing 7 different factors of the pleasure produced such as intensity and duration. In doing this Bentham was attempting to create some sort of ...


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...ilitarianism, like any other ‘list of rules’ approach to morality can be wrong in certain situations and encourages people to blindly follow rules.
Utilitarianism is a reality, not just a theory like many other philosophies; it is practiced every day, for instance the vote system. This ongoing practice of utilitarianism in society has show that it is flawed. Just because the masses vote for something, doesn’t make it right. The masses can be fooled, as in Nazi Germany for example, thousands of people were behind Hitler even though his actions were undeniably evil. Utilitarianism is a logical system, but it requires some sort of basic, firm rules to prevent such gross injustices, violations of human rights, and just obviously wrong thing ever being allowed. This could be the ‘harm principle’ which Mill devised.
‘Acts of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavorable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.’



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