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The Case for Utilitarianism, Research Paper Example

Pages: 3

Words: 866

Research Paper

The concept of John Stuart Mills ‘Utilitarianism’ relates to the principal surrounding utility. This relates to where an action is “right if it produces much more of an increase in happiness of all affected by it than an alternative action …” (Singer). The concept is based upon that of happiness and pleasure being of intrinsic value and that the opposite i.e. pain and suffering is intrinsically indivisible. As such a person is defined as being Utilitarian when then accept the principles of Utility. Hence utility may be regarded as consequentialist or goal based; as opposed to one concerned with theory of ethics which is deontological or rule based theory.

John Singer believes himself to be one of the originators of the use of the word but many other writers have latched onto this too “every writer, from Epicurus to Bentham, who maintained the theory of utility, meant by it, not something to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain.” (Singer, Utilitarianism). Others have stated that Utilitarianism has been a concept from the form of hedonistic ethical theory and that human conduct is basically based upon the pursuit of happiness and this distinguished from the concept of right or wrong or pleasure and pain. It was Bentham who popularised the term and the use of the word in the English language. This was not new however as it has been used by philosophers dating back to 1758. Original sources have been traced to Hobbes (Leviathan 1657) where he discussed ethical actions that promote our own welfare and social code of ethics. (Knight)

Bentham described Utilitarianism as that of the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle’. It is the satisfaction of preferences by a life stance with happiness and pleasure being of the most paramount importance. It is therefore both characterised by a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. In terms of a philosophy the principle is very broad and encapsulates all aspects of a person life. As such it is holistic by nature.

Strengths of the theory

It is essentially an objective theory “it affords you a method for calculating how you should act regardless of personal confusion or momentary perplexity” (Omakridis). In addition it is better that other theories when dealing with the issue of a moral dilemma. It is very simple to apply when dealing with your behavioural relationship with other human beings and equally animals. Pain or suffering inflicted upon animals can easily be condemned by utilitarian theory.  The concept appeals to many religious beliefs, not least of which is Christianity “Christianity, which also appeals to human beings to love and benefit and avoid to harm others, and promises recompense of happiness in the form of a good feeling in this life and heave’s rewards in the afterlife” (Omakridis).  It also has strengths in relationship to that of ethics, for example “it proposes a practical method for working out what to do, it upholds equality, and it accords without intuition that ethics is primarily about making the world better.” (Holt).

Weaknesses of the theory

The method is deemed to be impractical “it is impractical to stop to calculate the utility of the expected outcomes of our various options every time that we have to make a decision.” (Holt).  It is also difficult to predict the consequences or outcome of an action. You can only guess at the consequences of short term actions but it’s almost impossible to predict the scenario or consequences of long term actions.  The concept also holds out that we should be working towards whatever maximises the concept of utility, this is somewhat impractical considering “According to utilitarianism, those of us who aren’t facing great hardship ought always to be helping those that are, because that’s what maximises utility. That, though, is implausibly demanding; reading a newspaper isn’t a sin.” (Holt).  The practice is also inequitable in terms of distributive justice. It seeks to bring as much happiness into the world as possible but has no regard for who gets it. For example increasing the wealth of Donald Trump may  make Donald and his cohorts extremely happy but it does very little to improve people suffering from poverty in Africa. The people in Africa deserve to be more richly awarded than Donald but the system of utilitarianism takes no account of this.  The end does not always justify the means – “Because utilitarianism focuses exclusively on the consequences of actions, it entails that no act is intrinsically good or bad; according to utilitarianism, acts are good only insofar as the increase utility and decrease pain, and bad only insofar as they do the opposite.” (Holt).  The concept of soldiers in Nigeria conducting tribal warfare and killing children is morally wrong even if the soldiers derive pleasure from this i.e. by feeling of revenge, hatred or lust of violence. Utilitarianism cannot condone such actions “It is simply wrong to kill innocent children, even if doing so creates more pleasure than it does pain” (Holt).

Works Cited

Holt, Tim. Utilitarianism. 2005. 14 10 2010 <http://www.moralphilosophy.info/utilitarianism.html>.

Knight, Kevin. Utilitarianism. 2009. 14 11 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15241c.htm>.

Omakridis. Utilitarianism. 2010. 14 11 2010 <http://www.angelfire.com/space/omakridis/utilitarianism.html>.

Singer, Peter. Introduction to utilitarianism. 2010. 14 11 2010 <http://www.utilitarian.org/utility.html>.

Singer, Peter. “Utilitarianism.” Singer, Peter. Utilitarianism. Adelaide: e-books Adelaide, 2009.

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