Utilitarianism and Greatest Happiness Essay

Utilitarianism begins with the work of Jeremy Bentham ( 1748-1832 ) . an English political and societal reformist. Educated at Oxford. Bentham finally headed up a little group of minds called the “Philosophical Radicals. ” This group. which included James Mill ( male parent of John Stuart Mill. more on him subsequently ) . was dedicated to societal reform and the announcement of Bentham’s thoughts. Bentham based useful moralss on the alleged “greatest felicity rule. ” an thought originally enunciated by French republics Hutcheson ( 16941746 ) . one of the laminitiss of the Scots Enlightenment.

Put merely. Bentham believed that the end of moralss was to advance “the greatest felicity of the greatest figure. ” Interestingly plenty. Bentham went on to state that felicity consists in sing more pleasances than strivings. That is. Bentham connects the public assistance of the greatest figure to a hedonic position that values pleasance over hurting. He so constructed what he termed a “hedonistic calculus” as an nonsubjective step of the value of assorted pleasances or strivings in footings of such classs as “intensity. continuance. certainty. propinquity. productivity. pureness. and extent.

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” Using such quantitative steps. Bentham felt he could cipher the “happiness factor” of assorted proposed classs of action. The action advancing the greatest felicity for the greatest figure in a peculiar state of affairs would be morally best. Notice two things about Bentham’s attack. First. implicit in his statement is the belief that the lone manner to mensurate the moral worth of an action is to measure its effects: Will it bring forth the greatest felicity for the greatest figure or non? Whatever does bring forth the greatest felicity in a peculiar state of affairs. Bentham claims. will be morally right.

Second. the contrast to Kant could non be more clear. For Kant. the moral worth of an action lies purely in the motivation for taking the action. ne’er its effects. Merely a good will. decently groking its responsibility through usage of the categorical jussive mood and so moving to carry through that responsibility. is capable of executing a morally good action. Bentham himself was an fervent political reformist. reasoning doggedly for a figure of. what were for the twenty-four hours. extremist positions. including equality for adult females. prison reform. decriminalisation of homosexualism. and carnal rights.

The more philosophical development of his ethical thoughts fell to his followings. peculiarly James Mill and. subsequently. Mill’s boy John Stuart Mill ( 1806-1873 ) . The younger Mill. sharply educated by his male parent from ages three to fourteen. grew to be one of the 2 great minds of the 19th century. In the procedure. John Stuart Mill well refined Bentham’s utilitarianism. Writing in his 1861 essay Utilitarianism. Mill modifies Bentham’s position of pleasance and hurting. Bentham had sought to separate pleasances and strivings quantitatively ( e. g. . more or less intense. more or less in continuance. more or less in extent. etc. ) .

Mill. by contrast. sought to include qualitative characteristics. reasoning. for case. that the experience an rational or aesthetic pleasance ( like reading a good book ) might be more enjoyable than the physical pleasance of something like a good repast. Mill otherwise seeks to support Bentham’s basic thoughts. In making so. Mill tries to decide a struggle in Bentham’s idea. This struggle arises because of a difference between Bentham’s history of ( 1 ) hedonism for the person and ( 2 ) hedonism as an ethical theory.

An single Acts of the Apostless. Bentham says. entirely out of a desire for felicity ( i. e. . more pleasances than strivings ) . This history could be termed descriptive in that it claims to explicate why a individual acts. But harmonizing to hedonism as an ethical theory. nevertheless. the person should seek “the greatest felicity of the greatest figure. ” This position is non descriptive. but normative because it tells what the person should make. This struggle leads to two jobs. The first is obvious: if each person is motivated to move to achieve personal felicity. so why would that individual have any concern to advance the public assistance of others?

The 2nd is more theoretical: How to acquire from a descriptive theory of how persons act to a normative theory of why persons should all seek “the greatest felicity of the greatest figure. ” To work out the first job. Mill introduces the thought of external and internal countenances. These countenances serve for Mill as the span between the universe of the person and the larger societal universal of which we are all a portion. External countenances. for illustration. are societal regulations and Torahs that reward or punish individuals for peculiar actions.

Persons view these countenances in footings of their possible for pleasance or hurting and adjust their future behaviour consequently. Mill’s position of internal countenances is different. There. he sounds a spot like Hume. reasoning that obeying a moral jurisprudence produces a feeling of pleasance ( and disobeying such a jurisprudence produces a feeling of hurting ) . Such feelings can. in bend. be can be observed to develop ( in some people. at least ) into a deep understanding for others. therefore exemplifying the operation of the “greatest felicity principle” from within such individuals.

For such individuals. their ain felicity may truly depend on the felicity of others. which seems 3 to demo that the single desire for felicity can be reconciled with the theoretical demand that persons act for the public assistance of all. Why such connexion might happen in some persons instead than in others remains a inquiry. At this point. contrasting Mill with Hume is informative. Mill argues that. as can be observed. persons develop a sense of pleasance or hurting associated with obeying or disobeying moral Torahs and that. at least for some. those pleasances and pains become the footing for a sympathetic connexion with others.

Hume argues that such sympathetic connexion is natural. By turning up in a human society. we intuitively learn to tie in a feeling of moral pleasance with some Acts of the Apostless and moral hurting with others. Therefore. for Hume. sentiment ( or the peculiar feelings associated with moral or immoral Acts of the Apostless ) is a normal portion of human development ; whereas. for Mill. internal sanctions—and the function of the “greatest felicity principle”–can be observed in people’s behaviour. but a general theory of why people do this is missing.

Another topographic point where a general theory is missing is in the 2nd job described above: How to acquire from a descriptive theory of how persons act to a normative theory of why persons should all seek “the greatest felicity of the greatest figure. ” Mill argues here that there is no manner to turn out such a first rule as the “greatest felicity rule. ” Indeed. he says. “No ground can be given why the general felicity is desirable except that each individual. so far as he believes it to be come-at-able. desires his ain felicity.

” Since Mill’s clip. utilitarianism has been widely debated. and an interesting differentiation has emerged between Bentham and Mill’s theories. For Bentham. what makes an action right depends upon whether it contributes to the greatest felicity of the greatest figure. That is. Bentham focuses on the happiness-producing potency of each single action. We can name this act-utilitarianism. Mill. to some extent. seems to subscribe to this position. but he besides at points takes a place we might name rule-utilitarianism.

From this point of view. the morality of an action does non depend on whether it really produces the greatest felicity ; instead. what counts is whether the regulation that the action exemplifies in fact satisfies the demand for the greatest felicity of the greatest figure. These two signifiers of utilitarianism continue to be debated by ethicians today. To exemplify the differentiation between these two signifiers of utilitarianism. see the undermentioned instance. Suppose that a individual unwittingly carried a lifelessly. extremely contagious disease.

An act-utilitarian might reason that we would be justified in killing such an person to protect society from the disease ( and thereby advance the greatest 4 felicity of the greatest figure ) . A rule-utilitarian. on the other manus. might indicate out that the regulation or rule involved in such an act ( that we might kill person when we found it in the best involvement of the greatest figure ) should be rejected because it was. in fact. a unsafe regulation and could finally take to decreasing the greatest felicity of all. ( Incidentally. you may hold noticed that the rule-utilitarian’s place is evocative of Kant. )

In decision. the useful point of view championed by Bentham and refined by John Stuart Mill has come to be one of the two major schools of ethical idea among academic philosophers in the United States and elsewhere. Its major competition. of class. comes from Kant’s deontological moralss. It is deserving adverting every bit good that utilitarianism has besides had a powerful impact outside ethical circles. Remember that Bentham himself was chiefly a broad political reformist. so it is suiting that political relations and public policy are besides countries in which concluding about the “greatest good for the greatest number” continues to widely practiced.