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Jeremy Bentham And John Mill's Classical Utilitarianism

1398 words - 6 pages

In this essay I will analyse Jeremy Bentham and John Mill’s Classical Utilitarianism theory. I will present the objection that the expected impartiality of a moral agent is impractical and therefore seriously undermines the theory itself. This essay will focus on this opposition in order to determine whether or not such a theory can be salvaged through a possible modification.

Classical Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which promotes the moral decision as one which produces the most utility. Utility is often described as pleasure or happiness in consideration of both the individual and the world as a whole, and results in the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. Classical (or Act) Utilitarianism is closely related to the golden rule: “To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.” (Mill 1863) and is therefore approved by both religion and reason, even considered a secular version of Divine Command theory in which morality is subject to God and obedience to his commands. The theory is essentially a derivative of consequentialism and therefore the possible consequences of an action determine its morality, meaning in essence, the right action is the one which leads to the best outcome. A clear procedure in decision making is followed: identify the possible options, evaluate each potential act in terms of the amount of happiness produced, and act to maximise the balance of good over bad.

Although the idea of utilitarianism sounds ideal in terms of an ethical theory, we must examine the fact that all suppositions have their faults, and utilitarianism is no exception. Many objections have been provided against the theory, but one that appears to be exceptionally important is the question of whether anybody can truly be impartial in terms of determining the greatest happiness produced by an action. The idea of impartiality appears to be ideal on the surface, diminishing the influence of social structures, class and racism. Mill recognises the fundamentality of a balanced perspective upon making moral decisions, “Utilitarianism requires [the moral agent] to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator” (Mill, 1863), but I believe this cannot truly be achieved, thus this opposition undermines the theory itself. By definition, Utilitarianism is often considered as a theory which produces the greatest happiness, yet it is not always clear as to whose perspective this will be from. Generally, the decision-maker is whoever is about to complete the action, meaning that the person will almost certainly be biased in his own opinion. Personal preference is always going to participate in the judgement, and thus different weights will be given to possible actions.

In an attempt to salvage the theory, JS Mill expresses the argument that the person who makes a judgement on what is right and good will be impartial and emphatic to all, their intent as...

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