This essay will present the key features of Utilitarianism and identify the problems of Utilitarianism to the extent to which they make Utilitarianism unacceptable.
Jeremy Bentham founded Utilitarianism. He lived at a time of great
change. With revolutions in France and America, demands were being
made for human rights and greater democracy. Bentham worked on legal
reform. Utilitarianism is associated with the principle of utility.
Utility means the amount of satisfaction or pleasure that somebody
gains from consuming a commodity, product, or service, i.e.; useful.
The hedonic calculus, which is his system for measuring how good or
bad a consequence is:
At the time Bentham put forward the theory it was instrumental. It
changed the way society was run and the way society now thinks for the
better. It dramatically made changes to the poverty in Britain
Theories that are interested in the ends are known as teleological.
Telos is Greek for the end. Therefore teleological means that the ends
justify the means, utilitarianism follows this rule. Utilitarianism is
the greatest goodness for the greatest number of people. The rightness
of actions depends on their utility, and the utility is measured by
the consequences, simply meaning the greatest good by moral actions.
If the consequences are good, then the moral actions are not as
A positive example is “Lucy wins the lottery. Instead of keeping it
all to herself, Lucy decides to share it out with some of her friends,
because she thinks it will make them happy.”
Lucy is doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people and
is doing it using goodness from her morals.
A negative example is “James, Peter and Matthew are sexually
frustrated and are on a desert island with Louise. Louise does not
want to have sex. James, Peter and Matthew rape Louise, as there are
three of them and one of her.”
This is the greatest good for the greatest number of people; however
it is an immoral action.
Bentham was an empiricist (the philosophical belief that all knowledge
is derived from the experience of the senses), i.e.; food or sex.
Bentham maintained that human beings
were motivated by their five senses and that humans would always seek
pleasure and avoid pain at all costs.
To measure the pleasure he devised the hedonic calculus, which
consisted of seven principles each of which could be given a numerical
score. These consist of its intensity, duration, certainty or
uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, purity and possibly
wit. This should make it clear how beneficial the greatest good for
the greatest number is.
An example could be “A car is on fire. Inside the car is a doctor with
the cure to cancer and your own child and you can only save one.”
Using the hedonic calculus you...