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Singer, Bentham And Utilitarianism Essay

2384 words - 10 pages

Utilitarianism was initially a school of thought brought about by Jeremey Bentham throughout the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. John Stuart Mill would later go on to shape it closer to the form we know today. On the surface the Utilitarian way of thinking seems simple: every action must be done for the sake of the greater good. However, as one digs deeper into this notion it is clear that this cannot be achieved by relying solely on a common sense approach to life. In the following paragraphs we will explore the history of Utilitarianism and those who formed it, how it is meant to guide life, and how it is relevant to life in the Twenty-first Century.
Jeremy Bentham spent most of his life focused on what he saw as failings in the justice system. He felt that there were “irrational and chaotic foundations” in the leadership of his time (Lawhead, p465). Bentham did not believe that morality was ingrained in every person from birth, or that moral laws were the same for everyone – and since there was no scientific proof of these things, things that the former government had come to regard as fact, Bentham dismissed them. What Bentham did believe was that pleasure and pain were experienced by each and every person, even if the sources were different. He also believed that achieving this pleasure was the end goal of every person. Even when a person does something that takes the pleasure of others into account, ultimately it is in order to indirectly promote their own pleasure. Therefore he came up with a method for calculating the amount of pain and pleasure that a situation created. Then, by adding up these amounts and determining which course of action provided the most pleasure, for all in the situation, he determined the “right” response. John Stuart Mill was Bentham’s godson and became an influential member of the Utilitarian school. As he grew and experienced life, he began to review his own philosophical notions of Utilitarianism and introduced new ones, different than those of Bentham. Unlike his predecessor, Mill did not believe that the end goal of humanity was simply to gain pleasure, at least not in the form of physical notions. He believed that they had a drive to strengthen their intellect and to be “well-developed human beings” (Mill, via Lawhead, p471). He also felt that humans were not necessarily only looking out for themselves. Mill endorsed what he called the “pleasure of benevolence,” which attests that we find joy in helping those around us that we see are in need (p471). Also, where Bentham only attributed quantities to pleasures, Mill believed that pleasure could also be viewed on a qualitative basis before being considered in the formula for determining rightness or wrongness – Bentham’s “hedonic calculus” (p467, 471).
We have just been introduced to the idea of a formula for how to measure happiness - the hedonic calculus. The idea of making people happy seems simple, but if a formula is necessary to make...

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