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Module 2, LU3 Lecture] Utilitarianism

Module 2, LU3 Lecture] Utilitarianism

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Published by Thalia Sanders
Utilitarianism lecutre
Utilitarianism lecutre

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6
Utilitarianism
(Rachels, Ch. 7 & 8)
I.Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism (Supplementary material)
A.Bentham’s influence on Mill can be traced directly through Mill’s father, JamesMill, himself a noted philosopher and economist who, along with Bentham, wascommitted to social and political reform in 18
th
Century England. James Millincorporated utilitarian principles into J. S. Mill’s education, so that he was very familiar with Bentham’s work and utilitarianism in general.B.Mill makes repeated references to the long tradition of utilitarian ethicsthroughout his book. While it may be true that many have espoused the utilitarian principle (Mill names, among others, Socrates, Plato, Epicurus and Jesus Christ), nonehad greater affect upon Mill’s thought than Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Bentham’sutilitarian theory grows out the moral sense school of ethics especially as formulated byFrancis Hutcheson (1694-1746). According to Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752),Hutcheson’s version of moral sense ethics emphasized benevolence (the common good)as the end of moral action, an end discernable in virtue of the proper functioning of themoral sense. In an interesting bit of foreshadowing, Butler’s criticism of Hutcheson (etal) appears to anticipate utilitarianism in the form presented by Bentham, and later, Mill.Butler says, “some of great and distinguished merit have, I think, expressed themselves ina manner which may occasion some danger to careless readers of imaging the whole of virtue to consist in simply aiming, according to the best of their judgment, at promotingthe happiness of mankind in the present state, and the whole of vice in doing what theyforesee, or might foresee, is likely to produce an abundance of unhappiness in it.”(
 Dissertation on the Nature of Virtue
, 15; I, pp. 409-410)C.Bentham was also influenced by Hume’s radical empiricism that focused almostexclusively on the observable (factual) as opposed to the non-observable (metaphysical,e.g. in ethical theory, things like conscience, virtue and motive). This empiricistic strainis detectable in Bentham’s consequentialist utilitarian theory of ethics. Bentham was, inaddition to being a philosopher, a committed political reformer, although he did not holdany official political office. He studied law but never practiced, choosing instead todevote himself to the reform of law and public policy. As always, Bentham’s focus wason the observable, practical effects of any law or policy.
 
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D.In his
 Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
(1789), Benthamexplains his utilitarian view. He begins with the observation that nature has placedhumanity under “two sovereign masters” – 
 pleasure and pain
. These two masters alone, point to what we
ought 
to do and determine what we
 shall 
do. By this he means that pleasure and pain provide the standard/criteria for judging right and wrong and alsoexplain the deterministic chain of causes and effects of human action. The principle of utility recognizes this despotic authority of pleasure and pain over all of human activityand thereby distinguished it as a suitable principle for moral judgments.E.Bentham’s views concerning the centrality of pleasure and pain demonstrate thathe was a hedonist of two kinds. First, he was a
 psychological hedonist 
. He claimed thatall motives toward action, as a matter of fact, reduce to a desire for pleasure andavoidance of pain. It follows then, that he was also an
ethical hedonist 
. In the specificarena of moral action, pleasure is the sole basis for determining the good and actions areright only if they tend to produce pleasure or diminish pain.F.Bentham went on to distinguish 14 species or pleasure (e.g. senses, wealth, skill,amity, good name, power, piety, benevolence, to name a few). He also distinguished 11different species of pain. In addition to these specific kinds of pleasure and pain,Bentham also described seven ways pleasures and pains might vary. These are: intensity,duration, certainty/uncertainty of occurrence, propinquity or remoteness (i.e. near or far),fecundity (the chance of being followed by others of the same kind), purity (chance of  being followed by the opposite) and extent (number of persons affected).G.In his
 Introduction to the Principles of Morals
(1789), Bentham offers thefollowing statement of the principle of utility: “
that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have toaugment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question
.” Later,Bentham would describe his principle as simply “the Greatest Happiness principle”which simply advocates the greatest happiness for all interested parties. Bentham’semphasis on benevolence or the common good suggests that he saw the primaryapplication of the principle of utility to be in realm of law or public ethics and not as a principle for individual moral judgment (although this would seem to follow from hiscommitment to both psychological and ethical hedonism).H.Bentham was one of the founders of University College from which theUniversity of London eventually developed. In his will he stipulated that his mummified body, seated and dressed in the fashion of 1832, and kept in a wooden cabinet should be present at each meeting of the Board, a practice which continues in effect to this day.
 
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6II.John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism
A.J. S. Mill’s father, James Mill, was a friend and follower of Bentham. From avery early age, Mill was schooled in utilitarianism and when he became an adult was oneof its most ardent proponents.B.Mills short book,
Utilitarianism
(1861) is the classic text expounding theutilitarian principle. Mill’s version of theory differed somewhat from that of Bentham’s.His view is more refined and nuanced in many regards. Some find this an improvementon Bentham’s rough and ready hedonistic calculus, while others wonder if the theory thatMill comes to hold is really utilitarian at all.
III.The Utilitarian Approach (Ch. 7)
This chapter introduces Utilitarian moral theory by means of three examples where moral judgments are made based on the Principle of Utility. It may be helpful to read thischapter and consider the examples before continuing with this lecture.
IV.Rachel’s Discussion of Utilitarianism (Ch. 8)
A.Classical Utilitarianism can be summarized in the following three propositions:1.An action’s consequences are the only basis upon which judgments oright and wrong may be made. [Hence the name “consequentialism” isoften used to describe Utilitarianism.2.Consequences are judged solely on the amount of happiness ounhappiness that results.3.Each person’s happiness counts the same.B.Is Pleasure the Only Thing That Matters?1.Two different questions:
What things are good?
and
What actions areright?
Utilitarians answer the question about right in terms of their answer to the question about good. What is good, and the only thing that is good,for Utilitarians is happiness, and happiness is usually defined in terms of  pleasure. 
 
(i)The Doctrine of NegativeResponsibility 
 
1. We are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of the choices wemake. 2. Sometimes we choose to act, and sometimes we choose not to. Either way, we are making a choice that has consequences. __________________________________________________________ 

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