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A REPORT ON UTILITARIANISM

-By Paurush Rathi(2014151)

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which states that a path that is morally accepted
and provides maximum happiness for maximum people should be chosen. It is laid on
the foundation of mass-max happiness.

Classical Utilitarianism was defined by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

According to Jeremy Bentham, nature is made of two major powers pain and
pleasure. They co-exist and it is our choice to opt for one of them according to our
deeds. Bentham was the first one to make a calculator to measure happiness which
is known as a hedonic calculator. Bentham said that the value of a pleasure and pain
can be measured according to its intensity, duration, certainty and propinquity or
remoteness. It is necessary to consider "the tendency of any act by which it is
produced" and, therefore, to take account of the act's fecundity, or the chance it
has of being followed by sensations of the same kind and its purity, or the chance
it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind. Ultimately, it is
necessary to consider the extent, or the number of people affected by the action.

Bentham answered the question When is it legitimate to break the law with his
theory he distinguished between the evils of the first order and evils of the
second order. The ones which come under the category of the first order are
those which have immediate consequences and those which come under the
category of the second order are those whose consequences spread through the
community causing an alarm in the society. It is basically based on the idea of
greater good for the maximum number of people.
Suppose there is a serial killer who has killed a lot of innocent lives, by taking his
organs and donating them a lot of lives can be saved, in such a case it becomes
justifiable to donate his organs to save other people. He is of no use if he lives but
his parts will have a lot of value as they can save many precious lives.

John Stuart Mill came up as a Benthamite. He rejects a purely quantitative


measurement of utility and said that there is a difference between pleasures,
some are more desirable than the others. To put it in simple words, higher pleasure
is a pleasure of the mind, anything that effects your brain positively. A lower
pleasure is a pleasure of the flesh such as eating drinking or sex. Mill also
considered animal pleasures to be below human pleasures. This can be taken from
his quote "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better
to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied"

Modern amendments in utilitarianism:

Ideal utilitarianism:

Moore rejects the theory of a purely hedonistic utilitarianism and said that there
are a range of values that need to be maximized. He says that it is not realistic to
say that pleasure is the sole measure of what is good. If the quantity of pleasure
in each was equal, yet the fact that all the beings in the one possessed in addition
knowledge of many different kinds and a full appreciation of all that was beautiful
or worthy of love in their world, whereas none of the beings in the other possessed
any of these things, would give us no reason for preferring the first to the
second.

Act and Rule Utilitarianism:

In the mid there twentieth century there was a polarization created between the
philosophers. On one hand were those who supported rule utilitarianism and on the
other side were those who were up for act utilitarianism.

Rule utilitarian said that there should be some rules bounding our actions so that
we can make right choices as calculating the consequences each and every time
would result in often making decisions that would lead to less than the best course
of action.

Act utilitarianism is based on a hedonic approach and states that the path that
maximizes utility and pleasure should be chosen. Act utilitarianism states that an
action is right if it maximizes utility while rule utilitarianism maintains that an
action is right if it binds by a rule that maximizes utility.
Negative Utilitarianism:

In mid twentieth century Karl Popper said that the principle maximizing pleasure
should be replaced with minimizing pain as he thought that it is very dangerous to
maximize pleasure because from an ethical point of view there is no symmetry
between pain and pleasure.

I support his statement with a common observation about the human nature, each
and every one of us want to share our pain and sufferings but none of us wants to
share the pleasure and gains with anybody. This shows that even practically there
is no symmetry between pain and pleasure.

We all agree with fact that pain and pleasure have cyclic occurrence with time and
neither of the two can be avoided. Now consider a case of a society where each
and every one wants to maximize their personal pleasures, if in such a condition
somebody is in pain and wants to share his sufferings then there would be nobody
to share his pain as everyone wants to maximize their pleasure. In this case this
individual would ultimately decay with his sufferings. Similarly soon the whole
society will become hollow and finally collapse.

If in such a condition if we focus on minimizing pain then the individual who was
suffering would get a lot of helping hands and recover very quickly. His sufferings
would not be a big issue as they would be momentary and the society would become
balanced and stable. This on the same hand also proves that in a balanced society it
is impossible to maximize pleasure and doing so can be dangerous.