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Utilitarianism & Bentham

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure

Property Right Legislation

Punishment Theory


Consequentialist theory?

Action of Judges Precedent Parliamentary sovereignty

Theory of Utility

Pleasure & Pain


Max. Pleasure Min. Pain

And More

Quantification of Action Forms of Utilitarianism Theory of Value

[I]t is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong and every action is governed by pain and pleasure

Utilitarianism (from Lat. utilis: useful) is a tendency within normative ethics.
Complex instrument for the empirical-rational justification of action

Introduction Cont..
The origins of utilitarian thinking go back to antiquity (Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus),. Also found in mediaeval times (Thomas Aquinas) The early modern period (in particular, David Hume, ClaudeAdrien Helvetius and Cesare Beccaria) Of prime importance is Jeremy Bentham, whose work An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1798) laid the foundation of classical utilitarianism

The Utility Principle and the Felicific Calculus

Bentham begins his principal work An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation with the assertion that both our is and our ought are determined by pleasure and pain
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other hand the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne

Next, Bentham introduces the principle of utility, which applies not only to private individuals but also to the government:
By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever; and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government

Utilitarianism and Consequence

For the utilitarian, analysis of the consequences of actions is central to moral thinking. Utilitarianism measures the moral quality of an action by the quality of its consequences, not by its conformity to rules. Accordingly, actions should be judged according to whether they are useful on the basis of their consequences. Hence, utilitarianism is also called a consequentialist theory.
Actions or rules for action are not adjudged right or wrong on their own account, but by reference to their consequences for the people they affect.

However, if the ethics of all actions are judged by their consequences alone, it means that there are no good or bad actions per se. It also implies that the intentions which underlie these actions are of no importance. Nor is there any such thing as a good or bad motive per se. A motive is only bad if it gives rise to an action with adverse consequences

Bentham obviously established an analogy between physical and legal causation

Sanction Physical Political Moral Religious Source Institutional order Popular community Supernatural power

A binding force to any law or rule of conduct

Time frame This Life This Life This Life This and afterlife

Ordinary course of nature

Utilitarianism Depends on a Theory of Value

It is claimed that morality depends on the consequences of an action Utilitarianism presupposes knowledge of how good or bad consequences can be recognized.

That is, it requires a theory about a suitable criterion for assigning something a value, so that it can be designated as good or bad. For an action is not useful in its own right, but only with reference to something else. In view of that, utilitarianism needs a theory of value which defines the scale of utility, so that the utility generated can be measured.
So utilitarianism is a combination of consequentialism, on the one hand, and a value theory on the other

Utilitarianism Depends on a Theory of Value

According to Bentham and J. S. Mill, utilitarianism itself takes up a value theoretical position in which the fulfilment of human needs human happiness, in other words is held to be the highest value.
Thus the goal is the maximum satisfaction, or the minimum frustration, of needs. For Bentham, human happiness is whatever the people concerned believe it to be. The means for achieving happiness cannot be determined a priori. Knowledge of happiness, of the means to maximize happiness, and the form of action most conducive to it, is a matter of experience alone.

What is needed in the first instance is empirical knowledge; that is, knowledge of the consequences of an action and the meaning of these consequences for the welfare of society. Thus the utilitarian theory of ethics is firmly rooted in reality. According to Bentham, the utility of an action can be determined precisely by making reference to seven criteria
(1) Intensity (2) Duration (3) Certainty or uncertainty (4) Propinquity or remoteness (5) Fecundity (6) Purity (7) Extent

Extent refers to the number of people affected by the action.

For the calculation of utility, the nature of the pleasures and pains concerned makes no difference. Bentham analyses the different utilities quantitatively, not qualitatively. In contrast, John Stuart Mill introduced a qualitative analysis of utility.
It is plain that if you say Colour alone is good as an end, then you can give no possible reason for preferring one colour to another. Your only standard of good and bad will then be colour; and since red and blue both conform equally to this, the only standard, you can have no other whereby to judge whether red is better than blue. [. . .] If we do really mean Pleasure alone is good as an end, then we must agree with Bentham that Quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry

Utilitarianism as a Normative Ethical Theory

Utilitarianism as a Teleological Theory Utilitarianism like eudemonism or hedonism is a teleological ethical theory, which is the contrary of a deontological theory A deontological theory of ethics, such as Kants moral philosophy, comprises a system of norms which are credited with absolute and unqualified validity. Acting in accordance with a deontological orientation means considering these rules alone, regardless of what consequences the action may entail Utilitarians view this as a reality-blind rule fetishism which disregards not only the vicissitudes of life but also human needs

That action or action rule is morally right, the consequences of which are optimal for the welfare of all parties affected.......,,According to Hoffe Bentham talks about the principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number or the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle The originator of the utility principle is acknowledged to be Francis Hutcheson, the teacher of Adam Smith. As early as 1725, he wrote in An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. Action is the best, which procures the greatest Happiness for the greatest Number, and that, worst, which, in like manner, occasions misery The utility principle represents the crux of Benthams entire theory of ethics, and can be traced in various forms through all his writings

The rightness of the utility principle is self-evident because it is instilled in man by nature. The utility principle, according to Bentham, is the sole ethical principle.

The inference of this claim to absoluteness is that all other ethical principles must be wrong. In particular, it precludes the existence of any human rights which could prevail over the utility principle. According to Bentham, natural rights stem from mere wishful thinking and hence they are nothing but rhetorical nonsense
In proportion to the want of happiness resulting from the want of rights, a reason exists for wishing that there were such things as rights. But reasons for wishing there were such things as rights, are not rights; a reason for wishing that a certain right were established, is not a right want is not supply hunger is not bread. [. . .] Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptable rights, rhetorical nonsense, nonsense upon stilts

Forms of Utilitarianism
Act and Rule Utilitarianism
One can distinguish between the original form of utilitarianism, act utilitarianism, and a modified version of it, rule utilitarianism

What is Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism and why modified version of the first is required?
Negative and Positive Utilitarianism Subjective and Objective Utilitarianism

Strength and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism

Strengths of Utilitarianism: Convincing assumptions: preference for pleasure and happiness. Explains morality as a social extension of natural inclinations. Transforms difficult moral deliberations into manageable empirical considerations. Advances flexibility over dogmatic persistence on principles. The stress is on the practices conducive to happiness not on natural rights or norms.

The concept of happiness is not clear. Very vague: equated either with pleasures or with the public good. Measurements and the units of happiness are arbitrary and subjective.

Disregard for motives and intrinsic values could lead to immoral and unjust consequences.
The social (altruistic) component could be too demanding if pursued strictly.

Forms of Utilitarianism
Act and Rule Utilitarianism

The Utility Principle and the Felicific Calculus

The Utility Principle and the Felicific Calculus