Utilitarianism Is Ethical Actions With Happiness

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that maintains that an action is right if it produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Ethical actions are based on consequences for human happiness. The theory as a whole, is mostly seen as secular which means that it is not religious and has no links to religion, relativistic which is the opposite to absolute, has no moral norms or rules, each situation has to be looked at because each situation is different and teleological which means that to be concerned with the end purpose or goal of an action - “the end justifies the means.” The Key components of Utilitarianism are Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Bentham’s theory was Act Utilitarianism, this meant that he looked at the consequences of each individual act and calculated utility each time the act was performed. Whereas Mill's theory was Rule Utilitarianism, this meant that he looked at the consequences of having everyone follow a particular rule and calculated the overall utility of accepting or rejecting the rule.

Jeremy Bentham was a (18th century) Philosopher, economist and social reformer. He wrote the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1789. As an individual, he witnessed tremendous unfairness within society with the minority becoming wealthy off the backs of the poor majority. Therefore, this led to him wanting to make a system of morality that would benefit the masses. Bentham believed that the main aim was to achieve happiness and pleasure whilst avoiding pain. The ethical theory can be split into 3 parts which are :

The Motivation of Humans, this was his view on what drove humans and what goodness and badness was all about. Bentham believed that humans were motivated by pain and pleasure because of this, he is known as a Hedonist. According to Bentham, all human beings seek pleasure and avoid pain. In the introduction of his book Principles of Morals and Legislation, he wrote:

“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.” (Bentham 1789).

As a result, we can see that pleasure and pain, for Bentham, contribute not only as reasons for behaviour, but they do however define one's good. In short, Bentham believed that a calculus of value could be built on the basis of pain and pleasure that can only exist in individuals.

The Principle of Utility, (Latin utilis = useful) which is his moral rule. The principle says that we should strive for 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number,' which means that an action's rightness or wrongness is determined by its 'utility' or 'usefulness”. Usefulness refers to the amount of pleasure or happiness caused by the action. Bentham said:

“By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which appears to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question...I say of every action whatsoever…” (Bentham 1789).

This demonstrates that acts or behaviours are good if they promote happiness or pleasure, and bad if they tend to cause misery or suffering. Bentham viewed his theory that if an action created the greatest good and the greatest pleasure or happiness and the least pain or sadness for the greatest number of people then it would be considered acceptable. Also, his view is democratic since pleasure cannot be experienced by a single person. When confronted with a moral dilemma, Bentham claimed that the best course of action is to act in a way that offers the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. Bentham's utilitarianism is known as ACT utilitarianism because it claims that the utility principle should be applied to every act committed in each particular situation. Therefore, any act is appropriate provided it creates 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number.'

The third and final part is the Hedonic calculus (PRRICED).It consists of Purity which is how free from pain the act is, Richness is how likely the happiness will lead to further happiness, Remoteness which is how close in time is the happiness, Intensity is how strong is the happiness is, Certainty which is how sure can you be that the act will produce happiness, Extent is how many people will receive happiness and lastly, Duration which is how long will the happiness last. Bentham initiated the Hedonic calculus with the aim to evaluate the appropriate action which would create the most pleasure and the least pain for the greatest number of people. The Hedonic Calculus measures the pain and pleasure produced by each choice in a scenario to determine which option to take. Bentham did not perceive pleasure as being theoretical, but more as something measurable. The Hedonic Calculus was established to predict which action would result in the maximum pleasure and least suffering. Bentham looked at the quantity of happiness instead of the quality of happiness. An example where the Hedonic calculus can be used is with animal experimentation. Purity, a positive would be that it would be safer to test on animals than humans as we are similar but a negative would be that it is torture for the innocent animals and can lead to serious damages. Richness, it will allow people to buy products that will not give them any harm however, it is potentially killing innocent animals if failed. Extent, there will be a lot of people who will receive happiness as they know it has been tested. Duration, more people will keep buying the products in the future on the other hand, soon there will not be enough animals to test on and it could cause extinction in animals as they are getting injured causing problems for the future. According to Bentham, the Hedonic calculus is an ideal we should attempt.

07 July 2022
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