Enter the characters you see below Sorry, we just need to make sure you’re not a robot. Jump to navigation Jump to search This article discusses utilitarian ethical theory. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that states that the best action is the the utility sink that maximizes utility.
Utility” is defined in various ways, usually in terms of the well-being of sentient entities. Humans alone, or other sentient beings? Benthamism, the utilitarian philosophy founded by Jeremy Bentham, was substantially modified by his successor John Stuart Mill, who popularized the word ‘Utilitarianism’. The importance of happiness as an end for humans has long been recognized. Although utilitarianism is usually thought to start with Jeremy Bentham, there were earlier writers who presented theories that were strikingly similar. Hume studied the works of, and corresponded with, Francis Hutcheson, and it was he who first introduced a key utilitarian phrase.
In the first three editions of the book, Hutcheson included various mathematical algorithms “to compute the Morality of any Actions. In this, he pre-figured the hedonic calculus of Bentham. Some claim that John Gay developed the first systematic theory of utilitarian ethics. Now it is evident from the nature of God, viz.
Gay’s theological utilitarianism was developed and popularized by William Paley. It has been claimed that Paley was not a very original thinker and that the philosophical part of his treatise on ethics is “an assemblage of ideas developed by others and is presented to be learned by students rather than debated by colleagues. Apart from restating that happiness as an end is grounded in the nature of God, Paley also discusses the place of rules. It is the utility of any moral rule alone, which constitutes the obligation of it. But to all this there seems a plain objection, viz. To see this point perfectly, it must be observed that the bad consequences of actions are twofold, particular and general.
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The particular bad consequence of an action, is the mischief which that single action directly and immediately occasions. You cannot permit one action and forbid another, without showing a difference between them. Consequently, the same sort of actions must be generally permitted or generally forbidden. Where, therefore, the general permission of them would be pernicious, it becomes necessary to lay down and support the rule which generally forbids them. Bentham’s book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation was printed in 1780 but not published until 1789.
It is possible that Bentham was spurred on to publish after he saw the success of Paley’s The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. In Chapter IV, Bentham introduces a method of calculating the value of pleasures and pains, which has come to be known as the hedonic calculus. Rosen warns that descriptions of utilitarianism can bear “little resemblance historically to utilitarians like Bentham and J. Mill” and can be more “a crude version of act utilitarianism conceived in the twentieth century as a straw man to be attacked and rejected. The question then arises as to when, if at all, it might be legitimate to break the law.
This is considered in The Theory of Legislation, where Bentham distinguishes between evils of the first and second orders. It is true there are cases in which, if we confine ourselves to the effects of the first order, the good will have an incontestable preponderance over the evil. Were the offence considered only under this point of view, it would not be easy to assign any good reasons to justify the rigour of the laws. Mill was brought up as a Benthamite with the explicit intention that he would carry on the cause of utilitarianism. Mill’s book Utilitarianism first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser’s Magazine in 1861 and was reprinted as a single book in 1863.
It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone. The word utility is used to mean general well-being or happiness, and Mill’s view is that utility is the consequence of a good action. Utility, within the context of utilitarianism, refers to people performing actions for social utility. With social utility, he means the well-being of many people. Mill not only viewed actions as a core part of utility, but as the directive rule of moral human conduct.
The rule being that we should only be committing actions that provide pleasure to society. This view of pleasure was hedonistic, as it pursued the thought that pleasure is the highest good in life. This concept was adopted by Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, and can be seen in his works. However, he accepts that this is usually because the intellectual pleasures are thought to have circumstantial advantages, i. Instead, Mill will argue that some pleasures are intrinsically better than others. The accusation that hedonism is “doctrine worthy only of swine” has a long history. Aristotle says that identifying the good with pleasure is to prefer a life suitable for beasts.