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Utilitarianism
 

Utilitarianism

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Slides regarding Utilitarianism (mainly Jeremy Bentham) for an undergraduate course in Political Thought that I taught between 2003-2005.

Slides regarding Utilitarianism (mainly Jeremy Bentham) for an undergraduate course in Political Thought that I taught between 2003-2005.

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  • Learning Objectives: 1.) To understand the basic tenets of utilitarianism. 2.) To distinguish between act and rule utilitarianism as alternative moral systems. 3.) To differentiate “the greatest good for the greatest number” from “the common good”.

Utilitarianism Utilitarianism Presentation Transcript

  • Utilitarianism
  • Overview
    • Who was Jeremy Bentham?
    • What is “utility”?
    • What is the principle of utility?
    • What is Bentham’s concept of the common good?
  • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
    • Oxford-educated in the natural law tradition
    • Renown for his “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation”
    • Gained a critical following for his doctrine of utilitarianism
  • Review
    • All politics aim at some good
      • Pursuit of individual interests
      • Self-preservation and order
      • The “good life”
    • Overall, politics is meant to achieve the common good
    • But what is the common good?
  • Premises
    • Pain and pleasure are basic sensations that direct our actions
    • Morality consists in seeking out happiness and avoiding pain
    • This is true of both individuals and governments
  • Utility
    • Utility refers to that property which tends to produce benefit and promote happiness
  • Principle of Utility
    • We will seek that object which increases our happiness more than the object can diminish it
    • If happiness > happiness, an action is consistent with the principle of utility
  • Principle of Utility
    • Anything consistent with the principle of utility is either good , should be done , or right
    • Or we might say it is not wrong or wrong if not done
  • The Common Good?
    • “ The greatest good for the greatest number.”
  • Good according to…
    • What we deem as “good” depends on the confluence of several criteria
    • Intensity
      • How much pleasure/good will we derive from it?
  • Good according to…
    • Duration
      • How long will it last?
    • Certainty
      • How surely can we enjoy it?
    • Propinquity
      • How close are we to enjoying it?
  • Good according to…
    • Fecundity
      • Will more pleasure/good ensue?
    • Purity
      • Are there consequences?
    • Extent
      • How many will benefit?
  • Direct/Indirect
    • Direct Utilitarianism (Act)
      • Evaluation of specific acts of individuals in specific situations
    • Indirect Utilitarianism (Rule)
      • Evaluation of specific acts of all people in similar situations
  • Summary
    • Governments act on the basis of three premises:
    • Every man is the best judge of his own interest
    • Every man’s capacity for happiness is the same
    • Society’s interest is the sum of the interests of the members of society
  • Critique
    • Utility is a useful though imperfect metric for individual action
    • The “greatest good for the greatest number” is not the same as the common good .