Chapter Seven: Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a universal teleological system It calls for the maximization of goodness in society - that is, the greatest amount of goodness for the greatest number of people- and not merely the good of the agent
Two Types of Ethical Systems
Deontology : From the Greek word deon meaning “duty” and logos meaning “logic”. The center of value is the act or kind of act; certain features in the act itself have intrinsic value.
Teleological ethics : From the Greek word telos meaning “goal directed”. The center of value is the outcome or consequences of the act.
Classic Utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
He invented a scheme for measuring pain and pleasure that he called the hedonic calculus .
According to Bentham, one should maximize pleasure and minimize suffering.
Two Main Features of Utilitarianism
The consequentialist principle : the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined by the goodness or badness of the results that flow from it
The utility or hedonist principle : the only thing that is good in itself is some specific type of state (ie. pleasure, happiness, welfare)
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
Mill wanted to distinguish happiness from mere pleasure.
He defines happiness in terms of a higher order of pleasures or satisfactions.
Higher or more refined pleasure are superior to lower pleasures.
Act- and Rule-Utilitarianism
Act-utilitarianism : An act is right if and only if it results in as much good as any available alternative.
Rule-utilitarianism : An act is right if it is required by a rule that is itself a member of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for society than any available alternative.
The Strengths of Utilitarianism
A single principle, an absolute system with a potential answer for every situation.
It seems to get at the substance of morality because it has a material core: promoting human (and possibly animal) flourishing and reduce suffering.
Well-suited to address the problem of posterity
Criticism of Utilitarianism Problems with Formulating Utilitarianism
How do you measure the term “greatest”?
The greatest number of people over the greatest amount of happiness –how to define?
What about those who are not in the greatest amount?
Is it total or general happiness?
The Comparative Consequences Objection
We normally do not know the long term consequences of all of our actions.
Consequences go on into the infinite future, so we really cannot know them.
Calculation is impossible.
Two kinds of Consequences 1) Actual consequences of an act 2) Consequences that could reasonably have been expected to occur
Two Corresponding Right Actions 1) Absolutely right if it has the best actual consequences (as per consequence 1) 2) Objectively right if it is reasonable to expect that it will have the best consequences (as per consequence 2)
The Consistency Objection to Rule-Utilitarianism When pushed to its logical limits, it must either become a deontological system or transform itself into act-utilitarianism
The No-Rest Objection We always have an infinite set of possible acts to choose from, and even if I can be excused from considering all of them, I can be fairly sure that there is often a preferable act that I could be doing.
The Publicity Objection Moral principles must be known to all, but utilitarians do not claim everyone should act like a utilitarian.
The Relativism Objection It seems to endorse different rules in different societies Also, the more serious worry is that it might become so plastic that it justifies any moral rule.
Criticism of the Ends Justifying Immoral Means 1) If a moral theory justifies actions that we universally deem impermissible, then that moral theory must be rejected 2) Utilitarianism justifies actions that we universally deem impermissible 3) Therefore, utilitarianism must be rejected
The Lying Objection It leads to the counterintuitive endorsement of lying when it serves the greater good
The Integrity Objection Personal integrity can be violated by commanding that we violate our most central and deeply held principles
The Justice Objection Utilitarians could consider actions that go against standards of justice that most of us think should never be dispensed with