Utilitarianism

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

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Utilitarianism

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

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