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Utilitarianism: Act (Bentham) VS. Rule (Mill)

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Mary Barney

on 19 April 2017

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Transcript of Utilitarianism: Act (Bentham) VS. Rule (Mill)

Utilitarianism: Act (Bentham) VS. Rule (Mill)
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
1. Roots in law and social reform movement.
Bentham's Argument:
1. Nature has placed mankind under 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..."
Factors that distinguish Mill from Bentham:
2. Claimed that all sentient beings want the same things: Pleasure and the absence of pain.
3. Provided the *Utilitarian Calculus as a tool
for determining moral obligations:
*Intensity, Duration, Certainty, Propinquity, Fecundity, Purity, Extent.
2. Utilitarians (individuals as well as governments)should follow the principle of utility, "that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness."
3. "The interest of the community is one of the most general expressions that can occur in the phraseology of morals:...The interest of the community is the sum total of the interests of the several members who compose it."
4. "A measure of government may be said to be conformable to or dictated by...utility, when in like manner the tendency which it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any which it has to diminish it.
John Stewart Mill
Bentham's Godson
Child genius/prodigy
Points out several problems with classical Utilitarian theory, and argues for his own version.
1. It is not enough to "maximize pleasure" one must also pay attention to the "quality" of the pleasure.
"The Doctrine of Utilitarianism": "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness"
2. We can determine which pleasures are of a higher quality by asking those who have many/varied experiences, "which are the best?"
3. Those who have experience of the intellectual pleasures will always prefer them over the physical pleasures; "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied."
4. This higher standard of pleasure should be accessible to all sentient creatures.
Objections to Utilitarianism:

1. The standard of maximizing utility is too low; maximizing pleasure is not the same as behaving morally!

2. The standard of Utility is too high; we can't expect people to regularly think about the well being of EVERY member of society!
Objections (continued):

3. Utilitarianism is a "godless doctrine."

4. There is not time to perform the calculus each time we make a moral decision.
Mill's proof for the principle of Utility:

1. Each Individual Desires happiness, and his own happiness is the desired "end" to every decision, action, etc.

2. Because happiness is the end of all individual human action, we can determine that the more happiness we create, the better the action is.

3. All other "goods" desired by persons are desired as a means to happiness or as a part of the individual's happiness, for example, virtue.

4. Since my happiness is no more or less valuable than the happiness of any other sentient being, I am required to consider the happiness of all persons involved in my decisions, and to maximize the happiness of all!

"And now to decide whether this is really so, whether mankind do desire nothing for itself but that which is a pleasure to them, or of which the absence is a pain - we have evidently arrived at a question of fact and experience, dependent, like all similar questions, upon evidence."
Can science show us what is right?
Full transcript