JSB175 Reading Week Four Notes
Ethical Theory in Context, p. 13 – 15
Consequences and Utility
Utilitarianism is a form of Consequentialism, which is a theory focusing more on the consequences of our
actions than the intentions.
Where Deontology is all about doing the right thing regardless of the consequences, Utilitarianism is the
exact opposite. Utilitarians argue that the end justifies the means.
Utilitarians argue that we should always do what is best for the greatest number of people, or will bring the
greatest overall good.
Although Utilitarianism has been criticised for its failure to take into account the motivations and intentions
of people, Lawrence Hinman (1998) argues that it is in fact a demanding discipline because it demands that
we sacrifice our own pleasure, happiness or preferences for the greater good.
Utilitarians aim to scientifically systemize morality in an attempt to reduce or even eliminate moral
disagreement or confusion. If we can all agree that the purpose of morality is to make the world a better
place, and if a reliable method for calculating what is the best course of action in any given situation, then
we have answered the question of how we ought to live.
Jeremy Bentham was the first Utilitarian philosopher and therefore is often considered the father of
Bentham argued that there at least two values that are intrinsically good (which means they are good in
themselves rather than good for achieving an end). They are happiness and pleasure.
Bentham argued that we can measure the overall good by measuring the amount of happiness or pleasure
experienced in any given circumstance. He defined pleasure as: “an enjoyable feeling we experience when a
state of deprivation is replaced by fulfilment.”
Bentham claimed that pleasure is easy to quantify. He suggested measuring Hedons (good feelings) against
Dolors (bad feelings) to arrive at an index of pleasure.
However, the problem with this calculation is that it fails to take into account ‘higher order values’ such as
those Aristotle describes as virtues – for example, courage, wisdom etc. It has also been argued by other
philosophers that if pleasure is our ultimate goal then we may as well take ‘happy pills’ all the time or