Jan 30, 2012. Problems in Philosophy
“By the principle of Utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action
whatsoever according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of
the party whose interest is in question…” (Bentham)
All of this may seem trivial and platitudinous, but consider what this picture of morality leaves out:
(1) Gone are the references to God or to abstract moral rules “written in the heavens”.
(2) Morality is no longer to be understood as faithfulness to some divinely given code or some
inflexible set of rules.
(3) The point of morality according to utilitarians
Utilitarianism is one attempt to give morality a purely secular foundation.
Bentham and Mill were both Atheists—bentham more raucously than mill—and both intended
utilitarianism as a moral principle governing individuals’ actions, but also, as a principle that could be put
in the service of social policy, law, and politics.
The crux of utilitarianism is: we should judge actions right or wrong depending on whether they cause
more happiness or unhappiness.
As Mill noted- paying tribute to Aristotle’s old idea:
“The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other
things being desirable to that end.”
And an important condition:
Each person’s happiness must be counted equally in utilitarian reasoning!
“The happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own
happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism
requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.” (Mill, Utilitarianism)
This would forbid any partiality to one’s family or friends. It requires that we assign each person’s
utility—your mother’s and a perfect strang………
*This includes non-human animals—insofar as they are capable of suffering
As bentham wrote “The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those