Modes of Reasoning – Lecture 13
I – Introduction
• Ethical theory is a very important branch of philosophy.
• It is concerned with the matter of morality.
-What is the nature of morality?
-What are the important moral concepts and how should we define
-What moral principles should guide our actions?
-Which actions are morally right and which are morally wrong? 2
• There are two main branches of ethics: meta-ethics and normative
(1)Meta-ethics: a higher-level examination of ethical questions.
-Addresses questions about important theoretical concepts in ethics;
i.e., about the nature of morality and right and wrong.
(2)Normative ethics: a lower-level examination of ethical
-It addresses questions about the moral propriety of actions.
-What norms govern the moral propriety of actions?
-Which actions are morally right and which are morally wrong? 3
• This week, we’re going to begin discussing normative ethics.
• This deals with the norms that govern morally correct actions, and
whether particular actions, themselves, are morally correct or
• In particular, we’re going to discuss one normative ethical theory
today: utilitarianism. 4
• Utilitarianism was a moral theory proposed by John Stuart Mill and th
Jeremy Bentham, two important British philosophers of the 19
• Along with Kant’s deontology, it has been one of the two most highly
regarded moral theories of the last two centuries.
• We’re going to discuss Mill’s version of utilitarianism, along with one
other version of utilitarianism. 5
II – Utilitarianism
• Utilitarianism, a normative moral theory, specifies what makes an
action morally correct.
• It’s a species of consequentialism.
Consequentialism: an action is morally correct insofar as it produces
the best consequences.
• Utilitarianism supplies us with a normative principle to distinguish
morally good actions from morally bad actions in terms of their
• This principle is the principle of utility.
The principle of utility: the morally best action in any given
circumstance is the one which maximizes utility.
-Morally correct actions maximize utility and minimize disutility. 6
• The question is, what is utility?
-Utility: a unit of value.
-There are different interpretations of what type of value a unit of
-The different versions of utilitarianism divide up according to how
they interpret the meaning of ‘a unit of value’.
• We’ll discuss two of these theories. 7
III – Mill’s Utilitarianism
• The first version of utilitarianism we’ll discuss is that of John Stuart
• Mill thought that the principle of utility should be thought of as a
principle of maximizing happiness; thus for him ‘unit of value’ means
‘unit of happiness’.
-The morally best action is the one that maximizes happiness and
• This is known as hedonistic utilitarianism.
-We try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
• More specifically, on Mill’s hedonistic utilitarian theory, happiness or
pleasure is a subjective phenomenon.
-It is measured in terms of the brute feelings of what we experience as
-Happiness or pleasure, in other words, is a subjective, internal, first-
person phenomenon. 8
• There is one famous objection to Mill’s hedonistic utilitarianism.
• It is based on a science fiction scenario: Robert Nozick’s experience