Chapter 8: The Debate over Utilitarianism
8.1. The Classical Version of the theory:
- Classical Utilitarianism can be summed up in three propositions:
- 1) The morality of an action depends solely on the consequences of the
action; nothing else matters
- 2) An action’s consequences matter only insofar as they involve greater or
lesser happiness of individuals.
- 3) In the assessment of consequences, each individual’s happiness gets
- This means nobody’s well-being matters more because of their social status
or looks etc.
- Classical Utilitarianism: an action is right if it produces the greatest overall
balance of happiness over unhappiness.
- Classical utilitarianism was developed and defended by 3 of the greatest
philosophers in the 19 century England:
- 1) Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
- 2) John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
- 3) Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900)
- Most moral philosophers reject this theory
8.2. Is Pleasure All That Matters?
- Right actions are the ones that produce the most good, but what is good?
- The utilitarian reply is: Happiness
- As Mill puts it: “The Utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable, and
the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as
means to that end”
- What is happiness? Utilitarian’s = happiness is pleasure
- They believe that pleasure includes all mental states that feel good
- Ex. sense of accomplishment, delicious taste, etc.
- Hedonism: pleasure is the one ultimate good and pain the one ultimate
- Most present day utilitarian’s now say that right actions are the ones that
have the best results, however that is measured
- English philosopher G.E. Moore: compiled short lists of things to be regarded
as valuable in themselves
- Moore suggested 3 obvious intrinsic goods: pleasure, friendship and aesthetic
- Therefore right actions are those that increase the world’s supply of these
things. 8.3. Are Consequences All That Matter?
- To determine whether an action is right Utilitarian’s believe we should look
at what will happen as a result of doing it.
- 3 arguments to this theory:
- Ex. A utilitarian is in an area of racial strife; a black man is accused of raping
a white woman and this causes rioting and lynching. The utilitarian is in the
area of the crime when it is committed such that his testimony would bring
about a conviction. If he confesses the rioting and lynchings will stop but a
innocent man will be sentenced.
- The utilitarian would bear false witness because the end result is better than
not doing it.
- Justice requires that we treat people fairly, according