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Utilitarianism Essay

1910 words - 8 pages

Is Pleasure, really the only thing in life we should focus on?

For thousands of years, several moral agents have tried to construct multiple ethical theories that could potentially help other moral agents with the difficult and complicated task of determining what is morally right or wrong. In this paper, I will explain the fascinating ethical theory of Utilitarianism and discuss about two very influential people to Utilitarianism, who are Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill. Along with discussing their contributes to this theory, I will evaluate their personal perspective on Utilitarianism and determine which is more plausible between the two. Ultimately, by doing this I will be able ...view middle of the document...

Since, maximizing one’s pleasure is the only important life goal an Utilitarian should strive for it is also the only thing in life that is intrinsically good. Anything that has an intrinsic value is valued for it’s own sake, or for what it is. Therefore in Utilitarianism, pleasure is the only thing with an intrinsic value because it is the only thing in life worth attaining, and anything else is just a means to attain it.
In the 18th century, there were many moral philosophers accepting this idea of basing our moral decisions on utility, and one of the most famous philosophers to do so was Jeremy Bentham. Jeremy Bentham in “Principle of Morals and Legislation” describe the principle of utility as pain and pleasure are the two sovereign masters of humankind and we as moral agents under their control do, say, and think according to them, pain and pleasure, and it is something we cannot avoid (Fisher, 310). Bentham also adds on to the idea of utility by incorporating this impartial perspective, where he adds that every single person counts as one, and no single person’s pleasure or pain is greater than any other person. With this idea, Bentham made it impossible for anyone to become more important than any other person in society in Utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham also brings up the idea of “ the interest of the community” supporting the claim that Utilitarianism is a universalistic theory, meaning taking the welfare of all people affected by an action into account. Bentham stated in “Principle of Morals and Legislation”,
“An action then may be said to be conformable to the principle of utility, or, for shortness sake, to utility, when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it” (as cited in Fieser, 310). Bentham argued here for the idea that morality of an action is based on the greatest amount of pleasure produced for the greatest amount of people.
Bentham was strongly in favor for the claim that right actions must maximize pleasure. So in order to measure the anticipated pleasures/ pains of prospective actions, Bentham proposed the very poplar method of the Hedonic Calculus. With the Hedonic Calculus, Bentham proposed that one could determine whether any given action is right or wrong by just calculating the total pleasure and pain by an action (Fieser, 298). When Bentham introduced this concept of Hedonic Calculus several moral agents were very interested in Utilitarianism because it was a method that could scientifically prove an ethical thoery with math (Navin, 2013). In conducting the Hedonic Calculus there were seven specific factors: Intensity of the pleasure/ pain, Duration of the pleasure/ pain, Certainty of the pleasure/ pain, Remoteness of the pleasure/ pain (how soon will the pleasure or pain occur), Fecundity (whether similar pleasure/ pains will follow, Purity (whether the pleasure is mixed with pain), and Extent (how many people will be affected). Bentham attempt...

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