Friday, November 2, 2012

Utilitarianism



There are quite a number of theories associated with ethics of which utilitarianism is one of them. It a theory of normative ethical philosophy and also has to do with the course of human action that brings overall happiness to all and sundry. This ethical philosophy is based on the concept that the real worth of a course of action is weighed based on the result it produces. Many have argued that the outcome of a course of action can be described as consequentialism. This has been further segmentalized into real consequentialism, intended consequentialism and foreseen consequentialism. According to Bentham (2001), it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. Jeremy believes that the consequence of any course of action determines the moral concept of that action and if the greatest number of people is happy, then utilitarianism is said to be in course.

Utilitarianism has developed over many centuries with many advocated coming up with a number of pressing issues that relate to this ethical theory. In the earliest history of utilitarianism, the concept of utility hold true for long. In the measurement of the morality of a course of action, the action that represents the true interests of man is considered ethical and consequently, utilitarianism.

This concept is further strengthened by the works of Francis when he said In comparing the moral qualities of actions, in order to regulate our election among various actions proposed, or to find which of them has the greatest moral excellency, we are led by our moral sense of virtue to judge thus; that in equal degrees of happiness, expected to proceed from the action, the virtue is in proportion to the number of persons to whom the happiness shall extend (and here the dignity, or moral importance of persons, may compensate numbers); and in equal numbers, the virtue is as the quantity of the happiness, or natural good; or that the virtue is in a compound ratio of the quantity of good, and number of enjoyers.

 In the same manner, the moral evil, or vice, is as the degree of misery, and number of sufferers; so that, that action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers; and that, worst, which, in like manner, occasions misery. According to Francis, “In comparing the moral qualities of actions, in order to regulate our election among various actions proposed, or to find which of them has the greatest moral excellency, we are led by our moral sense of virtue to judge thus; that in equal degrees of happiness, expected to proceed from the action, the virtue is in proportion to the number of persons to whom the happiness shall extend (and here the dignity, or moral importance of persons, may compensate numbers); and in equal numbers, the virtue is as the quantity of the happiness, or natural good; or that the virtue is in a compound ratio of the quantity of good, and number of enjoyers. In the same manner, the moral evil, or vice, is as the degree of misery, and number of sufferers; so that, that action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers; and that, worst, which, in like manner, occasions misery” (Francis, 2002). He went as far as trying to measure and calculates the morality of an action.

 The concept was later extended to mean that total happiness is the end to all human action so pursuance of happiness should be the major pre-occupation of man. Major players in this field came up with extended meaning of utilitarianism.  Moore (1912) came up the concept of ideal utilitarianism where he argued that the notion of having to place emphasis on happiness as an evidence of utilitarianism. He argued that pleasure so not be the only criteria to use in measuring what is good! He gave instances like our own very world cannot be said to be a bad place because it has a mixture of the good and the bad.

Further extension was given to the subject matter and acts and rule utilitarianism came to being.  Paley (2002) was of the opinion that it is better to use rule to determine what is right from what is wrong. He argued that if man depended on measuring the consequence of every action, almost everyone would want to go for the lesser value which means going for actions which are not the best.

Negative utilitarianism came to take the center state and according to Karl, he opined that the concept of total pleasure or total happiness is not feasible in this world so should not be used as a basis for determining whether an action is moral or otherwise. He argued that this concept of total pleasure should be replaced with concept of minimal pain. He said that contrary to popular belief that total pleasure determines a good course of action, sensation of pain also has its own appeal: appeal for help. It is on this basis that he based his notion. In addition to this concept, so many other ones came up that made this field an interesting one.
The concepts of utilitarianism have been argued, worked upon and analyzed by so many academics and non-academics alike and differing conclusions have been reached. Irrespective of the conclusions reached, there is a unifying agreement consciously or unconsciously reached by all, and that is the need to make the right decision and do the right things.    

 
 

References
Bentham, Jeremy (2001). The Works of Jeremy Bentham: Published under the
Superintendence of His Executor, John Bowring. Volume 1. Adamant Media Corporation. pp. 18.
Francis, Hutcheson (2002). "The Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue". In
Schneewind, J. B.. Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant. Cambridge University Press. pp. 515.
Moore, G. E. (1912) Ethics, London: Williams and Norgate, Chpt 7
Paley, William (2002). "The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy". In
Schneewind, J. B.. Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant. Cambridge University Press.

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