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Utilitarianism. Definition : the ethical doctrine that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility, defined as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain), . Utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham Greatest Happiness Principle:

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Definition: the ethical doctrine that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility, defined as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain),

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Jeremy Bentham

  • Greatest Happiness Principle:

    • Intensity: How strong is the pleasure?

    • Duration: How long will the pleasure last?

    • Certainty or Uncertainty: How likely or unlikely is it that the pleasure will occur?

    • Propinquity or Remoteness: How soon will the pleasure occur?

    • Fecundity: The probability that the action will be followed by sensations of the same kind.

    • Purity: The probability it will be followed by sensations of the opposite kind.

    • Extent: How many people will be affected?

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Jeremy Bentham

  • Begin with any one person of those whose interests seem most immediately to be affected by it: and take an account:

    • Of the value of each distinguishable pleasure which appears to be produced by it in the first instance.

    • Of the value of each pain which appears to be produced by it in the first instance.

    • Of the value of each pleasure which appears to be produced by it after the first. This constitutes the fecundity of the first pleasure and the impurity of the first pain.

    • Of the value of each pain which appears to be produced by it after the first. This constitutes the fecundity of the first pain, and the impurity of the first pleasure.

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Jeremy Bentham

  • Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side, and those of all the pains on the other. The balance, if it be on the side of pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole, with respect to the interests of that individual person; if on the side of pain, the bad tendency of it upon the whole.

  • Take an account of the number of persons whose interests appear to be concerned; and repeat the above process with respect to each. Sum up the numbers expressive of the degrees of good tendency, which the act has, with respect to each individual, in regard to whom the tendency of it is good upon the whole. Do this again with respect to each individual, in regard to whom the tendency of it is bad upon the whole. Take the balance which if on the side of pleasure, will give the general good tendency of the act, with respect to the total number or community of individuals concerned; if on the side of pain, the general evil tendency, with respect to the same community.

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Jeremy Bentham

  • Practical example:

    • imagine you are a doctor driving to a patient, a young mother who is about to give birth. It looks like she will need a Caesarian section. It is late at night and you come across a car accident on the country road you are traveling on. Two cars are involved in the accident and both drivers are unconscious and have visible injuries. One of the men is the father of the child you are going to deliver, and the other man is very old. You do not know the extent of their injuries but in your opinion, without immediate medical help, one or both may die. You as a Utilitarian are now faced with one of three possible solutions:

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Jeremy Bentham

  • You help the young mother who's about to give birth.

  • You help the young woman's husband.

  • You help the old man.

  • The outcome of The Greatest Happiness Calculus would be:

    • Attending to the mother first is your primary concern as the doctor. The death of both mother and child is almost a certainty if you do not act now, whereas the death of the men is uncertain. Furthermore, the pain of the mother is clearly greater than that of the men at this time. There is a greater richness and purity in saving the life of a young child who has, in all probability, a long happy life ahead. Therefore the extent and duration of the utility created by these two people is a clear likelihood.

    • Attending to the young husband is the next priority. The pleasures of a new family—its intensity, duration, extent, richness, and purity—are all clear probabilities. If, as the doctor, you attend him first his wife and child would in all probability die. The man would then experience pain. The pain experienced by the widowed husband is likely to outstrip any pleasure to be gained from continued life without his loved ones.

    • Attending to the old man is the last priority. The duration and certainty of his future pleasure are questionable owing to his age—he has all but lived his life. This is sometimes known as the 'good innings' argument, according to which the older you are the less claim you have to life

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    John Stuart Mill

    • On liberty:

      • each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as these actions do not harm others

      • If the action is self-regarding, that is, if it only directly affects the person undertaking the action, then society has no right to intervene

    • Free Speech:

      • Society must allow people to air false opinions

      • individuals are more likely to abandon erroneous beliefs if they are engaged in an open exchange of ideas

      • Debate keeps beliefs from declining into mere dogma

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    John Stuart Mill


    “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right...The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

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    John Stuart Mill

    • The maximization of happiness of pleasure or happiness is the moral end of society

    • Quality, not quantity (as in Bentham’s theory) of pleasure matters more

    • Humans collectively develop rules to aid them in achieving happiness

    • Each person wants to appropriate goods to satisfy their own material needs

    • These goods are scarce

    • There will be competition over these goods (others will covet what each person has)

    • What one really wants is not a maximization of goods but a satisfactory level of goods, along with security that these goods will not be taken away

    • Social norms for the distribution of these goods may be can be established

    • Rules for the enforcement of these norms may be agreed upon

    • These rules result in the maximization of the general well-being

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    The Impact of Utilitarianism on Other Theories

    • Libertarianism

    • A Self-Definition (taken from http://www.libertarianism.com/what-it-is.htm)

      • Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians strive for the best of all worlds - a free, peaceful, abundant world where each individual has the maximum opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and to realize his full potential.The core idea is simply stated, but profound and far-reaching in its implications. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property, and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life - as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same.Another way of saying this is that libertarians believe you should be free to do as you choose with your own life and property, as long as you don't harm the person and property of others.

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    • Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense), and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).Live and let live. The Golden Rule. The non-initiation of force.Libertarians believe that this combination of personal and economic liberty produces abundance, peace, harmony, creativity, order, and safety. Indeed, that is one of the central lessons of world history. Virtually all the progress the human race has enjoyed during the past few centuries is due to the increasing acceptance of these principles. But we are still far from a truly libertarian world. Libertarians believe we would see far more progress, abundance and happiness if the ideas of liberty were fully accepted and allowed to work their miracles.

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    The Impact of Utilitarianism on Other Theories

    • Economic Democracy: workers manage production democratically to distribute the surplus generated by labor more equitably, thus restoring legal and political control to the majority.

      • Workplace Management: Productive enterprises are managed democratically by workers. Matters of workplace organization, worker discipline, production techniques, and distribution of proceeds are decided democratically -- one person, one vote. While worker councils and general managers are empowered to make specialized company decisions, these officials are democratically elected by workers

      • Market Function: Daily economic functions, particularly in terms of price establishment, are determined by the market forces of supply and demand. Profit is maximized democratically through productive innovation

      • Technology: The advancement of automation and technology is generally accepted as a societal good, created and maintained by society as a whole. As such, the benefits of such advancement are equitably distributed to promote continued innovation, more efficient market competition, and increased productivity

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    The Impact of Utilitarianism on Other Theories

    • Economic Democracy (cont.):

      • Income Distribution: Workers are voting members, entitled to percentage shares of net revenue. Therefore, labor is not commodified in the process of maximizing profit. The function of profit becomes more broadly beneficial, as labor is no longer a cost of doing business

      • Finance: Regional management of financial resources prevent the artificial scarcity imposed by centrally planned monopolies

      • Law: Rejecting the fractional reserve system of monetarism and financial credit, legislation politically and financially empowers labor, regardless of individual employment status. Suggested legal measures include abolishment of the Federal Reserve Bank] repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act and implementation of Basic Income Guarantee

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    The Impact of Utilitarianism on Other Theories

    • Deliberative Democracy: Any system of political decisions based on some tradeoff of consensus decision making and representative democracy. In contrast to the traditional theory of democracy, which emphasizes voting as the central institution in democracy, deliberative democracy theorists argue that legitimate lawmaking can only arise from the public deliberation of the citizenry.

      • An ongoing independent association with expected continuation

      • The citizens in the democracy structure their institutions such that deliberation is the deciding factor in their creation and that they allow deliberation to continue.

      • A commitment to the respect of a pluralism of values and aims within the polity.

      • The participants in the democracy regard deliberative procedure as the source of legitimacy and as such they also prefer those causal histories of legitimation for each law be transparent, and easily traceable back to the deliberative process.

      • Each member and all members recognize and respect each others' having deliberative capacity

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    The Impact of Utilitarianism on Other Theories

    • Deliberative Democracy (cont.)

      • The participants regard themselves as bound solely by the results and preconditions of the deliberation. They are free from any authority of prior norms or requirements.

      • The participants suppose that they can act on the decision made, the decision through deliberation is a sufficient reason for compliance with it.

      • It is reasoned: parties to deliberation are required to state reasons for proposals, and proposals are accepted or rejected based on the reasons given, as the content of the very deliberation taking place.

      • Formal Equality: anyone can put forth proposals, criticize, and support measures. There is no substantive hierarchy.

      • Substantive Equality: The participants are not limited or bound by certain distributions of power, resources, or pre-existing norms. "The participants…do not regard themselves as bound by the existing system of rights, except insofar as that system establishes the framework of free deliberation among equals."

      • Deliberation aims at a rationally motivated consensus: it aims to find reasons acceptable to all who are committed to such a system of decision-making. When consensus or something near enough is not possible, majoritarian decision making is utilized.

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