UTILITARIAN THEORY Presentation prepared by Jill Stiemsma LP: Ethical Theories Presentation Section: Monday, 8:30 August 14, 2007
UTILITARIANISM THE GREATEST HAPPINESS PRINCIPLE
Simply put, the Utilitarian Approach “produces the greatest balance of good over harm”
“From a political point of view, classic utilitarianism was a social reform movement which aimed to improve the living conditions of the poor and unfortunate in society.”
JEREMY BENTHAM • Happiness = pleasure and freedom from pain • Actions are “right” in proportion to the amount of happiness promoted; wrong, to the reverse of happiness • Seek the greatest good of the greatest number
JEREMY BENTHAM • “Greatest Happiness Principle”: People can only truly experience happiness if others around them also experience happiness • That is, you can’t find happiness at someone else’s expense
JOHN STUART MILL • Utilitarianism applies to our social nature: Of what benefit is our happiness if it derives from the unhappiness of others? • Many find they can content themselves with very little; that is, they reconcile themselves to a considerable amount of pain. This is NOT Utilitarian focus!
JOHN STUART MILL • We must consciously minimize conflicts between our aims, then, and the aims of others – such is the opposite of selfishness • Our outward motives must be to care for others • In short, a cultivated mind finds inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it…including prospects for the future of all
Differences in Perspective • Bentham believed we could quantify“happiness” (more is better) • “Mill insisted that some pleasures were more worthy than others, and that a refined person would pursue more refined pleasures (less is more in the pursuit of dessert).”
Bentham argued, it's sometimes “best to sacrifice individuals for the good of the organization,” the state, the community. (Hence, the greatest good for greatest number. Could slavery therefore be justified?)
We may not agree on what constitutes the “common good” We may not agree on what constitutes “harm” Even if not everyone gets all they want, will everyone’s rights and dignity still be respected? PROBLEMS WITH THE UTILITARIAN APPROACH
Onemight argue that more animals get to live if we eat a meat-based diet (to produce meat, cheese, eggs, etc.) • Many farm animals live lives not worth living • The amount of food and land needed to sustain livestock prevents a far larger number of wild animals from existing
There are more cost-effective uses of our money than meat and egg purchases to increase “happiness” in the world • People who eat meat are at least 30% more likely to die of a heart attack • Raising animals for food uses more than half the water used in the United States • The meat industry is solely responsible for 80% of US soil erosion • 26 billion animals are killed annually in the US alone – more than 4 times the planet’s human population!(taxmeat.com)
REVIEW QUESTIONS • What do you consider the downside to this Utilitarian principle: One must aim to produce the greatest good for the greatest number? • What are the strengths of the Utilitarian theory? • How likely are you to take a Utilitarian Perspective?