Utilitarianism. An Introduction to the Moral Theories of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Ethical Judgments. Ethical philosophy differs from the sciences because it is normative or prescriptive , rather than descriptive .
An Introduction to the Moral Theories of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill
Greatest Happiness: We ought to do that which produces the greatest happiness and least pain for the greatest number of people.Two Formulations of Utilitarian Theory
Act: An Action is right if and only if it produces the greatest balance of pleasure over pain for the greatest number. (Jeremy Bentham)Two Types of Utilitarianism
Conclusion: the Act was a good act.
B) You attempt to help an elderly man across the street. You stumble as you go, he is knocked into the path of a car, and is hurt.
Conclusion: The Act was a bad act.Application of Utilitarian Theory
Bentham’s theory could mean that if 10 people would be happy watching a man being eaten by wild dogs, it would be a morally good thing for the 10 men to kidnap someone (especially someone whose death would not cause grief to many others) and throw the man into a cage of wild, hungry dogs.
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.”
“As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. ‘To do as you would be done by,’ and ‘to love your neighbor as yourself,’ constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.”
If I am to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number, not putting my own happiness above others, that may lead to a dilemma. I live in a neighborhood where 83% of my neighbors use drugs. I could make them most happy by helping supply them with cheap drugs, but I feel uncomfortable doing that. What should a utilitarian do?
“If it be a true belief that God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not a godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other. . . . .whatever God has though fit to reveal on the subject of morals must fulfill the requirements of utility in a supreme degree.”
If one must decide the probable outcome of an act before knowing whether it is good or bad, how can children learn to evaluate acts, since they know so little of what consequences might arise from their actions?
“ . . . Mankind must by this time have acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of some actions on their happiness; and the beliefs which have thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has succeeded in finding better.” Mill concludes, however, that we should always seek improvements.