Utilitarianism is an ethical theory coined by an English philosopher who lived during the late 1700’s name Jeremy Bentham. Bentham believed in the principle that human beings should be motivated by pain and pleasure; he said “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure” this meant that every human being’s goal in life should be to pursue pleasure and avoid pain and that these should be defining factors of what is moral.
Utilitarianism is strongly based on this principle which is more commonly known as the principle of utility. The principle of utility is that an action is moral if it produces the greatest possible pleasure for the greatest possible number in any given situation. To carry out the theory of Utilitarianism accurately, Bentham devised an equation to calculate the happiness of a moral decision called “Hedonic Calculus”.
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I personally disagree with the claim that ‘Utilitarianism is unsatisfactory as a theory of ethics” although Utilitarianism has some flaws, the benefits and advantages of using Utilitarianism in most situations outweighs the disadvantages it has. Some critics say that Utilitarianism is unsatisfactory as a theory of ethics as it has many disadvantages. First of all, the Hedonic relies on knowledge of the consequences for an accurate calculation, however many consequences are hard to predict or may not be apparent till many years in the future.
It is also difficult to quantify pleasure meaning it is hard to count pleasure into a practical number for use of comparison. Furthermore, some pleasures caused by situations can actually be morally wrong and likewise, some pains can be actually good for us. One of the most significant arguments against Utilitarianism is the problem of justice; although it produces the greatest good for the greatest number, the pleasure is not evenly distributed among the people affected, instead, a majority can benefit from the pleasure while others suffer.
Moreover, in most situations, the minorities are ignored meaning that, in a utilitarian decision which produces the greatest good for the greatest number, the well-being of someone who is not included in the “greatest number” is not taken into account at all. Another criticism is that Happiness and pleasure is particularly subjective as one’s opinion of what is pleasurable can differentiate to extremes between different people. Lastly, Utilitarianism akes it moral to ignore obvious deontological principles with intrinsic moral value, for example, a utilitarian would say it is moral to kill a rapist, ignoring the fact that murder is immoral. Although Utilitarianism is not perfect, some people believe it is still satisfactory as an ethical theory because recently, philosophers such as Henry Sedgwick and Peter Singer has come up with updated versions of Utilitarianism which included principles which state that we should make moral decision which benefit the best interest of the people affected and that no ones happiness can be considered more valuable that another’s.
Despite the flaws, Utilitarianism will always be a logical method of making decisions as it provides a democratic system which promotes general happiness. I personally believe that Utilitarianism is a satisfactory ethical theory as it is teleological and takes into account the consequences of a decision. Happiness and pleasure are also very logical things to base our decisions upon as humans were naturally born to pursue happiness and pleasure in their lives. It also avoids individual pursuits and puts egoism into a universal theory which benefits the majority of the society and mankind.