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A Summary Of Utilitarianism Philosophy

Essay add: 28-10-2015, 13:31   /   Views: 160

Utilitarianism, also known as the "English common sense philosophy" dominated the Western world during most of the nineteenth century. Utilitarianism is a normative ethical theory that places the seed of right and wrong solely on the outcomes (consequences) of choosing one action/policy over other actions/policies, hence also sometimes referred to as "the Consequentialism". The history of this theory dates back to its true pioneer Jeremy Bentham ( 1748-1832) who gave rise to a new concept in hedonism: The Social Hedonism which was quite different from the Hedonistic doctrines of Aristipppus and Epicurus who are considered to be the fathers of Hedonistic school of thought. Bentham ; the common-sense British thinker is largely held responsible for the shift from " egoistic (individualistic) hedonism to the Universalistic( social ) hedonism. He declared in his book " Introduction to the Principles and morals and Legislation" that all mankind is ruled by two basic masters; namely PAIN and PLEASURE and that all human race is busy in the so-called rat-race of the pursuit of pleasure and the disapproval of pain.He also asserts that good can be equated with pleasure and evil with pain. Here comes in the big question that" How should pleasures be graded as far as preference is concerned?" Whether one should go for 'short-term and intense' pleasures or ' long-term and mild pleasure' take precedence over the former. He therefore came up with a detailed outline of principles regarding the preferences of pleasures in his "Hedonic Calculus". According to Bentham's calculus, he emphasized the significance of seven "circumstances" in order to determine the value of any action, hence presented a criteria for the preference of pleasures influenced by following major factors:

Intensity: of the pleasure or pain that results

Duration: of either of the two

Certainity: The confirmation that pleasant event will be occurring.

Promptness : The nearness of the pleasant event.

Fecundity: Its ability to reproduce( lead to) more pleasure.

Purity: freedom from either present or future.

Extent: characterized by the number of people affected by the action

John Stuart Mill(1806-1873) adjusted the more hedonistic tendencies in Bentham's philosophy by emphasizing that it is not infact the quantity of pleasure, but the quality of happiness that is central to utilitarianism. He further argued that pleasure couldn't be quantified as stated by Bentham and can only be measured in terms of quality only. Mill advocates his rationality of ideas in the following famous words:

"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better Socrates disstatisfied than a fool satisfied"

The implification of this advancement by Mill lead to a belief that the calculus is unreasonable -- (there is a distinction between 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures). According to Mill, utilitarianism now refers to "the Greatest Happiness Principle" - GHP. it seeks to promote the capability of achieving happiness (higher pleasures) for the maximum number of people. The Maxim holds as such:

" Greatest happiness for the greater number"

Act and Rule Utilitarianism

The principle of utility can either either be applied to PARTICULAR ACTIONS or GENERAL RULES. The former is called "act-utilitarianism" and the latter is called "rule-utilitarianism."

Act-utilitarianism -- The principle of utility is applied directly to each alternative act in a situation of choice. The right act is then defined as the one which brings about the best results( good or pleasure) (or the least amount of bad results/bad or harm).

Rule-utilitarianism -- The principle of utility is used to determine the validity of rules of conduct (moral principles). A rule, like promise-keeping is established by keeping in view the consequences of the rule. This can be achieved by imagining a society/world in which people broke promises at will and a world in which promises were kept. Right and wrong are then defined as following or breaking those rules.

Some criticisms of this position point out that if the Rules take into account more and more exceptions, Rule Utilitarianism collapses into Act Utilitarianism.

More general criticisms of this view argue that it is possible to generate "unjust rules" according to the principle of utility. For example, slavery in Greece might be right if it led to an overall achievement of cultivated happiness at the expense of some mistreated individuals

Critiques on the Utilitarian Theory:

The first and foremost critique grounds its claim in the definition of the notion of "happiness" itself. According to various thinkers Happiness is a pretty relative term. What makes one person happy does not necessarily arouses the same sentiments in another individual.

The practicality of the theory is challenged by saying that its not possible to decide who's happy and who is not?

There is no justification of sacrificing the benefits of the minority in order to make the majority happy, no matter what. This simply undermines the notion of "justice"

Utilitarianism has no universal set of rules on to which morality is based

The sharpest criticism of Utilitarianism comes from its most celebrated critic: Kant.

Kant's Ethical Formalism holds that the rightness or wrongness of an act is an inherent quality which is independent of everything-time, place, circumstances, so on and so forth. Furthermore , this inherent or absolute quality of an act is independent of any results which follow from it, hence refuting CONSEQUENTIALISM altogether.

Critiques on the Act Utilitarian Theory

Criticisms of this view point to the difficulty of attaining a full knowledge and certainty of the consequences of our actions. According to some thinkers the consequences of acts cannot be predicted accurately and therefore refutes the argument of establishment of the rightness or wrongness of an act to begin with.

One act doesn't have a single consequence. To the contrary, it leads to a multitude of consequences which is usually described as the "Ripple Effect", hereby rendering the evaluation of an act as good or bad by looking at its consequences simply impossible.

It is possible to justify immoral acts using Act Utilitarianism which is not justified and acceptable on any grounds.

Critiques on the Rule Utilitarian Theory:

Some criticisms of this position point out that if the Rules take into account more and more exceptions, Rule Utilitarianism collapses into Act Utilitarianism.

More general criticisms of this view argue that it is possible to generate "unjust rules" according to the principle of utility. For example, slavery in Greece might be right if it led to an overall achievement of cultivated happiness at the expense of some mistreated individuals

SUMMARY: KANTIANISM

Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) stands as a milestone in the history of Western philosophy. Kant's theory can be categorized as a deonotological because according to him, "actions are not assessed to be morally permissible on the basis of consequences they produce, but rather on the person's will therefore his actions are based on duty and not consequences( henceforth refuting Utilitarianism right at the start).

Monistic deontology as subjected by Kantianism is by far more consistent of a theory and can be universally applied to all beings. It is more plausible because even if the consequences of performing an action aren't necessarily the best, the agent is still obligated to perform the action because it is their duty to do so. Therefore, ethically and morally they are doing the right thing.Kant's theory revolves around Duty and Obligation. It is absolute since the morality of an action takes no regard of the situation it is in.

 Moral duty 

Kant said that we all experience an innate moral duty. The existence of the conscience and feelings of guilt and shame tell us when we violate this moral duty. He believed that our moral duty could be revealed to us through reason, objectively. His theory was based solely on duty. He said that to act morally is to perform one's duty, and one's duty is to obey the innate moral laws Moral duty

 

Kant said that we all experience an innate moral duty. The existence of the conscience and feelings of guilt and shame tell us when we violate this moral duty. He believed that our moral duty could be revealed to us through reason, objectively. His theory was based solely on duty. He said that to act morally is to perform one's duty, and one's duty is to obey the innate moral laws.

 

He believed that we are constantly in a battle with our inclinations - our raw wants and desires. We should not act out of love or compassion.He preached the most celebrated view of "Duty for Duty's Sake"

 

Kant said that it's was not our duty to do what is impossible for us to do. For Kant, the fact that we ought to do something means that it is logically possible to do - 'ought' implies 'can'. Moral statements are prescriptive; they prescribe an action. If 'ought' implies 'can' then the statement, 'I ought to do x', implies that 'I can do x'.

 

Kant said that we all aim to reach an ultimate end call the supreme good, the summum bonum - a state in which human virtue and happiness are united. However, since it is impossible to reach this state in one lifetime, he deduced that we have immortal souls to succeed. Thus, Kant believed in an afterlife where there is a possibility of reaching the supreme good. For an afterlife to exists, Kant said God must exist to aid eschatological justice. For him, God was necessary for morality not the other way round - he rejected all classical notions of theism.

 Moral statements 

Kant believed that there were two types of statement possible. First, a priori analytic statements such as '1 +1 = 2' are knowable without external research and contains predicate within it. However, statements that are a posteriori synthetic such as, 'Jack is a butler' are knowable only by empirical examination - it may be true or false.

 

Kant contended that moral statements were a priori synthetic. We cannot prove what someone should do just by seeing so moral statements are a priori. However, moral statements may or may not be true, thus they are synthetic.

 

Therefore, Kant concluded that moral statements where knowable only through reason since they are a priori and that there must be a method by which to verify whether the statement is true or false.

 Good will and duty 

Kant argues that the highest form of good is good will. To have good will is to perform one's duty. To do one's duty is to perform actions which are morally required and to avoid those actions which are morally forbidden.

 

Kant said that we should perform our duty because it is our duty and for no other reason. To perform an action out of desire for any self indulgent consequences is not a morally good action. Duty is good in itself.

 

Kant believed that we should act out of duty and not emotion. A human action isn't morally good because we feel it's good, or because it is in our own self interest. Even if duty demanded the same action, but it was done for a motive such as compassion, the act would be a good act, but the person would not be moral (virtuous) for choosing it.

 

Kant is said to have devised a system of ethics based on reason and not intuition. A moral person must be a rational being. Being good means having a good will. A good will is when I do my duty for the sake of that duty. I do my duty because it is right, and for no other reason. But what does it mean to act out of duty? Kant explained that to act out of duty is to perform actions which are morally obligatory and not to perform those that are forbidden.

 The categorical imperative:

It is the basis of Kant's moral system and may be formulated as follows:

" Act as if the maxim of your actions were to become through your will a general Natural law" 

The categorical imperative helps us to know which actions are obligatory and which are forbidden. Hypothetical imperatives are conditional: 'If I want x then I must do y'. These imperatives are not moral. For Kant, the only moral imperatives were categorical: 'I ought to do x", with no reference to desires or needs.

 

There are three main formulations of the categorical imperatives.

 

1.      The universal law -The ability to universalize: All moral statements should be general laws, which apply to everyone under any circumstances. There should be no occasion under which an exception is made.

 

2.      Treat humans as ends in themselves -Respect: Kant argues that you should never treat people as a means to some end. People should always be treated as ends in themselves. This promotes equality.

 

3.      Act as if you live in a kingdom of ends -Autonomy: Kant assumed that all rational agents were able to deduce whether an argument was moral or not through reason alone and so, all rational humans should be able to conclude the same moral laws.

 

Kant sought to create a framework by which one could discover which moral statements were true and which were false. Immorality thus involves a violation of the CI and is thereby irrational. Other philosophers, such as Locke and Hobbes, had also argued that moral requirements are based on standards of rationality. However, these standards were either desire-based instrumental principles of rationality or based on sui generis rational intuitions

 Freedom 

Kant believed that we are free to make rational choices. Reason is what distinguishes us from animals. We have to be free to do our duty. But if we can't be free then we cannot truly be moral agents. 'Ought' no longer implies 'can'.

 Critiques on the KantinianTheory:

Kant's refusal to allow any exceptions to a maxim is incompatible with modern politics. In war, the sacrifice of the few for the many is necessary. Kant does not allow this.

Kant cannot distinguish between conflicting duties.

Kant's concept of universalisability encounters problems. How similar do two moral dilemmas have to be to be covered by the same maxim?

Critics object that the categorical imperative, as circumscribing the form of morality, is often too ambiguous, even "empty" of application Kant's refusal to allow and exceptions to a maxim is incompatible with modern politics. In war, the sacrifice of the few for the many is necessary. Kant does not allow this.

Critics of Kant's approach claim that his Categorical Imperative does not contain within it a way to resolve conflicts of duties. "Lying is wrong" can be interpreted as "Never lie" and thus Universal Principles can 'harden' into Absolute Principles

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