An overview of the utilitarian theory

Utilitarianism now appears in various modified and complicated formulations. Foreseeable consequence utilitarians understand the theory as a decision-making procedure while actual consequence utilitarians understand it as a criterion of right and wrong.

Consequentialism and Its Critics. Intuitively, there are many cases where people do want to take the numbers involved into account. His first chapter serves as an introduction to the essay. Scientists create situations in laboratories in order to test their theories.

According to hedonism, the only thing that is good in itself is pleasure or happiness.


If a person makes a promise but breaking the promise will allow that person to perform an action that creates just slightly more well-being than keeping the promise will, then act utilitarianism implies that the promise should be broken.

The reason why a more rigid rule-based system leads to greater overall utility is that people are notoriously bad at judging what is the best thing to do when they are driving a car. The third chapter is a discussion about the ultimate sanctions or rewards that utilitarianism can offer.

If the overall aim is to maximize the well-being of all people in all cities, for example, then we are likely to get better results by having individuals who know and understand particular cities focus on them while other people focus on other cities.

The reason for this is that the practice of promise-keeping is a very valuable. The result, they say, is a loss of utility each time a driver stops at a stop sign when there is no danger from oncoming cars.

Being able to trust other people is extremely important to our well-being. Suppose that banning certain kinds of fast food and snack foods would result in millions of people living longer, healthier lives.

Whatever they do must be constrained by rules that limit their power. In Nicomachean Ethics Book 1 Chapter 5Aristotle says that identifying the good with pleasure is to prefer a life suitable for beasts. Quantifying utility[ edit ] A common objection to utilitarianism is the inability to quantify, compare, or measure happiness or well-being.

Rule utilitarianism stresses the recurrent features of human life and the ways in which similar needs and problems arise over and over again.

The principle of utility, then, is used to evaluate rules and is not applied directly to individual actions. Critics claim that the argument for using our money to help impoverished strangers rather than benefiting ourselves and people we care about only proves one thing—that act utilitarianism is false.

With different factual assumptions, however, utilitarian arguments can lead to different conclusions.Aug 21,  · Utilitarianism as an ethics theory primarily values the good of the community over the good of the individual. One might think of it as “the ends justify the means.” In other words, the metric for a good utilitarian action is the degree to which it benefits the.

Utilitarianism and the Enlightenment. The science of the Enlightenment featured theories with a very small number of general laws and vast explanatory power. Newton’s laws, for example, seemed able to account for all of the motion in the universe.

Utilitarianism fit right in: it was an ethical theory compatible with science and featuring a. As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over 75, lessons in math, English, science, history, and more.

Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed. Lesson Summary. Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics, or the ethics that define the morality of actions, as proposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. It is defined by utility, the existence of pleasure and the absence of pain.

Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism sees happiness as existing in low and high pleasures. In his second chapter, Mill discusses the definition of utilitarianism, and presents some misconceptions about the theory. The third chapter is a discussion about the ultimate sanctions (or rewards) that utilitarianism can offer.

Smart’s discussion combines an overview of moral theory and a defense of act utilitarianism. It is followed by Bernard Williams’, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” a source of many important criticisms of utilitarianism.

An overview of the utilitarian theory
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