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					Utilitarian Ethics

  Principle of the
   greatest good
    We have learned that…
    Batman chooses not to kill
     Joker because the act of
     killing is wrong, regardless of
     the consequences.

    Spiderman chooses to lie to
     those around him about his
     secret identity because the
     consequences outweigh the act
     of lying.
   Utilitarianism is a viewpoint independent of religious
    belief (though religious people can use it).

   It is focussed on the consequences of the action.
    (Teleological / relative)

   There are different types of Utilitarianism: Act, Rule
    and Preference.

   Utilitarianism is based on the Principle of Utility or
    the greatest good.
A Utilitarian makes a
moral decision based
on what will produce
the most happiness
for the most amount
of people.

Do you think this is a
good moral stance?
What would a Utilitarian do?
You’re on a farm and the farmer
asks you to help slaughter a pig.
What would a
Utilitarian do?
  offers to
 shoot your
barking dog.
What would a Utilitarian do?
  You’re hungry and have no
   food to eat so you think
     about stealing some.
Is it right or wrong to kill
this child?
Is it right or wrong to kill
this child?

        Adolf Hitler
The Baboonian dilemma
The government of
Baboonia has decided that
people are living too long.

It can no longer afford to
look after its ageing
population so the
Government come up with a
The Baboonian dilemma
Everyone will have their every need
provided for by the government up until
the age of 30.

Life will be sweet in every respect.

No one will be cold, hungry or have to do
without anything.
The Baboonian dilemma
The price which will have to be
paid for this is that when you
get to 30 you have to be killed.

 Have the Baboonians
  got the right idea?
The Principle of the greatest
good, or utility.

 An action may be said to be
 conformable to the principle of
 utility… when the tendency it
 has to augment the happiness
 of the community is greater
 than any it has to diminish it.
                       J Bentham
    Utilitarian Consequences
   Utilitarians say that our moral choices
    should be based on getting the
    greatest good (or pleasure/happiness)
    for the greatest number of people.

   This is called The Principle of Utility
    (or the greatest good).
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 How  does a
 make a moral
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   How does a Utilitarian make a
    moral decision?
    A Utilitarian is concerned about the
    consequences of an action, not the act
    itself. To make a moral decision they will
    appeal to the principle of utility: to the
    greatest good. In a moral dilemma a
    Utilitarian will make a decision which will
    bring the greatest happiness to the
    greatest number of people. Add e.g.
Utilitarian Ethics

    Act and Rule
    Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
   Part of the broader ethical
    system of consequentialism.

   Founded the Principle of the
    utility, or the greatest good
    and Act Utilitarianism.

   A person should apply the
    greatest happiness principle
    to each individual moral
    dilemma they are faced with.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

   Act Utilitarianism
 Each action should be
  judged solely on its
 ability to produce the
  greatest happiness.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
               Aim in moral decision
                making should be to
                maximise pleasure and
                minimise pain.

               Everyone’s happiness is to
                count equally.

               One of the earliest thinkers
                to suggest that animals
                have rights too.
    Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
   The Hedonic Calculus in detail:
       How intensely the pleasure/pain is felt
       How long that pleasure/pain lasts
       How certainly the pleasure pain will follow
       How quickly the pleasure/pain will follow
       How likely the pleasure/pain is to be followed by
        experiences of the same kind
       How likely the pleasure/pain is to be followed by
        experiences of the opposite kind
       How many people experience it
    Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
   Eccentric: Bentham             Auto-icon
    requested his body to be
    preserved and displayed in a
    glass-fronted cabinet at
    University College London.

   On occasion his body is
    taken to meetings of the
    College Council, where he is
    recorded as ‘attending but
    not voting’.
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 Describe  how an Act
  Utilitarian makes a moral
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   Describe how an Act Utilitarian
    makes a moral decision.
    Act Utilitarianism was founded by Jeremy
    Bentham who subscribed to consequentialism: the
    ethical system that suggests the consequences of
    an action, not the act itself are important.
    Bentham argued that to make a moral decision
    people should use the principle of utility, or
    greatest happiness principle. An Act Utilitarian
    will decide on an action based on what will bring
    the most happiness to the most amount of people.
    John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
   Embraced the principle
    of utility but rejected
    Bentham’s Act
    Utilitarianism in favour
    of Rule Utilitarianism.

   Rule Utilitarianism: we
    should follow those
    rules that will produce
    the greatest happiness.
J S Mill’s criticisms of Act
      Mill criticised Bentham’s Act
      Utilitarianism in two main ways:

1.    Higher and Lower pleasures.
      Socrates and the fool

     2. Rules over Acts.
      Stealing/Starving exception
1. Higher and Lower pleasures
   Firstly, Mill argued that there is a distinction between
    what he called higher or lower pleasures.

   Bentham distinguishes between pleasures in terms
    of their quantity – duration and strength – but Mill
    argues that a distinction must be made about their

   Mill argued that pleasures of thought, feeling and
    imagination should be granted greater weight than
    those of the body and senses.
1. Higher and Lower pleasures
   ‘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, is
    of a different opinion, it is because
    they only know their own side of the
                                      J S Mill
    2. Rules over Acts
   Bentham argued that the
    rightness or wrongness of an
    action should be calculated
    individually whereas Mill
    supposes that we should follow
    utilitarian rules.

   The exception to this was if
    these rules conflicted at which
    point Mill said we should then
    appeal to Act Utilitarianism.
 2. Rules over Acts
 For example: Mill might say that
 ‘Do not steal’ and ‘Do not allow
 people to starve’ are rules that
 will generally produce the
 greatest happiness.
    2. Rules over Acts
   But what if I can feed a starving person
    only by stealing food for them?
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 Describe  how a Rule
  Utilitarian makes a moral
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   Describe how a Rule Utilitarian
    makes a moral decision.
    Like Act Utilitarianism , a Rule Utilitarian subscribes to
    consequentialism and the principle of utility, or the
    greatest good for the greatest number. However Rule
    Utilitarianism, founded by J S Mill, argues that there
    were higher or lower pleasures and that quality of the
    happiness should be taken into account, not just the
    quantity as Bentham assumed. Also, while an Act
    Utilitarian will judge each action individually, Mill looked
    for rules that would produce the greatest happiness.
    Only if these rules contradict each other will a Rule
    Utilitarian appeal to the action itself. E.g.
Objections to Utilitarianism

   Transplant Case

   Frame the Innocent Case
    Transplant Case
   Suppose you’re the doctor in
    charge of 6 patients. The first
    has a medical condition that is
    easily cured. The others have
    failing organs and will soon die
    without transplant…

   You discover that the first patient
    could provide perfect organs for
    the others. So you can kill the
    first patient and save the rest.
Frame the Innocent Case
   Suppose a black person kills a white person
    in an area torn by racial strife. As a result
    there are daily riots and escalating levels of
    violence leading to increasing levels of
Frame the Innocent Case
   As a visitor to the area,
    you know you could
    secure the arrest of an
    innocent black person for
    the original crime simply
    by testifying against
    them. The riots would
    cease and further
    bloodshed would be
    avoided – a much
    happier outcome.
Other problems with
   Who decides what pleasure or happiness is?

   Can you ever fully predict all the possible outcomes
    of a moral decision?

   Who decides what to take into account when trying
    to work out if a decision produces happiness?

   What about the minority? Is this fair?

   Would it lead to a ‘sacrifice’ society? What kind of
    society would it lead to?
    Peter Singer - Utilitarianism
   For Singer, what matters is that our decisions in the first place are
    based on what’s best for those immediately affected by the outcome
    of a decision.

   The way of thinking I have outlined is a form of utilitarianism.
    It differs from classical utilitarianism in that ‘the best
    consequences’ is understood as meaning what, on balance,
    furthers the interests of those affected, rather than merely
    what increases pleasure and reduces pain … The utilitarian
    position is a minimal one, a first base that we should reach
    by universalising self-interested decision-making.
So, what about Utilitarianism and Punishment?

    Bearing in mind
    •Greatest good for the greatest number.
    •Least amount of pain.
    •Good is whatever brings greatest happiness.
    •Teleological/relative (based on consequences)

 What do you think Utilitarians would say about;
 Capital Punishment?
 The purposes of punishment?
 Who should be punished?
Utilitarian view - Crime and Punishment
   In An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and
    Legislation (1789) Bentham argued that:

   Appropriate punishments for crime must be considered in
    relation to the consequences of the wrong doing on

   Punishment is an effective way of deterring others from
    similar action and the criminal from re-offending.

   Punishment is necessary to ensure the greatest good for
    the greatest number of people.
 In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and
 Inductive (1843) Mill argued that:

Punishment   is the consequence of crime.
Punishment   must be about reformation.
For some serious crimes life imprisonment is
most appropriate as the criminal is removed
completely from society and deprived of
freedom because this provides the most
amount of happiness.
How should a Utilitarian decide whether Capital
  punishment is right?

•    Consider all the present and future consequences of
    the death penalty, for the executed offenders, the
    victims of crime, family and friends of both and the
    rest of society.

• Consider alternative punishments and the
  consequences of these.

• If C.P. give the greatest overall benefits, decide in
  favour of it.
 J.S. Mill on Capital punishment

He was in favour of the death penalty.

His reason being “humanity to
the criminal.”

In cases where somebody is
A)Certainly guilty of murder
B)Lacking in remorse; and
C)Incapable of being rehabilitated

… the death penalty is the best thing we
 can do for them.
His argument is that in cases where we can only choose
between executing or permenatly imprisoning the villian
(death or life meaning life)…

    …execution is the least bad option because…
        …it causes the least suffering to the villian…
          …and there is no gain for anyone in life
                  Criticisms of Mill
• A Utilitarian should surely want to improve prisons, so
that perhaps there would be something to gain from it.
• Miscarriage of Justice
• Ignores the dignity of all human beings
• Citizens of the country might think that if the state kills
then it is acceptable and the murder rate could go up
1.   What are the key Principles of Utilitarian
     ethics?                     4KU

2.   In what ways might these principles be
     applied to issues arising from punishment?
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 Describe the
  Euthyhro Dilemma.
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   Describe the Euthyhro Dilemma.
    Socrates and Euthyphro are at court and get into a
    discussion about what is ‘good’. Euthyphro suggests
    that ‘good’ is what the gods are pleased with.
    Socrates counters: are actions ‘good’ because the gods
    command them or do the gods command certain
    actions because they are ‘good’. The dilemma for
    Euthyphro was the role of the gods as experts who
    instruct us on morality or as engineers who construct
    morality for us, each of which has problems.
The Relationship between
Religion and Moral Values
   The Euthyphro Dilemma
       ‘Are actions ‘good’ simply because the gods command them or do the gods
        command certain actions because they are ‘good’?’

   Religious Morality
       Moral values are grounded in religious belief
       The interpretation of sacred writings guided by faith, tradition and/or reason

   Utilitarian Ethics
       Act Utilitarianism
       Rule Utilitarianism
       Principle of the greatest good

   Kantian Ethics
       Categorical imperative
       Universal maxim
       Respect of persons
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 Describe the
 role of sacred
 texts in religious
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   Describe the role of sacred texts in
    religious morality.
    The role of sacred texts much depends on
    the religion a person is following and the
    status of the text in that religion. All
    religious texts, however, offer guidance on
    moral dilemmas from its founder/God. Moral
    advice can be explicit: ‘Thou shalt not kill’ or
    implicit in the form of a story in which a
    religious person must use their reason to
    realise the moral teaching of the story. E.g.

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