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The Prinicple Of Utility Essay, Research Paper

The Principle of Utility A.

Jeremy Bentham (1748 ? 1832)

There are two main people that talked about the principles of utility and they were Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. First off I?ll talk to you about Mr. Bentham. It is helpful to see Bentham?s moral philosophy in the context of his political philosophy, his attempt to find a rational approach to law and legislative action. He argued against ?natural law? theory and thought that the classical theories of Plato and Aristotle as well as notions such as Kant?s Categorical Imperative were too outdated, confusing and/or controversial to be of much help with society?s ills and a program of social reform. He adopted what he took to be a simple and ?scientific? approach to the problems of law and morality and grounded his approach in the ?Principle of Utility.?

The Principle of Utility

1. Recognizes the fundamental role of Pain

and Pleasure in human life.

2. Approves or disapproves of an action on the

basis of the amount of pain or pleasure brought

about (?consequences?).

3.Equates the good with the pleasurable

and evil with pain.

4.Asserts that pleasure and pain are capable

of ?quantification?-and hence of measure.

As with the emerging theory of capitalism in the 18th and 19th Century England, we could speak of ?pleasure? as ?pluses? and ?pains? as ?minuses.? Thus the utilitarian would calculate which actions bring about more pluses over minuses.

In measuring pleasure and pain, Bentham introduces the following criteria:

It?s intensity, duration, certainty (or uncertainty), and its nearness (or fairness). He also includes its ?fecundity? (more or less of the same will follow) and its ?purity? (its pleasure won?t be followed by pain & vice versa). In considering actions that affect numbers of people, we must also account for their extent.

As a social reformer, Bentham applied this principle to the laws of England– for example, those areas of the law concerning crime and punishment. An analysis of theft reveals that it not only causes harm to the victim, but also, if left unpunished, it endangers the very status of private property and the stability of society. In seeing this, the legislator should devise a punishment that is useful in deterring theft. But in matters of ?private morality? such as sexual preference and private behavior, Bentham felt that it was not at all useful to involve the legislature.

Bentham also thought that the principle of utility could apply to our treatment of animals. The question is not whether they can talk or reason, but whether they can suffer. As such, that suffering should be taken into account in our treatment of them. Here we can see a moral ground for laws that aim at the ?prevention of cruelty to animals? (and such cruelty was often witnessed in Bentham?s day.) (Cavalier)

John Stuart Mill (1806 ? 1873)

?It is better to be a human being dissatisfied that a pig satisfied;

better Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.?

For Mill, it is not the quantity of pleasure, but the quality of happiness. Bentham?s calculus is unreasonable ? qualities cannot be quantified (there is a distinction between ?higher? and ?lower? pleasures). Mill?s utilitarianism culminates in ?The Greatest Happiness Principle.?(Cavalier)

If I am asked what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account. (Cavalier)

The principle of utility tells us to produce the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness, making sure that we give equal consideration to the happiness and unhappiness of everyone who stands to be affected by our actions. The principle of utility can be applied in two different ways. The first is to apply it to individual acts. How are we to do that? Well, we might ask ourselves every time we act which of the options open to us will maximize happiness, but Mill did not recommend that procedure because it would be much too time consuming. Since we know that lying and staling and cheating will rarely maximize happiness when everyone is taken equally into account, the sensible thing to do is avoid such behavior without worrying about the principle of utility. (Barry pg.8)

The learning process of Bentham and Mill was very strange and different. They expressed things in there own words that were different from the rest of us, and the way we might think about pleasure and happiness. Trying to understand where they were coming from was hard to follow and to understand. To understand the meanings of happiness and pleasure are difficult and will very from person to person. So when you think about it you try to see it from there point of view, but you can only see it from your view. You may understand there what there expressing, but your though is what counts.



Essay one is about Welfare and Social Justice. To be more specific, is the argument that a person in need has no legitimate moral claim on those around him and that hypothetical inattentive society which left its blind citizens to beg or starve cannot rightly be censured for doing so. As seen from the individualist view. An individualist sets a high value on uncoerced personal choice. A person has every right, for example, to spend ten years of his life studying Sanskrit ? but if as a result of this choice, he is unemployable, he ought not to expect others to labour on his behalf. No one has a proper claim on the labour, unless he can repay the labourer in a way acceptable to that labourer himself. He may also believe that, as a matter of empirical fact, existing government programmers do not actually help the poor. They support a cumbersome bureaucracy and they use financial resources which, if untaxed, might be used those with initiative to pursue job-creating endeavors. The thrust of the Individualist?s position is that each person owns his own body and his own labour; thus each person is taken to have a virtually unconditional right to the income which that labour can earn him in a free market place. On the Individualist?s view, those in need should be cared for by charities or through other schemes to which contributions are voluntary. (Barry pg. 333-34) Anyone that works for a living works for money and maybe because he likes it. Our society is made up many people that work and those that don?t work and live off us. There is an individualist inside of everyone and with good reasoning that person will make the right decisions to set forth in his future. Arguments are what make up people and how we function in everyday life. Reasoning is part of your opinion and everyone else.

The second essay directly contrary to the individualist view of welfare is what I have termed the permissive view. According to this view, in a society which has sufficient resources so that everyone could be supplied with the necessities of life, every individual ought to be given the legal right to social security, and this right ought not to be conditional in any way upon an individual?s behavior. A person who cannot or does not find his own means of social security does not thereby forfeit his status as a human being. If other human beings, with physical, mental and moral qualities different from his, are regarded as having the right to life and to the means of life, then so too should he be regarded. A society which does not accept the responsibility for supplying such a person with the basic necessities of life is, in effect, endorsing a difference between its members which is without moral justice?(Barry pg. 334)

If the Permissive view of welfare were widely believed, then there would be no social stigma attached to being on welfare. There is such stigma, and many long-term welfare recipients are considerably demoralized by their dependent status. These facts suggest that the permissive view of welfare be not widely held in our society. (Barry pg. 334)


Outside Research

Throughout this discussion of the individualist view, there has been an assumption made by all those who believe in the system. This is the idea that the rights of the individual must be respected, and that our system must serve to protect these rights. They are never exactly spelled out, but one assumes that they include the right to live freely without interference from the law unless one has committed a grievous crime against society. This leads us to a further question?and one that must illuminate our entire concept of the place of law in our society. The question is: Where do the rights of an individual end and those of society begin? (Cohen pg. 25)

The system must perform a balancing act between protecting the individual and serving the needs of society. We have a system that claims to protect the individual from unfair treatment by laws or by society, and we have laws to protect society. And yet the question remains: at what point does an individual?s actions become society?s concern? (Cohen pg. 25)

The ideas permissive view, regarding the individual liberty and the ideas embodied in the system, have a great deal in common. Both stem from a deep regard for the rights of the individual, and from a distrust of the power of the state. The long history of abuse of power carried out in the name of the state shows the ease with which states that have the legal means to impose their will on people do so. Moreover, the horrible tortures that have been perpetuated in the name of the public morality give one a healthy respect for the skepticism about the ?benevolence? of the system. (Cohen pg. 42)

Nevertheless, it is clear that this concern for individual freedom has its down side. It requires one to tolerate a certain lack to efficiency in the conduct of life and business. (Cohen pg. 42)

Of social morality, of duty to others, the opinion of the public, that is, of an overruling majority, though often wrong, is likely to be still oftener right, because on such questions they are only required to judge of their own interests, of the manner in which some mode of conduct, if allowed to be practiced, would affect themselves. (Cohen pg.39)


My view point

Seeing things from my point of view, I?d have to agree with the argument of the Individualist view. Where each person is responsible for there own actions. They make there own decisions in life and should be responsible for them too. But in making those decisions there are consequences that you may pay for them. In our society there comes a time where we are working half the time for other people. And we have to accept that role in life. When we make money we can only spend about two0thirds of that because the rest of it is taken away for other peoples needs. That can be both good and bad, but I like to think that the money that I never see is going somewhere or to someone for a good reason. We all need help at some point in time, and I hope that after we get that help we can see that we?ve been helped and maybe now is a good time for me to help out someone else. Another means of money giving is to charity. Just like welfare, charity is another good reason for our society to help people or even groups that are in need for help or research. In our society there are many people that count on others for help. The people that need help for medical reasons or what have you deserve the right to benefit from charities or other outside donations. The one thing that our society can not do is take advantage of these actions and right them off on our taxes. We can not take advantage of the taxpayers money. We need to use our society in the best way we can ethically.

Cavalier, Robert http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/CAAE/80130/part1/sect4/BenardandMill.html,


Barry, Vincent, Applying Ethics: A Text With Readings, Wadsworth Publishing,

Belmount, 1983.

Cohen, Warren, Ethics in Thought and Action, Ardsley House Publisher, New York,


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