Utilitarianism is a teleological theory which looks at the consequences of an act to decide whether it is right or wrong. There are lots of strengths to utilitarianism and not many weaknesses. One of the strengths is that it is a theory which established whether something was good or bad according to the majority of people. Bentham came up with this theory and it is known as the principle of utility. Bentham said ‘Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them to point out what we shall do’. This is the foundation for the principle of utility and it is a strength to utilitarianism as pleasure and pain can determine how people act. Bentham also said the aim of utilitarianism is ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’ and he used the Hedonic Calculus that he created to measure how good an act is and how many people it will affect, this is a major strength of utilitarianism because it tries to please everyone and each individual is equal.
A weakness of Bentham’s view was noticed by Mill, Mill said it failed to differentiate humans from animals as animals can share the same pleasures that humans have, so this make human beings equal to animals. Mill also said that Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus was a weakness as it was too impractical as to use it you have to think of the; purity, intensity, certainty, extent, duration and fecundity of an act. In some situations this would be pointless as there might not be time to complete the Hedonic Calculus. For example is your house was on fire and you only had time to save either you cat or your dog you would not be able to think through the Hedonic Calculus as by the time you have your house would be burnt to the ground. This is a weakness to Bentham’s theory but not to utilitarianism because you can still please the majority without looking at the Hedonic Calculus every time you want to complete an act.
Bernard Williams argued that moral decisions must preserve our psychological identity and integrity, Williams came up with this scenario; One day Jim finds himself in the central square of a small town facing 20 Indians who have been randomly captured and tied up as examples of what will happen to rebels. The captain who has arrested the Indians says that if Jim will kill one of them, the others will be released in honor of Jim’s status as a guest, but if he does not, all the Indians will be killed. Simple act utilitarianism would favour Jim killing one of the men. Against this, Williams argued that there is a crucial moral distinction between a person being killed by me, and being killed by someone else because of an act or omission of mine. This is a weakness in utilitarianism as Williams is saying that the utilitarian loses the ability to preserve our status of moral actors and decision makers.
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