Ethics Utilitarianism Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 September 2016

Ethics Utilitarianism

a.) Explain the main differences between the utilitarianism of Bentham and that of Mill. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that looks at the concept of `utility`, or the usefulness of actions. Two of the most famous Utilitarians were Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill; Bentham was the first to introduce the theory, and his views were more similar to that of Act Utilitarianism. Mill on the other hand differed in his views, and his intention was to improve the theory, and his ideas were closer to that of Rule Utilitarianism; and Mill was also the one to coin the name of the theory. Although it is the same theory, the two philosophers had two different concepts of the best approach to Utilitarianism. One of the main differences between the two philosophers view of utility is their idea of the intrinsic good. For Bentham, the goodness of actions is measured by the amount of pleasure they produce. For him, two things were the most important, the pursuit of pleasure and the absence of pain, and so happiness is pleasure without pain.

Bentham produced his `hedonic calculus` to calculate the amount of pleasure produced by actions, which includes categories such as measuring the intensity, duration, and purity of pleasure to work out the best actions to take. This is because Bentham was a hedonist; he thought the best way to live life is the most pleasurable way. Although he never specifically said himself, it is thought that he would have preferred Act Utilitarianism, which looks at individual acts, and the amount of pleasure they generate, in each situation. This differs from Mill in that he thought the goodness of actions is based on the amount of happiness they produce. The practice of following a rule creates happiness, rather than looking at every separate act; it is thought that he was closer to a Rule Utilitarian, which involves following rules to create greater happiness. Furthermore, Bentham’s Utilitarianism is much more focussed on the individual.

The individual judges each act by its utility, and the amount of pleasure it will produce; as it is about the quantity of pleasure, for Bentham, which decides which action should be taken. The motivation is for self-interest, which means that often justice can be ignored, as the focus is not on the wider public, which is different from Mill’s approach. Mill’s approach involves looking at the happiness of the community, so justice is addressed, and well-being has utmost importance. To make it more universal he said that each desires their own happiness, so they should aim at it, and furthermore everyone ought to aim for the happiness for everyone else too, making sympathy the motive for doing an action. Both approaches are consequentialist, but for Mill, an ethical act is one where the consequences favour the happiness and wellbeing of all. His approach also looks at the quality of the activities as well, arguing that certain things can be rated as `higher` and `lower` pleasures.

He said that food, sex and drink are of the `lower` category, whereas poetry, opera and fine art and the like are of the `higher` pleasures, and that we should strive for pleasure of better quality, of a more high-class lifestyle, as they are of more value. Whereas Bentham uses the example of a game of `push-pin` (a children’s game) gives the same amount of pleasure as a good book, Mill argues against that saying the quality of the pleasure is what is importance. Essentially, what makes an act ethical for Bentham is the amount of pleasure that is produced for the individual, and duration and intensity etc. For J.S. Mill, an act is ethical if it follows more set rules, how much happiness is produced on a larger scale, and the quality of the pleasure, rather than the quantity. b.) `Mill’s Utilitarianism is superior in every way to the Utilitarianism of Bentham`.

Discuss. Both Mill and Bentham wished to produce an ethical theory that created the most happiness, which is what they believed to be the basis for justice, and the best way of living. However, since they saw the way to achieve this happiness in different light, they had different approaches to the theory, meaning that one approach will be considered superior to the other. In my opinion, it is true that Mill’s approach is superior to Bentham’s, although not in every way. Firstly, it must be considered that it is not certain which `type` of Utilitarianism each philosopher preferred. Generally it is thought that Bentham took the Act approach, and Mill the Rule approach, however neither put themselves in any of the categories, so it is therefore debatable. It is evident that both do not stick completely to the respective approaches; as an example, Mill was known to write, “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness”, which implies a preference to Act Utilitarianism, although others still think that he may even have been a virtue ethicist.

For the sake of this writing though, I will categorise each philosopher to their assumed approach. John Stuart Mill was very familiar with Jeremy Bentham in person, as he was Bentham’s godson, and it is evident how this relationship affected his view on ethics. Mill attempted to improve Bentham’s theory, this concept of utility, which Mill coined `Utilitarianism`. However, his whole idea of the `greatest good for the greatest number` was accentuated by Mill when he made it more focussed on the community. As he thought more that happiness should be the standard of utility, not the self-centred pleasure. This improves the theory, as otherwise everybody will be focussing on themselves, and in many situations the pleasure of one person may exclude the happiness of many. I think it is also more appropriate inside the theory; as, if one looks out for the community, it seems more likely that the greatest good for the greatest number will be reached. Likewise, Mill’s idea of happiness being about the quality, not the quantity of pleasure, is to an extent better.

The higher pleasures taking preference over the lower kinds of pleasures seem to fit with the quality of life, education and so forth. However, there is a danger that this idea quickly becomes snobbish, and puts the higher classes above those who would prefer rap music over opera. I suppose that this could make Mill’s approach `superior`, but in the way that is arrogant and conceited, rather than the definition of superior meaning improved. This shows how the theory is counter-intuitive in some areas; in how the community has importance, and not just the individual; and yet Mill still argues that the quality of pleasure takes precedence over the quantity, which seems to contradict the idea of community, and involve multiple classes. Another negative side of Mill’s theory is that he makes a jump with his universalisability ideas.

He makes an inductive leap in saying that just because one person desires their own happiness they will naturally aim for the happiness of everyone else. John Rawls was known for criticising Mill and how it is not ethical to assume that one person would do something for a group, and how people can be used a means to an end because of that. Theoretically it is a suitable idea, that everyone would look out for the happiness for everyone else, but in practice it is not logical, he is separating morality and motive. An alternative approach to Utilitarianism would be that of Henry Sidgwick. In his book `The method of Ethics` he explained how he was concerned with justice in society.

Although he was an Act Utilitarian like Bentham, his approach was similar to Mill’s, in that the consequences take into account the welfare of the people. This is an improvement again on Bentham’s ethics as justice and welfare have importance over the selfish desires of individuals, which supports Mill and his superiority over Bentham’s Utilitarianism. In conclusion, Mill’s Utilitarianism is superior to that of Bentham’s, in that it looks at the welfare of the people more, and even though it is snobbish in some areas where Bentham’s approach is better, overall Mill’s approach is more improved as it looks as the happiness of others.

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