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The Utilitarian Theory

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The Utilitarian Theory

Utilitarian theories hold that the moral worth of actions or practices is determined by their consequences. Utilitarians believe that the purpose or function of morality is to promote human welfare by minimizing harms and maximizing benefits. Utilitarianism theory accepts utility, or the greatest happiness principle, as the foundation of morals. It holds that actions are right in proportion, as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as thery tend to promote the opposite of happiness. Or as Jeremy Bentham, the eighteenth-century philosopher who proposed the principle put it:

"The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation."

(Bentham, 1994:142)

However we can say the following are some of the common criticism of the theory

* Distastefulness: Utilitarianism runs into problems when sentiment is involved. For instance, if breaks of my car are failed and I am with my mother in such situation, I would rather kill 5 off road people in order to save my mother and avoid collision with the truck.

* Impossibility: It is impossible to apply - that happiness (etc) cannot be quantified or measured, that there is no way of calculating a trade-off between intensity and extent, or intensity and probability (etc), or comparing happiness to suffering. If happiness was not measurable, words like "happier" or "happiest" could have no meaning: "I was happier yesterday than I am today" would make no sense at all - it can only have the meaning which we (or most of us, at any rate) know that it has if we assume that happiness can be measured and compared.

* Impracticality: It is too difficult to apply - that we cannot calculate all the effects for all the individuals (either because of the large number of individuals involved, and/or because of the uncertainty). The principle of utility is, essentially, a description of what makes something right or wrong - so in order for it to fail, someone must give an example of something which is useful but obviously wrong. The principle does not imply that we can calculate what is right or wrong - completely accurately, in advance, or at all.

* Absolute Duties Irrelevant: Moral duties such as truth-telling are no longer absolute, necessary duties. We should never tell a lie no matter what the consequences, utilitarians would first calculate the positive and negative effects from either telling the truth or telling a lie. If telling a lie will maximize more happiness or pleasure for the number of people involved, then telling a lie is the morally right thing to do. Thus, certain moral duties are not absolute, but relative to the positive outcome of a given moral action.




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