Discussion: Utilitarianism

Utilitarians do not just look at the happiness of one person.

Egoism is not about each person making things up. That is relativism.

Something has to be truly in one’s own interests.

If some sees heroin as in their own interests, that does not make it so.

Mill is going to first look at the actual outcome.  The actual outcome can be contrasted with possible ones, but the actual outcome has the ultimate moral weight.

Thus, it is more so judging the actual outcome as to whether it is the best possible. Then working prior to something for that outcome. Utilitarianism does not count intentions. It counts results.

The British philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) are the most famous teleological ethicists. Bentham and Mill’s ethical theory gave rise to the term ‘utilitarianism,’ and they suggested that the most ethical action is always one from which the greatest number of people benefit and the least are harmed. The ethical objective of utilitarianism can thus be stated as “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” If we make decisions on principles of utility or consequence, we would carefully consider everyone effected by the decision, and weigh the harms and benefits of every action. Within this system, not every harm is evaluated the same way. Utilitarians also determine the relative impacts of benefits and harms. This also includes evaluating the likelihood of particular consequences occurring rather than other consequences. There is a lot to think about when making decisions according to this ethical framework!

We should be able to contrast, then, teleological ethics with deontological ethics such as divine command. Ethical decisions made based on rules or principles do not necessarily take consequences into account. We will see this contrast demonstrated in the example in the next section.

Do you prefer Mill or divine command? Why one or the other? 

 
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