Utilitarianism, the theory that actions are right if they useful for the majority, the greatest happiness and pleasure for the greatest and majority of people. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was an English moral philosopher concerned with social reform, Bentham wanted people to seek pleasure and avoid pain. On the other hand John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) who was a great admirer of Bentham; however, he believed in the principle of utility and the idea that please should be ranked according to quality not quantity. For example: eating a mars bar is a poorer pleasure compared to listening to poetry.
Mill believing in pleasures of the mind is greater than pleasures of the body (eating). Within this essay I shall be discussing the different views of Bentham and Mill and how their theories are strengths for the utilitarian system. Jeremy Bentham believed that happiness for the greatest number of people is better than happiness for the minority of people. For example if a group of mountaineers became stranded and needed food, they would eat the man that was dying or simply couldn’t make it to survival, this is stating that the majority [the hungry mountaineers] want to eat him and that would give them pleasure, this pleasure is greater than the dying mountaineer.
The greatest amount of pleasure, for the greatest amount of people. This is an apparent strength of the utilitarian ethical system as the majority of people are in fact happy, meaning more people will be happy compared to the minority that are sad, happiness will always outweigh the sadness. Bentham’s form has strength as it avoids misery. Slight contrast appears with John Mill, whose ideological theory involved quality not quantity. In terms of pleasure this meant that Mill could in a way rank a pleasure, for example Mill said that having sex was a tiny pleasure compared to going to an art gallery or writing music.
This is because Mill believed that Pleasures of the mind are superior to pleasures of the body because a human can appreciate reading or looking at art; however, any living animal can experience bodily pleasures (having sex, eating…). Mill once said himself that “better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied . . . better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”. Mill is saying this because it shows how better humans are intellectually and how our pleasures as humans are different to every other human compared to pigs who all want the same thing.
Mills idea is a strength for the utilitarian ethical system as it separates humans who are far more intellectual to animals who all want to strive for the same goals. Mills theory is also a strength for the human race as he is saying that humans have more of a variety of pleasures. Bentham invented a system called the Hedonic calculus. Hedonism means: people who lead their lives in the pursuit of personal pleasure and happiness and the avoidance of pain. Hedonists would argue that if eating apples make you happy, you should do it all the time . . .
However Bentham created the Hedonic Calculus which had 7 stages designed to evaluate how much pain or pleasure can be derived from an action. Bentham did realise that pleasure and happiness were very difficult to define, as they vary from person to person and in different calculations. The Hedonic Calculus does provide balance as it measures the pleasure, for example, if a naval warship was in battle and is damaged badly, men are trapped if the ship gets anymore damaged it will explode due to the fire spreading, the captain has an extinguisher, but this would kill the men trapped.
The Hedonic Calculus is a strength for the utilitarian ethical system as it balances up the pleasure and allows people to work out pleasure for themselves. Mills theory and ideas can potentially put a stop to animalistic behaviour, this would be a colossal advantage for humans as it would completely separate us from animals in terms of being more intellectual. Mill believes that humans have a wider variety of pleasures than animals, this is simply true as humans have the ability to be able to communicate their feelings. Mill believes that human pleasures should be more of the mind than the body, for example painting rather than drinking.
Painting is off the mind and drinking is what every living organism does. This is a giant strength for the utilitarian ethical system as it simply separates humans from animals meaning that humans have a variety of better more interesting things to enjoy in life. In conclusion there are many more strengths and weaknesses to be highlighted for the utilitarian ethical system, for me personally the idea of the hedonic calculus is the biggest strength as it gives humans a chance to weight it all up and decide if what the pleasure or even negativity is.