Critique Of Benthams Quantitative Utilitarianism

This essay has a total of 1774 words and 8 pages.

Critique Of Benthams Quantitative Utilitarianism


Over time, the actions of mankind have been the victim of two vague labels, right and
wrong. The criteria for these labels are not clearly defined, but they still seem to be
the standard by which the actions of man are judged. There are some people that abide by a
deontological view when it comes to judging the nature of actions; the deontological view
holds that it is a person's intention that makes an action right or wrong. On the other
hand there is the teleological view which holds that it is the result of an action is what
makes that act right or wrong. In this essay I will be dealing with utilitarianism, a
philosophical principle that holds a teleological view when it comes the nature of
actions. To solely discuss utilitarianism is much too broad of topic and must be broken
down, so I will discuss specifically quantitative utilitarianism as presented by Jeremy
Bentham. In this essay I will present the argument of Bentham supporting his respective
form of utilitarianism and I will give my critique of this argument along the way.




Before the main discussion of the Bentham's utilitarianism gets underway, lets first
establish what utilitarianism is. As stated in the introduction, utilitarianism is a
teleological philosophy that is primarily concerned with the results of an action when
determining the nature of that act. Utilitarianism operates primarily under the greater
happiness principal, in other words, utilitarians believe that one should only act in such
a way that the results of that act should produce the greatest amount of happiness for the
greatest for the greatest number of people. It is due to this view that utilitarianism is
often criticized for being too hedonistic because it places the moral value of an act only
on how much that act effects happiness. The teleological nature of utilitarianism also can
serve as a problem because it pays no attention to the intention an action and can make
acts of an immoral nature justifiably right. I will use the example that a professor of
mine used in which a man tries to snatch an old lady's purse and in his struggle to do so
he pulls her out of the way of a speeding vehicle thus saving her life. This act, although
it started with mischievous intent, ended with a life being saved and surely produced the
greatest amount of happiness for the old lady. In the utilitarian eye this act is morally
acceptable and right due to the fact that happiness was produced.




Jeremy Bentham was a utilitarian philosopher with his own version of this particular of
this teleological view called "Quantitative Utilitarianism". Bentham's utilitarianism
argument starts by giving his principle of utility which judges all actions based on its
tendency to promote or diminish happiness of whoever is involved, be it a community or an
individual. According to Bentham, an action is right if, it increases happiness and
decreases suffering and is wrong it does not. Also included in his view of utilitarianism
is a way to calculate the general tendency of any act and its affect on a community. The
calculation is based on the seven circumstances of the act, which are: its intensity, its
duration, its certainty or uncertainty, its propinquity or remoteness, its fecundity
(tendency to be followed by sensations of like kind), its purity (tendency not to be
followed by sensations of unlike kind), and its extent (number of people affected). With
these circumstances in order, one can start to calculate the nature of the act and
according to Bentham after the completion of the process, one can make an accurate
assessment of the true nature of the act. Here is where my critique of Bentham's
"Quantitative Utilitarianism" comes into the picture. I will present Bentham's process in
his own words and then offer my observation as to where he went wrong.


The community is a fictitious body composed of the individual persons who are considered
as constituting as it were members. The interest of the community then is, what?-the sum
of the interests of the several members who compose it…..To take an exact account then
of the general tendency of any act, by which the interests of a community are affected,
proceed as follows. Begin with any one person of those whose interests seem most
immediately to be affected by it: and take an account,


1. Of the value of each distinguishable pleasure which appears to be produced by it in the first interest.

2. Of the value of each pain which appears to be produced by it in the first interests.

3. Of the value of each pleasure which appears to be produced by it after the first. This
constitutes the fecundity of the first pleasure and the impurity of the first pain.


4. Of the value of each pain which appears to be produced by it after the first. This
constitutes the fecundity of the first pain and the impurity of the first pleasure.


5. Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side, and those of all the pains
on the other. The balance, if it be on the side of pleasure, will give the good tendency
of the act upon the whole, with respect to the interests of that individual person; if on
the side of pain, the bad tendency of it upon the whole.


6. Take an account of the number of persons whose interests are concerned and repeat the
process for each. Sum up the numbers expressive to the degrees of good tendency…do this
again in regard to whom the tendency is bad upon the whole. Take the balance, which, if on
the side of pleasure, will give the good general tendency; if on the side of pain, the
general evil tendency

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