What is Utilitarism, Utilitarian Ethics?June 28, 2021
It is possible to answer the question of what is utilitarism as follows: Utilitarism or Utilitarian Ethics is a philosophy movement that argues that the best and most correct action is the best and most correct action, and if the majority will benefit, a small number of people can be risked to be harmed.
From the utilitarian perspective, the value of an action is determined by the utility it provides. What makes an action right or appropriate is that it brings the highest level of happiness for as many people as possible.
Utilitarian ethics is the view that argues that the morality of an action depends on providing the highest level of happiness to the most people, and its representatives are Bentham and Mill.
In Bentham’s words, “only if an action increases one’s happiness in general, and one’s current pleasure in particular, or if it somehow reduces one’s current suffering, then it conforms to the principle of utility.” (Güçlü et al., 2002). However, later on, J. S. Mill clarified the understanding of utilitarianism at these points, since utilitarianism was opposed at some points. “What is Utilitarianism?” In his article named “utility”, it is necessary not to understand the term utility in its common form in daily language, that the idea of utility never meant “brute hedonism” in its history from Epicurus to Bentham; He stated that it is wrong to see utilitarianism as an understanding that “reduces everything to pleasure, but also to gross pleasure” (1946: 1315).
Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are representatives of the utilitarianism movement.
In addition, Mill said that the concept of benefit, which is determined based on the concept of happiness and pleasure, by keeping it separate from ordinary use in daily language, is not only related to the happiness of individuals (1946: 23). Because the idea of ”the greatest happiness” in utilitarianism includes not the greatest happiness of the individual, but the happiness of everyone together. Mill expresses the possibility of this as follows:
“While it may be doubted that a distinguished character is happier because of his eminence, there is no doubt that he makes other people happier and that with him the world gains great things. Therefore, utilitarianism can only achieve its purpose by working in the direction of increasing and increasing the distinctiveness of character.” (2009: 22).
The view in ethics that measures the righteousness of an action by the happiness it brings to those it affects. According to the utilitarianism doctrine, which was founded by the English thinkers Jeremie Bentham and developed by John Start Mill, the criterion of morality is utility. Mill argues that “since the birth of philosophy, thinkers have sought what is the supreme “good” and found it with Bentham. And the supreme good is the benefit, and it should be looked at whether it is useful to separate the good from the bad.
Utilitarism takes it as a criterion of correctness that any action benefits everyone, not just the person doing it. According to Bentham and Mill, the feeling of absolute good pleasure is meaningful to pain only when interpreted in the light of the principle of utility. When the only purpose of human behavior is to increase the sense of pleasure, the criterion to be taken in determining the correctness or necessity of any behavior is also useful for this goal of happiness. The action that will provide the highest level of happiness to the greatest number of people plays an important role especially in the field of living. The legislator seeks to maximize individuals in society. Similarly, it sets deterrent penalties to prevent the individual from harming other community members. This punishment is bad, but it can be seen as hurt because it prevents a greater evil.
What is Utilitarism in Brief?
Jeremy Bentham: The purpose of human actions is happiness. Because by nature, human beings want to reach pleasure by avoiding pain, and this pleasure makes them happy. Human happiness is related to the happiness of the people around him. Because man is not only under the influence of his own actions, but also under the influence of the actions of the people he lives with. For this reason, the highest pleasure that will lead to happiness is “the pleasure that most benefits as many people as possible.” In other words, if the pleasure here is chosen with the benefit of the society in the foreground, it will lead us to happiness.
John Stuar Mill: The purpose of human actions is happiness. Happiness can be achieved with utility. “Everyone must harmonize his own benefit with the benefit of others. So, “what is useful (good) for all, not just for one man, must be accomplished.” Doing what is good for everyone leads to happiness. At this point, pleasure ceases to be individual and turns into a universal law.
Video Lecture: What is Utilitarism?
Topics About Utilitarism
Mill’s utilitarian ethic
Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook