Relativism for the logical consequences of such a

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Unformatted text preview: ere is something wrong with a crude and simple type of moral relativism. relativism. For the logical consequences of such a view do indeed 22 appear unacceptable. appear Utilitarianism Utilitarianism The utilitarian moral theory, urging us always to act so as to The maximize the sum total of welfare among everyone affected by what we do, was stated in the eighteenth century by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham(1748-1832). English Bentham gathered around himself a circle of disciples, Bentham including the economist James Mill (1773–1863) and his philosophically very talented son, John Stuart Mill (1806–73). These philosophers were united not only by a common philosophical creed, but also by a social reformatory desire. philosophical They questioned traditional laws, institutions and customs, They and they argued that existing systems of education, criminal justice and political institutions should be subjected to radical reform. reform. 23 Utilitarianism Utilitarianism In order to get a better grasp of utilitarianism, it would In be a good idea to adopt a terminology suitable to the task. Among utilitarians it is common practice to use some moral terms in a slightly technical sense. A sharp distinction is made between actions that are right and wrong. If an action is not right, then it is wrong. And if an action is not wrong, then it is right. wrong. The actions we ‘ought’ to do, or the actions that are ‘obligatory’ for us (these expressions are synonymous), form a sub-class of the actions that are right for us to do. One way of explaining this would be to say that it would be wrong not to perform this 24 action. Utilitarianism Utilitarianism Note that we are speaking here of particular actions, Note such as the action a certain agent performs at a certain time (my writing this right now, for example), not generic actions (or types of actions), such as stealing, lying, killing, and so forth. Particular actions can be said to be instances of generic actions. They are typically performed by individual human beings, but they can also be performed by institutions (such as a government) or collectives (such as a group of individuals). collectives 25 Utilitarianism Utilitarianism Note also that according to this terminology it is possible Note that, in a certain situation, there are several right options open to an agent. However, in a particular situation one alternative at most can be obligatory for an agent to perform. perform. Given this terminology, we can now state the utilitarian Given criterion of rightness of particular actions as follows: an action is right if and only if in the situation there was no alternative to it which would have resulted in a greater sum total of welfare in the world. Remember again that if the action is not right, then it is wrong. This means that if there was something the agent could have done instead of the action he or she actually performed which would have resulted in a greater sum 26 total of welfare in the world, then he or she acted wrongly. total Utilitarianism- Hedonistic (Bentham) Hedonistic What is it that we ought to maximize? According to classical utilitarianism we ought to maximize According happiness or well-being. This version of utilitarianism is usually called hedonistic utilitarianism. Many contemporary utilitarians have abandoned it, but this is still the most plausible version of utilitarianism. Furthermore, in empirical happiness studies, results of which have recently been much publicized and discussed, hedonism is more or less taken for granted. According to Bentham (1748 – 1832) happiness is pleasure and the absence of pain. So, our moral obligation is to maximise the overall amount of pleasure, and minimize the overall amount of pain. This is known as Hedonistic Utilitarianism. amount 27 Utilitarianism Utilitarianism What is presupposed by hedonistic utilitarianism is that What each sentient being, at any time, is at a certain level of well-being. We may speak of this as the hedonic situation of the individual. What matters is the hedonic situation of an individual at a given time, that is, how this situation at this moment is experienced by this person. Does it feel better than a minute ago? Does it feel roughly the same? Or does it feel worse? Questions like these are meaningful according to hedonistic utilitarianism, in so far as they identify welfare with well-being. with 28 Utilitarianism Utilitarianism 29 Utilitarianism Utilitarianism According to hedonistic utilitarianism, there are also According situations that it is worse to experience than not to experience anything at all. What the theory presupposes is that the kind of representation of, say, the day of an individual, as shown in Figure 2.1, is meaningful. Let us assume that this is a day in my life. On the y axis we can plot the degree of well-being, and on the x axis the passage of time. The day starts when my alarm clock goes off. I leave a state of dreamless sleep and, for a moment...
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