PHIL 1304 - Paper 1

PHIL 1304 - Paper 1 - Mitchell Daniels PHIL 1304 Spring...

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Mitchell Daniels PHIL 1304 Spring 2007 Utilitarianism The development of a complete and universal moral theory is an incredibly daunting task. In “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation”, British philosopher Jeremy Bentham undertook the task and outlined his “principle of utility”. His novel ideas formed the basis for the moral philosophy of utilitarianism. Built on three basic principles, utilitarianism provides a relatively simple and logical method to evaluate the morality of any action. However, despite its apparent strengths Bentham’s utilitarianism has several significant flaws that seriously detract from its appeal. Bentham explains utilitarianism in three simple principles. First he presents a consequentialist argument stating that all actions must be evaluated by their effects. Following this, he writes that “the interest of the community is…the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.” (309) Finally, Bentham explains the hedonistic idea that the effects of any action on an individual are measured by “the sum total of his pleasures.” (310) These three basic notions form the framework of utilitarianism. Especially interesting are the first and second principles because they often challenge intuitions when applied. When he states that actions are to be evaluated by their effects, Bentham essentially expresses that pleasurable ends always justify their means, no matter how immoral those
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means appear according to intuition. This concession has a significant weakness that seriously tarnishes Bentham’s argument for utilitarianism. The complete acceptance of a consequentialist attitude requires a forfeiture of the recognition of all inherent human rights. Bentham suggests that any action against another person may be morally acceptable if those actions will have net positive effects. However, basic intuition suggests that blatant violations of human rights can rarely, if ever, be truly right. For instance, can genocide ever
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PHIL 1304 - Paper 1 - Mitchell Daniels PHIL 1304 Spring...

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