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AQA RS 'Utilitarian Thinking is Consequential' Essay

Updated on June 7, 2013

Question 1 (30 Marks)

The meaning of this statement revolves around the idea that through utilitarian thinking, the means is ignored and it is only the end, the actual result (or 'consequence') that matters. For example, seemingly inherently moral actions (at least what Immanuel Kant would have called them through his deontological perspective) like murder can be justified by consequential thinking if that murder would consequently save the lives of many other people.
Looking at Jeremy Bentham's act utilitarianism, it is clear that his form of utilitarianism is indeed consequential. This is because in order to make any decision at all, the hedonic calculus needs to be used, since its only criteria consider the consequence (intensity, duration, extent, purity) or the logistics of the action (propinquity, fecundity), there is no consideration at all of any moral absolutes or otherwise non-consequential views. All that matters is that the action (whether it be murder, rape, or theft) leads to more good than bad and was the best choice for the performer of the action. It should be noted that whilst the majority's consequences are considered, they can overrule that of the minorities, justifying horrific acts such as gang rape or torture.
Similarly, John Stuart Mill and his Rule Utilitarianism is also consequential, using rules that were based on the general consequence of an action. Therefore, although a rule might say "do not murder" it is only because the consequence is generally negative for humanity, not that there is anything inherently wrong with murdering that it is always morally wrong.
Another way of outlining just how immune utilitarianism is to the means of gaining a consequence is to cite Peter Singer (contemporary utilitarian) and his view that bestiality in some cases is acceptable behaviour, as long as it maximises good. If a behaviour that is seen to be seemingly 'wrong' by so many can be justified in the modern day by a credible philosopher, then it is safe to conclude that utilitarianism is indeed consequential.
Having said all of the above however, Act and Rule utilitarianism are not the only types of utilitarianism, and both preference and motive utilitarianism can be said to not be consequential at all. Preference utilitarianism considers and prioritises what people would most prefer, and so if the majority of people prefer one thing and yet the minority does not, the action (despite not maximising good) would not go forward. This type takes in account the minority and by doing so puts the prevention of tyranny above any consequences - therefore, it is not consequential.
Motive utilitarianism is also not consequential because it will only claim an action was moral if the person performing it intended the good result that came from it, if he intended the action to cause harm then it was not moral, even if no harm was caused. By considering the motives and not just the consequence of the action, motive utilitarianism brands itself as another form of non-consequential utilitarianism.

Overall, it's clear that although the most popular and well known types of utilitarianism are completely consequential by nature, some lesser known ones are not at all.

Question 2 (B)

'Happiness is the only goal in life that is worth working for.' Discuss how far you agree (15 marks)

Although Jeremy Bentham (inventor of the first type of utilitarianism) famously said "nature has placed humanity under the rule of two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain," it seems that pleasure is not the only goal that people strive for.
For example, many people choose lead their lives under religious guidelines such as the teachings in the Bible. This means following moral absolutes such as the ten commandments (thou shalt not kill, steal etc.) even if happiness is not the end result. If you ask Christians whether or not everything they do is for happiness, many will reply that their happiness is irrelevant and it is pleasing God that is the main goal in their life.
Similarly, Immanuel Kant and his deontological philosophy states that people should live their lives to fulfil 'duties' that they, such as helping others in need. These duties, Kant argued, should not be fulfilled with any expectation of positive rewards such as happiness - they should be done just because they should be. If you ask followers of deontology "do you live to be happy" they would might answer that being happy is not the point, doing the right thing is the point - and that is done through following moral obligatory duties.
Having considered the above arguments though, it seems to me that even when you follow 'duties' because you naturally 'should' it is still to you doing the positive thing, and therefore it must bring you some form of happiness. With the perspective that everything we willingly do and call 'right' brings us happiness, I strongly agree that happiness is the only goal in life worth pursuing.


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    • Philanthropy2012 profile image

      DK 4 years ago from London

      I guess at the end of the day the consequence is the same - good things are done!

      I don't disagree with it idea, if a person 'wants' to be good and so does things so he appears so, I feel that the very motive of wanting to be good is the real good act.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Interesting remarks. Virtuous acts really are performed for selfish reasons, but I would argue that there is nothing wrong with that underlying motive.