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AQA Religious Studies Utilitarianism Revision

Updated on June 7, 2013
Sir Isaac Newton is commonly credited for inventing calculus to use with his theories, but he didn't get to invent the marvellous hedonic calculus that so many students must now take the time to learn about. Go Jeremy Bentham!
Sir Isaac Newton is commonly credited for inventing calculus to use with his theories, but he didn't get to invent the marvellous hedonic calculus that so many students must now take the time to learn about. Go Jeremy Bentham! | Source

Key Figures and their Contributions

Jeremy Bentham -

  • Invented the first type of utilitarianism: Act Utilitarianism
  • Came up with the use of the hedonic calculus
  • Famous saying "nature has put us under two sovereign masters: pleasure and pain."

John Stuart Mill -

  • Developed Bentham's work
  • Invented Rule Utilitarianism
  • Brought in the idea that there are 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures
  • Famous quote: "it is better to be an unsatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig.
  • Believed in individual liberty so long as it didn't cause harm to anyone else.
  • Stated that 'children and savages' should not be considered in Utilitarian calculations.

Peter Singer -

  • Contemporary utilitarian
  • Believed that all sentient beings should have rights, and higher beings like apes and gorillas deserve equal rights to humans.
  • Justified mutually pleasurable bestiality on the grounds of utilitarianism.

Remember, although act utilitarianism takes no chances with using rules - it still needs DICE! ... + FPP... whatever that is..
Remember, although act utilitarianism takes no chances with using rules - it still needs DICE! ... + FPP... whatever that is.. | Source

Hedonic Calculus

The hedonic calculus has 7 criteria that it uses in order to decide on the best decision. The higher the number, the better a decision it is.

  1. Duration - how long does the pleasure from the action last for?
  2. Intensity - how strong is the pleasure that results from the action?
  3. Certainty - is the likelihood of the pleasure high or low?
  4. Extent - how many people will be affected with the pleasure?
  5. Fecundity - will the pleasure lead to more pleasure?
  6. Purity - will the pain (if there is any) lead to more pain?
  7. Propinquity - how long will it be until the pleasure would be attained?

Numbers are usually given out of a maximum of 10, and so a decision that leads to a total of 70 arbitrary calculus points would be the perfect decision.

Tip: use an anagram like 'DICE-FPP' to remember the 7 criteria.

Different Types of Utilitarianism

  • Act Utilitarianism
    Every decision requires the use of the hedonic calculus to objectively define the best decision - the decision that will bring the greatest good to the greatest amount of people.
  • Rule Utilitarianism
    Decisions should be made using general rules that were created using the utilitarian principle of maximising the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Exceptions to the rules can be made as long as it is judged that the amount of good would be maximised by doing so. This makes utilitarianism more practical because decisions can be made quickly and as humanity advances so does its rules (through trial and error and the observation of which action presents the greatest good).
  • Preference Utilitarianism
    A maximisation of good is still sought though priority is given to people's preferences. That is to say, if the minority disagrees with an action then the action (regardless of its positive effect for the majority) should not go ahead. This protects the minority from majority tyranny.
  • Motive Utilitarianism
    Unlike all other types of utilitarianism, the motive type considers the motives of people's actions. That is to say, if one was to commit a good deed by accident then it wasn't really 'good'. If one meant to cause pain to another, but inadvertently helped them, then the action is said to be immoral despite its good consequences.
  • Negative Utilitarianism
    Karl Popper's Negative Utilitarianism takes the view that the avoidance of pain is more consequential (has more importance to humans and their decisions) than gaining pleasure is. It takes the view that a society of mildly happy people of whom none are in pain is better than a society half full of very happy and the other half very sad people. 'The least pain for the most people is the basis of Negative Utilitarianism'.

For more types of Utilitarianism see here: Different Types of Modern Utilitarianism

Full List of Utilitarianism Past Paper Essay Questions

  • January 2010:
    (a) 'Utilitarian thinking is consequential.' Explain the meaning of this statement. Refer to the utilitarianism of both Bentham and Mill in your answer (30 marks)
    (b) 'Happiness is the only goal in life that is worth working for.' Discuss how far you agree (15 marks)
    A Grade Answers
  • June 2010:
    (a) Examine how Bentham's Utilitarianism may be applied to one ethical issue of your choice. (Do not choose abortion or euthanasia.) (30 marks)
    (b) 'Bentham's Utilitarianism is not compatible with a religious approach to ethics.' Assess this view. (15 marks)
    A Grade Answers
  • January 2011:
    (a) Explain how moral decisions should be made according to:
    - Act Utilitarianism
    - Rule Utilitarianism (30 marks)
    (b) 'Utilitarianism is only concerned with the happiness of the community, not the happiness of the individual.' How far do you agree? (15 marks)
    A Grade Answers
  • June 2011:
    (a) Examine the general principles of utilitarianism with reference to any ethical issue(s) of your choice. (Do not choose abortion or euthanasia.) (30 marks)
    (b) 'Utilitarianism is so easy, anyone can use it as a method of moral decision-making.' How far do you agree? (15 marks)
  • January 2012:
    (a) Explain both the general principles of Utilitarianism and the distinctive features of Mill's Utilitarianism.
    (b) 'Ending pain should always be more important than increasing pleasure.' To what extent would a Utilitarian agree with this view? (15 marks)
  • June 2012:
    (a) Explain how a Utilitarian might use the hedonic calculus in making moral decisions. Illustrate your answer with reference to any ethical issue(s) of your choice. (Do not choose abortion or euthanasia.)
    (b) 'Happiness is the only worthwhile goal in life.' Assess this view (15 marks)

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