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Mill and Bentham

The concept of morality varies from different ethical principles and doctrines. But in a very general idea, morality is the standard that which judges if an action is right or wrong.

Many philosophers have attempted to present their own philosophy of morality such as Immanuel Kant’s Deontological Ethics wherein the morality of an action is based on the performance of one’s duty; Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics which states that an action can be judged as moral or immoral based on the intention or motive or character of the acting agent; and of course John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarian Principle that which states that the morality of an action is based on the greatest happiness that one can derive upon acting.

They are just few of the philosophers who give their own account of what morality is and how it can be measured. In connection with the principle of Utilitarianism, Hedonism can be seen as somewhat or even really a necessary substance in the Utilitarian Ethics. Hedonism argues that it is the amount of pleasure and pain that governs the person’s choice of action (Feldman, 2006). This implies that a person will act according to how it is possible for him or her to obtain a particular amount of pleasure or happiness and avoid pain or suffering.

The Hedonistic Principle believes that the morality of an act can be measure through the difference between the pleasure derived minus the pain inflicted (Bentham, 2003). The difference of the two constitutes how moral an action is. This technique or way of measuring morality is known as the Hedonistic Calculus. Mill and Bentham As mentioned earlier, hedonism is quite included in the principle of Utilitarianism which is advocated by JS Mill and Jeremy Bentham.

Though both of them believe that it is the attainment of greatest amount of happiness (pleasure) for the greatest number of individuals that entails a moral act, their views differ in particular points. Mill’s Utilitarian approach is more of a qualitative structure. He believed there is hierarchy of pleasure (higher pleasure is more valuable than lower pleasure). He furthered that beasts and man have different levels of valuing pleasures – where beasts can be easily satisfied by lower pleasures, man aims for that which could give him the highest pleasures (Bentham, 2003).

On the other hand, Bentham’s approach is more of quantitative structure. He claimed that the pleasure can be measured quantitatively (through his hedonistic calculus). The measure of pleasure can be derived by multiplying the intensity of a particular pleasure by its duration. Clearly, his morality does not only revolve on the amount of pleasures but he also considers the intensity and duration of pleasures (Bentham, 2003). Yet, some say that quantitative approach of Bentham is not really plausible in a way that pleasures cannot really be measured as of they have universal qualities (Feldman, 2006).

Critics argue that it is not solely the case that the morality of an action is evaluated through how pleasurable it is but it can also be the case that there are other factors that affect the evaluation of it. Hedonism and Psychological and Ethical Egoism In addition, hedonism is also being compared with the principle of psychological egoism. The principle of psychological egoism states that man’s action is motivated by the things that would promote their own interests or their own good. In a very short description, psychological egoism states that man is naturally inclined to look for pleasure.

In a way, hedonism can also be compared with the principle of ethical egoism. The latter presupposes that man should act so as to promote their own good while ethical hedonism asserts that man should act so as to generate his own pleasure (Feldman, 2006). Examples of hedonism are the instances of sadism and masochism. Sadism is the pleasure obtained by inflicting pain or suffering to others while masochism is the pleasure derived from being in pain or from suffering. If the standard of morality would be a hedonistic one, then one has justified claim for harming or injuring other people because it gives him pleasure.

The same thing goes with masochism, one’s suffering cannot be deemed as cruelty because he or she is being benefited with pleasure by being harmed or injured by others. Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics, and Hedonism Meta-ethics is a strand of ethics that focuses its undertakings on the essence, nature and structure of moral statements, ethical properties, and judgments (Postow, 1899). Unlike normative ethics, meta-ethics is not concerned with the standard of ethics or morality – what should one do, or which is right or wrong, good or bad (Postow, 1899)?

Its focus is on the meaning and nature of moral principles, theories, and doctrines. Hedonism, which is focus on that which is pleasurable, can be linked with both meta-ethics and normative ethics in a way that it is solely govern by the principle of pleasure. The nature, essence and structure of morality in the hedonistic approach is primarily dictated, motivated, and ruled by pleasure. It can be understood that man acts in such and such ways so as to obtain and maximize pleasures (Feldman, 2006). In this way, it appears to follow what meta-ethics suggests.

On the other hand, when distinguishing which is pleasurable, or how pleasurable something is or how pleasurable the consequence of an action is, normative ethics seems to be integrated in the principle of hedonism because it already talks about how man should act and what one should do in particular circumstances (Postow, 1899). To sum up, Hedonism can be used either to examine the nature and the meaning of moral properties and at the same time it can be used to measure the morality of an action. Its basic principle is directed towards pleasure.

And according to Bentham, the total amount of pleasure can be computed by means of hedonistic calculus – that is pleasure minus pain; and also by intensity of pleasure multiply with its duration.

References: Bentham, J. (2003). The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill. Hackett Publishing Company. Feldman, F. (2006). Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and Plausibility of Hedonism (New ed. ). Oxford University Press. Postow, B. C. (1899). Reasons for Action: Toward a Normative Theory and Meta-Level Criteria (First ed. ). Springer.

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