Is utilitarianism an ethical theory

Utilitarianism - On the theories of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill


1 Introduction

2. Biography of Jeremy Bentham

3. Biography of John Stuart Mill

4. The main features of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism
4.1 The principle of usefulness
4.2 Quantitative hedonism
4.3 Bentham's sanctions model

5. John Stuart Mills Utilitarianism versus the Bentham's
5.1 The utility principle according to Mill
5.2 Introduction of the qualitative aspect
5.3 The motive of an action
5.4 The sanctions of the utility principle and the importance of education
5.5 'Proof' of the usefulness principle

6. Summary

7. Final Thought


Statutory declaration

1 Introduction

Utilitarianism is, especially in the English-speaking world, one of the most important and most discussed moral-philosophical theories, which has been criticized from many sides since the beginning in the 19th century. The advocates of this ethic always had to defend themselves against violent prejudices, and even today debates are being held from the point of view of utilitarianism, for example whether terrorists may be threatened with torture or even tortured if human lives can be saved as a result.

Jeremy Bentham is considered to be the founder of utilitarianism with his work 'An Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation'. In his essay 'Utilitarianism', John Stuart Mill further developed the theories of his predecessor and defended them against accusations by formulating ambiguous aspects more clearly and changing some things a little. The biggest change is the introduction of the qualitative aspect of evaluating joys and sorrows at Mill, while Bentham limited himself to the quantitative. I will go into this at the end of my thesis, after I have explained and compared the main features of the theories of both.

2. Biography of Jeremy Bentham

The English philosopher and lawyer Jeremy Bentham is considered the founder of utilitarianism. He was born in London in 1748, where he also died in 1832. Since studying law at Oxford, he has been particularly interested in questions of legislation and criminal law. His main work "An Introduction into the Principles of Morals and Legislation" was originally intended as an introduction to legal philosophical considerations, but was then developed into an independent moral-philosophical work and appeared in 1789. In 1808, together with James Mill, he founded the 'Radicals', a movement that campaigned for more democracy in England through the expansion of suffrage and secret elections and for the reform of criminal law.[1]

3. Biography of John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill was born in London on May 20, 1806. His father, James Mill, was a well-known psychologist, economist and historian and was also a close friend and supporter of Jeremy Bentham. He radicalized and popularized its teaching. He planned to conduct an educational experiment with his son; he wanted to raise him to be a child prodigy. That is why John Stuart Mill learned Greek at the age of three, Latin at eight and read philosophical works at this young age, such as those by David Hume. He grew up in complete isolation, was tutored by his father and only knew his friends, of course all supporters of utilitarianism. As a result, he became a utilitarian himself, studied Bentham's writings intensively and at the age of 16 founded the Utilitarian Society, where ethics, politics and law were discussed. In the following years he wrote radical letters, essays and gave speeches. After the death of his father in 1836, Mill suffered a serious crisis. Gradually he began to question the doctrine of utilitarianism, turning away from the radical and doctrinal type, and writing critical essays on Bentham. His further development of Bentham's theory appeared in 1863 in the defense paper 'Utilitarism'. John Stuart Mill died in Avignon on May 7, 1873. His autobiography was published in the same year.[2]

4. The main features of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism

The following are the three main points from Bentham's essay 'An Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation'. In order to avoid repetition, I will deal with further aspects of his theory, which were adopted by John Stuart Mill, in the second part of my work.

4.1 The principle of usefulness

"Nature has mankind under the rule of two sovereign rulers - Sorrow and joy - posed. It is up to them alone to show what we should do as well as to determine what we will do. "[3] This is the first sentence of Bentham's major work, An Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation. joy (pleasure) and suffering (pain) - hereinafter also referred to as pleasure and displeasure[4] - on the one hand they dominate people in everything they do and on the other hand they set the standard for what they should do. Pleasure is equated with luck in Bentham as well as with convenience, advantage and profit, as synonyms for suffering he calls unhappiness, inconvenience, disadvantage, loss and calamity.[5] Happiness and usefulness are also closely related in Bentham's work, although this was not clearly evident from his work until he added it in a footnote in 1822.[6] Usefulness is to be understood as the property of an object to promote happiness or to protect it from unhappiness. An action is therefore useful if it produces more happiness than suffering.[7] By the utility principle, Bentham means "that principlewhich establishes the greatest happiness of all those whose interest calls into question the right and appropriate, and indeed the only right, appropriate and absolutely desirable goal of human action "[8]. A follower of this principle always judges actions according to the tendency to promote happiness for all those affected by this action. This refers to all human actions, but Bentham also refers to actions of the government, because it has the task of promoting the happiness of the governed.[9]


[1] Prechtl, Peter: Bentham, Jeremy. In: Lutz, Bernd (ed.): Metzler Philosophenlexikon. Stuttgart 2003, pp. 79-80.

[2] See Gaulke, Jürgen: John Stuart Mill. Reinbek near Hamburg, 1996.

[3] Bentham, Jeremy: An Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation. In: Höffe, Otfried (ed.): Introduction to utilitarian ethics. Munich 1975, p. 35.

[4] In the German translations of the works of Bentham and Mill will pleasure translated both with joy and with pleasure, pain with sorrow or displeasure.

[5] See Bentham, p. 51.

[6] See ibid., P. 53.

[7] See ibid., P. 36.

[8] Ibid., P. 53.

[9] See ibid., Pp. 35-37.

End of the reading sample from 18 pages