Critique Of Bentham's Quantitative Utilitarianism

Over time, the actions of mankind have been the victim of two vague labels, right and wrong. The criteria for these labels are not clearly defined, but they still seem to be the standard by which the actions of man are judged. There are some people that abide by a deontological view when it comes to judging the nature of actions; the deontological view holds that it is a person's intention that makes an action right or wrong. On the other hand there is the teleological view which holds that it is the result of an action is what makes that act right or wrong. In this essay I will be dealing with utilitarianism, a philosophical principle that holds a teleological view when it comes the nature of actions. To solely discuss utilitarianism is much too broad of topic and must be broken down, so I will discuss specifically quantitative utilitarianism as presented by Jeremy Bentham. In this essay I will present the argument of Bentham supporting his respective form of utilitarianism and I will give my critique of this argument along the way.

Before the main discussion of the Bentham's utilitarianism gets underway, lets first establish what utilitarianism is. As stated in the introduction, utilitarianism is a teleological philosophy that is primarily concerned with the results of an action when determining the nature of that act. Utilitarianism operates primarily under the greater happiness principal, in other words, utilitarians believe that one should only act in such a way that the results of that act should produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest for the greatest number of people. It is due to this view that utilitarianism is often criticized for being too hedonistic because it places the moral value of an act only on how much that act effects happiness. The teleological nature of utilitarianism also can serve as a problem because it pays no attention to the intention an action and can make acts of an immoral nature justifiably right. I will use the example that a professor of mine used in which a man tries to snatch an old lady's purse and in his struggle to do so he pulls her out of the way of a speeding vehicle thus saving her life. This act, although it started with mischievous intent, ended with a life being saved and surely produced the greatest amount of happiness for the old lady. In the utilitarian eye this act is morally acceptable and right due to the fact that happiness was produced.

Jeremy Bentham was a utilitarian philosopher with his own version of this particular of this teleological view called "Quantitative Utilitarianism". Bentham's utilitarianism argument starts by giving his principle of utility which judges all actions based on its tendency to promote or diminish happiness of whoever is involved, be it a community or an individual. According to Bentham, an action is right if, it increases happiness and decreases suffering and is wrong it does not. Also included in his view of utilitarianism is a way to calculate the general tendency of any act and its affect on a community. The calculation is based on the seven circumstances of the act, which are: its intensity, its duration, its certainty or uncertainty, its propinquity or remoteness, its fecundity (tendency to be followed by sensations of like kind), its purity (tendency not to be followed by sensations of unlike kind), and its extent (number of people affected). With these circumstances in order, one can start to calculate the nature of the act and according to Bentham after the completion of the process, one can make an accurate assessment of the true nature of the act. Here is where my critique of Bentham's "Quantitative Utilitarianism" comes into the picture. I will present Bentham's process in his own words and then offer my observation as to where he went wrong.
The community is a fictitious body composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were members. The interest of the community then is, what?-the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it…..To take an exact account then of the general tendency of any act, by which the interests of a community are affected, proceed as follows.