1. The function of Bentham’s hedonistic calculus is to provide a moral theory of what is right and wrong, based on the idea that what gives the most pleasure and happiness and the least pain to the world is the correct action. An example of how to use this theory is for legislators to create laws that would cause more suffering and pain to criminals than the pleasure their crime provided. An advantage of using the calculus is tries to provide the best results for the most people. The inherent problem with the the calculus is that some of the criteria are difficult to quantify. For example, it is not easy to place an exact measure on the “Intensity” of the pleasure being assessed. The calculus attempts to place precise measures on aspects of human nature that are of a subjective nature.
2. Bentham would not have recommended the use of torture as a last resort in a national security crisis because that would invade their sphere of personal inviolability. By simply torturing an individual, it would not actually create pleasure for anyone even if there were the possibility that information could be attained. I agree, but not for the same reason; I think that people under torture are probably going to say whatever they believe will get them out of the terrifying situation.
3. John Stuart Mill’s theory of higher and lower pleasures is his idea that mental and moral pleasures are of higher value than physical pleasure. The problem inherent with his theory is that it is elitist; for example, it leads to the idea that an educated man is naturally a more moral and valuable person than a person who is not as educated but has worked steadfastly at a job for 30 years. His ideas do not make much sense to me because pleasure is so subjective; a hug from a mother is a physical pleasure that probably exceeds the mental pleasure of winning a chess game.
4. Descartes believed that although both humans and animals have brains, only human beings had a mind. Possibly, he decided this because of his belief that God provided humanity but not animals with souls, and therefore animals did not have a “mind.” The consequences for utilitarianism if we agree that animals have a capacity for suffering is that theories such as Bentham’s and Mill’s would have to take into account all living species, and not just humanity.
5. Mill’s harm principle is attractive because it gives an individual great power to act as he pleases as long as it harms no one. One way of applying the harm principle to the idea of drug legalization is to argue that the people taking the drugs are only harming themselves. If drugs were legalized, then there would be no need for black-market, gang-related, or crime family involvement and overall harm to society through crime and violence would be reduced. On the other hand, people taking drugs may be doing harm to their families or employers by not being able to keep up with daily responsibilities; therefore, some people are being harmed.
6. Yes, I think people are more likely to accept the idea of utilitarianism in a time of crisis. People in a crisis need a quick way to rationalize the conditions of their situation in a cost vs. benefit method to justify their actions. This makes it an acceptable method even if there are better ones. People in crisis believe they are doing the best they can given their limitations, even if the result is not as desired.
Questions on The Blacksmith and the Baker
1. Do you think this is a fair picture of a utilitarian judge?
2. How might the utilitarian respond to this story?
Bentham would have said, “What is the pleasure being gained by this society? None.” He would say that the laws against murder were not strong enough to outweigh the pleasure the blacksmith received in killing his enemy and ought to be improved. Mills would have found fault with the way the judge, a more learned man than the townsperson who made the suggestion of killing the baker, listened to his lesser peer. Just because there was no previous example in the judge’s law books does not mean he should not now come up with a more educated, better solution to handle this new situation.
Rosenstand, Nina. The Moral of the Story. 6th Ed. 2008. Boston: McGraw-Hill.