Utilitarianism can be seen from different dimensions, one of which is the nominative ethics that basically adumbrates utilitarianism as a conventional system linked to the time between the English philosophers and economists of the 18th and 19th centuries in the form of Jeremy Bethany and his fellow philosopher who embraced the nature of action as right and necessary only if it aimed at a fellow philosopher The line of thought pursued by Jeremy Bethany, for instance, contradicts the theory of egoism which suggests that an individual only need to pursue self-interest at the expense of the vast majority and to other related ethical theories which view the action of right or wrong as being independent in their consequences to individuals and the society at large. Utilitarianism, when compared to other ethical theories provides a different view of ethical theories that define the parameters for determining right or wrong based on the inherent motive that influences action. Therefore, according to the utilitarian approach, it becomes imperative to note that it is most likely possible that a right thing can be done or pursued stemming from a bad motive. Alternatively, the utilitarian view also pursues the line of thought that distinguishes the aptness of exalting or being critical of an agent that motivates action. Ultimately, the concept of utilitarianism focuses on the need to attempt answering the question of what is needed to be done by an individual to help produce the best consequences imaginable.
Conceptualizing Bentham’s Utilitarianism
The fundamental basis of utilitarianism is based on the notion that there are consequences for every action undertaken whether good or bad emanating from the performance of an action. On the other hand, the issue of morality that defines the parameters of these actions depend on how they are viewed especially if the difference in the consequences of the existing alternative actions is not great which makes proponents of utilitarianism unable to perceive choices between actions as not emanating from the moral threshold. Acts need to be classified and categorized as for whether morally acceptable if right or morally unacceptable if wrong based on the inherent consequences to an individual and whether such consequences bear any significance to make an individual seek for the compelling agent as opposed to being persuaded or exhorted to perform an action in a preferable manner.
In the assessment of possible ramifications of actions done, utilitarianism depends on other theories of intrinsic value which suggest that the assumption made about something being good to emanate from its intrinsic value other than the possible consequences but also from the perceived values that derive their sense of worth from their relationship with the intrinsic value of good. The most significant aspect of Bentham’s postulations regarding utilitarianism is that he founded his beliefs on a more hedonistic approach by focusing mostly on happiness as the right balance over pain and believed in the unequivocal understanding that the feelings resulting from pain and pleasure carried in them both the intrinsic value and disvalue.
Further, the concept of utilitarianism also assumed that it was possible to make a comparison of two intrinsic values produced by two different alternatives and also make an estimation on the possible positive consequences. Additionally, the hedonistic approach based on a hedonic calculus could actually become possible based on the assumption that morality provided the avenue to aggregate the units of pleasure and those of pain for anyone more prone to get affected by the consequences of an action and therefore take an appropriate balance as a potential mitigation strategy for the cumulative good or bad tendencies of an action. Imperatively, the utilitarian approach makes interpersonal comparisons of intrinsic values of the consequences of alternative courses of action.
Influences of the Capabilities Approach Based on Bentham’s Unitarianism
According to Nussbaum, there exist an inherent need to refocus ideologies about the development of the different scales of individuals on the lives of people and how they unfold. Nussbaum suggests that quantitative measures that have often been used to measure the development aspect of people such as the gross domestic product are in themselves limited in scope since they cannot capture the reality of individual lives. Conversely, the development aspect of individual lives does not entirely exist on the notion of wealth and prosperity but the need for people to live their lives in a more dignified manner. Most importantly, dignified life is viewed as the most significant dimension upon which an individual’s life can keep on improving. There also exist a new paradigm of thought focusing on social and political advancement with elaborate emphasis on individual prosperity and experience. Not only does Nussbaum explore the measures of wellbeing such as the gross domestic product of a country but also how they affect individuals’ lives through a more personal approach that focuses on the economic prosperity of ordinary people. The capabilities and opportunities presented to individuals for their personal advancement rely primarily on whether the societies can afford to provide opportunities to the people who need them to advance. Therefore, the capabilities approach pursued by Nussbaum offers a more novel methodology to measure prosperity at a higher level by evaluating how best a country is endowed with the capabilities to provide essential life changing prospects for every citizen. From a utilitarian perspective, the philosophical underpinning of Nussbaum’s approach suggests the underlying need for the maximum benefit of an action to the society as the most realistic measure of wealth that also incorporates compassion to humanity. Other dominant theories have however failed to take into consideration the most salient aspects of human needs for dignity and self-worth. The alternate model provided by Nussbaum to assess the human development provides a better insight on the best ways for self-advancement, growth, and development based on the opportunities available to derive the best from their surrounding environment. The capabilities approach, therefore, plays an integral part in human progress by affording a more personalized approach to individual development through a lucidly structured account and practical implications. The end result entails a demonstration of the requisite path for justice for humanity by weighing the relevance of actions against the numerous philosophical stances made. Additionally, the capabilities approach integrates the values of actions despite their context of cultural differences. In the modern times characterized by high levels of unjustifiable inequality, Nussbaum suggests that adopting the necessary concepts of policy can help people to live fully creative and productive lives where equal opportunities are created for everyone to advance their development and growth. Bentham expounds on the concept of utilitarianism that it conveys an implicit message that suggests that it is reprehensible to talk about the interests of the society when one does not understand the individual interest of people. An action, therefore, can only be said to promote the interest of an individual when it effectively creates a situation where that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain to an individual. Therefore, the happiness of an individual within a community can only be secured by the right elements that promote good for humanity and creates a semblance of immunity to pain and misery. The type of happiness that is promoted by an action of the doer in this case essentially embodies the need for benevolence to not only the doer of the action but to the people affected by the action.
The need to fully exploit the resources with which we have been endowed fully to humanity emanates from the need to recognize personal interests that accommodate the interests of others and working towards a common goal to let these interest manifest from an individual level for the benefit of the majority. In the spirit of utilitarianism, it becomes imperative to also recognize the significance of pursuing happiness and minimizing actions that could have devastating consequences in the form of pain. Development from a personal level can be perceived as good but it is essential to take cognizance of the fact that development forfeits the cumulative objectives of benevolence when it focuses on individualistic greed.
Crimmins, James E. “Jeremy Bentham.” (2013).
Nussbaum, Martha C. “Philosophy and Economics in the Capabilities Approach: An essential dialogue.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 16, no. 1 (2015): 1-14.
Stewart, Frances. “Against happiness: A critical appraisal of the use of measures of happiness for evaluating progress in development.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 15, no. 4 (2014): 293-307.