Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Jeremy Bentham

Defining Happiness

Utilitarians believe that we should maximize happiness and minimize unhappiness. Sometimes “happiness” is replaced with some other word or phrase, like “pleasure”, “utility”, “living standards”, and so on, but the claim is generally the same. Critics of utilitarianism often accuse utilitarians of being imprecise in their conception of happiness. If happiness is what matters, what makes people happy in the first place? Some utilitarians seem to smuggle in very peculiar conceptions of happiness without justifying or substantiating them. As someone with utilitarian leanings, I think the critics are owed a more comprehensive response than they’ve received, so that’s what I set out to do today.

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The Ethical Standing of Animals

Over the last couple of weeks I have found myself engaged three times in discussions about the ethical standing of the animal. In the first instance, the question was one of vegetarianism, the second was one of animal testing, and the third was of the validity of antihumanism, specifically the notion that human beings should diminish both in number and in environmental impact for the benefit of animals. It seems that the animal liberation movement grows stronger and more politically relevant, so it is time to evaluate its central proposition–that animals are non-human persons with the same ethical standing to that of human beings. To answer this question, we must investigate what precisely it means to be a person.

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Utilitarianism and Equality

One of the key topics in moral philosophy is utilitarian ethics–the notion that some principle or concept, usually happiness or pleasure or some variant, should be maximised across society. Famously created by Jeremy Bentham, the system of ethics has attracted many famous supporters over the years, most notably John Stuart Mill. However, many writers and theorists critical of utilitarian ethics, including John Rawls, have claimed that utilitarianism attempts to justify high inequality, forcing some to toil in misery for the gain of others. Today I’d like to explore this criticism of utilitarianism to see if it holds water.

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