Chapter 6. Teleological Theories : Utilitarianism
Section 3. The Calculative Concept

A calculative conception of moral reason

Role and importance of reason in utilitarianism?
The task of reason is to CALCULATE the relative amount of pleasure and pain for the most number of people, presently and in the future, which results from the prospective actions. The importance is that nothing else can serve as a guide to moral actions. Not feelings for feelings does not provide such information. What is required to make a correct moral decision is analysis of the types of pleasures and pains, as well as the informed prediction of the consequences of various actions. We've seen that, according to Bentham anyway, moral decision-making is nothing more than the calculation of the consequences of prospective actions, and the analysis of the contribution toward happiness that such consequences have.

The elements to be measured are:

1. intensity
duration - if two pleasures are the same in intensity, but one lasts longer, then it's better
certainty - if when I am trying to figure out which of two actions I ought to follow, it is only possible that I get much pleasure as a consequence of the first, but it is highly probable that I get pleasure from the second, then I ought to favor the second option.
propinquity - Bentham suggests that an action results in immediate pain is worse than an action whose pain is delayed.
fecundity - how likely is it that an action will have consequences which themselves will also have pleasurable consequences? An education may not have immediately satisfying consequences, but it may allow for a lifetime of goods.
purity - simply put, an action A is more pure than action B if there are, say, 10 pleasures and no pains with action A, while there are 10 pleasures and 3 pains with action B. Action B has mixed results, and thus is less pure.
extent -- this refers to the number of people effected by the action. If an action effects 1,000 people, that has a greater "extent" than a action which effects only 10 people.

See the following section concerning the manner in which utilitarianism is objective and universal.

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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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