Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Utilitarianism is often cited as a consequentialist or teleological ethics. Consequentialism is the doctrine that the morally correct action is an action maximizing the good; hence, consequentialism is not so much concerned with the means used as it is concerned with probable outcomes, ends, or goals of activities. Utilitarianism holds only pleasure or happiness is an intrinsic good, whereas consequentialism implies that there may well be other intrinsic goods, such as knowledge, that some persons might not desire. In any case, the question arises whether or not something instrumentally bad can lead to something intrinsically good. Do we actually judge the goodness of an action only by its consequences? Do the ends justify the means in some cases? Construct and analyze a few examples in support of your view.

  2. Bentham seems to equate happiness with pleasure. Are there significant differences between pleasure and happiness? Do the characteristics of time, sensation, or emotion differ for each? Can one be happy while in painful circumstances? Provide some specific examples in support of some of the distinctions you notice.

  3. If pleasure for Bentham is intrinsically good, would anything count as being intrinsically bad? Bentham is often called a hedonist. Hedonism is the ethical view that pleasure alone is an intrinsic good for persons. Does Bentham believe the descriptive generalization that all persons in fact do seek pleasure (a view called psychological hedonism), or does he believe that all persons should or ought to seek pleasure, even though some persons might not (a view called ethical hedonism)? Relate your answer to Bentham's theory of motives.

  4. When Bentham explains the principle of utility in terms of the individual and in terms of the community, does he commit the fallacy of composition?[1] He writes above, Chapter I, V, "It is in vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual."

  5. Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach has said, "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser" and "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Compare these statements to "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he."[2] What would be Bentham's reaction to the later statement? Has Bentham overlooked anything in asserting that motives are not an exception to his theory?

  6. Attempt to do a detailed calculation of the total amount of pleasure and pain comparing sleeping-in with attending philosophy class. If you are sleeping, then would it follow that you are experiencing neither pleasure nor pain because you are not conscious? In your calculation, be sure to include the extent of the pleasure you bring to the other members of the class. If you have problems, try assigning pleasure as an ordinal relation rather than a cardinal relation, or check the Internet to see if anyone else has attempted calculating some specific instances.



The fallacy of composition involves the implication that a characteristic of a part of a something is attributable as the same characteristic of the whole. For example, the inference, " Since human beings are mortal, someday the human race must come to an end" is an instance of this fallacy. If all the players on an all-star team are excellent players, it would not logically follow that the team is an excellent team. In other words, in the fallacy of composition, the name of the characteristic in the predicate is used ambiguously.


Proverbs, 23: 7.