Applying Bentham and Mill

Hedonistic Utilitarianism – Calculating Consequences by Measurable Pleasure

Note: the acronym PRRICED can be used to remember the seven criteria of Benham’s hedonic calculus (Purity, Remoteness, Reliability, Intensity, Certainty, Extent, Duration) 

here is a detailed explanation of Bentham’s philosophy.

Abortion

Bentham’s hedonistic act utilitarianism seeks to maximise the balance of pleasure over pain measured by the hedonic calculus, which uses seven criteria (acronym PRRICED) to gauge the pleasure derived from different actions. In this calculation everyone is to count as one and no-one as more than one – we all have the same stake in the utility calculus. The issue of abortion hinges on the likely future pleasure of the potential child, versus the pleasure or pain to the mother and any other individuals affected by the abortion decision. For example, a hedonistic act utilitarian might see the future pleasure of a handicapped child affected by the disability – so the rational decision might be to abort this foetus and replace it with a potentially happier one. This needs to be set against the pleasure or pain of the mother, not just in childbirth, but in her psychological state should the child be unwanted. Because of the difficulty determining likely consequences it is very difficult to do this calculation in practice – with the added problem that the hedonic calculus itself is frought with difficulty, as how do we know my hedon is the same value as your hedon of pleasure? How too can we be sure of the likely psychological results of an abortion for the mother? There is evidence emerging that mothers experiencing abortion are more likely to encounter mental health problems such as depression in later life. Abortion Bentham’s hedonistic act utilitarianism seeks to maximise the balance of pleasure over pain measured by the hedonic calculus, which uses seven criteria (acronym PRRICED) to gauge the pleasure derived from different actions. In this calculation everyone is to count as one and no-one as more than one – we all have the same stake in the utility calculus. The issue of abortion hinges on the likely future pleasure of the potential child, versus the pleasure or pain to the mother and any other individuals affected by the abortion decision. For example, a hedonistic act utilitarian might see the future pleasure of a handicapped child affected by the disability – so the rational decision might be to abort this foetus and replace it with a potentially happier one. This needs to be set against the pleasure or pain of the mother, not just in childbirth, but in her psychological state should the child be unwanted. Because of the difficulty determining likely consequences it is very difficult to do this calculation in practice – with the added problem that the hedonic calculus itself is frought with difficulty, as how do we know my hedon is the same value as your hedon of pleasure? How too can we be sure of the likely psychological results of an abortion for the mother? There is evidence emerging that mothers experiencing abortion are more likely to encounter mental health problems such as depression in later life.

Euthanasia

here is  a case study on Daniel James who chose assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2008.
Bentham’s hedonistic act utilitarianism seeks to maximise the balance of pleasure over pain measured by the hedonic calculus which uses seven criteria (acronym PRRICED) to gauge the pleasure derived from different actions. In this calculation everyone is to count as one and no-one as more than one – we all have the same stake in the utility calculus. The issue of euthanasia hinges on the likely future pain of the sick or dying person, together with the pleasure or pain to family and friends and any other individuals affected by the euthanasia decision. For example, a hedonistic act utilitarian might see the future pain of a very ill patient, both mental and physical, as outweighing any probable pleasure – so the rational decision might be to choose death as long as all those affected agree to this, as Dr Anne Turner seems to have done (see docudrama A Short Stay in Switzerland).

This needs to be set against the pleasure or pain of society more widely, through any likely effects on the population generally (eg loss of trust in doctors). Because of the difficulty determining likely consequences it is very difficult to do this calculation in practice – with the added problem that the hedonic calculus is frought with difficulty, as how do we know my hedon is the same value as your hedon of pleasure? How too can we be certain of how an illness will progress?

Suppose the individual is depressed, as Daniel James may have been (see case study), should they be allowed to make a calculation on a distorted picture of the future? If there are clearcut negative quality of life issues it is likely that a rational utilitarian will choose death.

 IVF treatment

Bentham’s hedonistic act utilitarianism seeks to maximise the balance of pleasure over pain measured by the hedonic calculus which uses seven criteria (acronym PRRICED) to gauge the pleasure derived from different actions. In this calculation everyone is to count as one and no-one as more than one – we all have the same stake in the utility calculus. The issue of IVF hinges on the likely future pleasure of the newly created child, versus the pleasure or pain to the mother and any other individuals affected by the IVF decision. For example, a hedonistic act utilitarian might see the future pleasure of a wanted child ad the pleasure to the parents as vastly outweighing any possible pain – so the rational decision would be to have IVF treatment to create one more new happy being. Because of the difficulty determining likely consequences it is very difficult to do this calculation in practice – with the added problem that the hedonic calculus is frought with difficulty, as how do we know my hedon is the same value as your hedon of pleasure? How too can we be sure of the likely psychological results of unsuccessful IVF treatment for the mother? For the 25% of couples who have difficulty conceiving it would seem clear from an act utilitarian perspective that such treatments are good for general happiness.

 Designer babies

Designer babies is an ambiguous concept as there is a big difference between designing a perfect child to fit our own perfectionism and designing a baby to save another sick child (so-called saviour siblings). Bentham’s utilitarianism seeks to maximise the balance of pleasure over pain measured by the hedonic calculus which uses seven criteria (acronym PRRICED) to gauge the pleasure derived from different actions. In this calculation everyone is to count as one and no-one as more than one – we all have the same stake in the utility calculus.

The issue of designing babies hinges on the likely future pleasure of the potential child, or the pleasure of a saviour sibling curing a sibling through donation of cells or marrow. For example, a hedonistic act utilitarian might see the future pleasure of a newly created child plus the pleasure to the sibling helped as vastly outweighing the risks that the saviour sibling might feel undervalued as just a means to an end (the Kantian objection to this)- so the rational decision might be to have the saviour sibling. This needs to be considered with the pleasure or pain of the wider family. Because of the difficulty determining likely consequences it is very difficult to do this calculation in practice – with the added problem that the hedonic calculus is frought with difficulty, as how do we know my hedon is the same value as your hedon of pleasure? How too can we be sure of the likely psychological results of all those affected – including any donor parents? An act utilitarian is likely to support wholeheartedly any such attempt to give pleasure to infertile parents, or sick children represented by IVF treatments.

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