Precursors to the Classical Approach Though the first systematic account of utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham —the core insight motivating the theory occurred much earlier. Of these, Francis Hutcheson — is explicitly utilitarian when it comes to action choice.
Foundations[ edit ] Beginning with ancient philosophy, Epicureanism claims humans live to maximize pleasure. Humanity performs altruistic, honorable, and virtuous acts not for the sake of another or because of a moral code but rather to increase the well being of the self.
In modern philosophy, Jeremy Bentham asserted, like Epicurus, that human behavior is governed by a need to increase pleasure and decrease pain. Bentham attempted to Ethical egoism and sentiment psychological hedonism.
Bentham endeavored to find the ideal human behavior based on hedonic calculus or the measurement of relative gains and losses in pain and pleasure to determine the most pleasurable action a human could choose in a situation. From an evolutionary perspective, Herbert Spencera psychological egoist, argued that all animals primarily seek to survive and protect their lineage.
Essentially, the need for the individual and for the individual's immediate family to live supersedes the others' need to live.
Spencer asserted the best adapted creatures will have their pleasure levels outweigh their pain levels in their environments. Thus, pleasure meant an animal was fulfilling its egoist goal of self survival, and pleasure would always be pursued because species constantly strive for survival.
Contributions to modern psychology[ edit ] Psychoanalysis[ edit ] Whether or not Sigmund Freud was a psychological egoist, his concept of the pleasure principle borrowed much from psychological egoism and psychological hedonism in particular.
When Freud introduced Thanatos and its opposing force, Erosthe pleasure principle emanating from psychological hedonism became aligned with the Eros, which drives a person to satiate sexual and reproductive desires. Therefore, Freud believed in qualitatively different hedonisms where the total avoidance of pain hedonism and the achievement of the greatest net pleasure hedonism are separate and associated with distinct functions and drives of the human psyche.
Behaviorism[ edit ] Traditional behaviorism dictates all human behavior is explained by classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Operant conditioning works through reinforcement and punishment which adds or removes pleasure and pain to manipulate behavior. Using pleasure and pain to control behavior means behaviorists assumed the principles of psychological hedonism could be applied to predicting human behavior.
For example, Thorndike's law of effect states that behaviors associated with pleasantness will be learned and those associated with pain will be extinguished. Thus, behaviorism uses but does not strictly support psychological hedonism over other understandings of the ultimate drive of human behavior.
The debate[ edit ] Psychological egoism is controversial. Proponents cite evidence from introspection: Psychological egoists and hedonists have found through numerous observations of natural human behavior that behavior can be manipulated through reward and punishment both of which have direct effects of pain and pleasure.
For example, a theory that claims altruism occurs for the sake of altruism explains altruism with less complexity than the egoistic approach. The psychological egoist asserts humans act altruistically for selfish reasons even when cost of the altruistic action is far outweighed by the reward of acting selfishly because altruism is performed to fulfill the desire of a person to act altruistically.
Even though it is true that every human being seeks his own satisfaction, this sometimes may only be achieved via the well-being of his neighbor. An example of this situation could be phoning for an ambulance when a car accident has happened.
In this case, the caller desires the well-being of the victim, even though the desire itself is the caller's own. For example, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a psychological egoist for some of his career, though he is said to have repudiated that later in his campaign against morality.
He gives some hypothetical examples as illustrations to his thesis: In such cases, according to Nietzsche, there comes into play unconscious fears regarding our own safety.
The suffering of another person is felt as a threat to our own happiness and sense of safety, because it reveals our own vulnerability to misfortunes, and thus, by relieving it, one could also ameliorate those personal sentiments. Essentially, proponents argue that altruism is rooted in self-interest whereas opponents claim altruism occurs for altruism's sake or is caused by a non-selfish reason.
Psychological egoists, however, respond that helping others in such ways is ultimately motivated by some form of self-interest, such as non-sensory satisfaction, the expectation of reciprocation, the desire to gain respect or reputation, or by the expectation of a reward in a putative afterlife.
The helpful action is merely instrumental to these ultimately selfish goals. According to psychological hedonism, the ultimate egoistic motive is to gain good feelings of pleasure and avoid bad feelings of pain.
Other, less restricted forms of psychological egoism may allow the ultimate goal of a person to include such things as avoiding punishments from oneself or others such as guilt or shame and attaining rewards such as prideself-worth, power or reciprocal beneficial action.
Some psychologists explain empathy in terms of psychological hedonism. According to the "merge with others hypothesis", empathy increases the more an individual feels like they are one with another person, and decreases as the oneness decreases.
Both cognitive studies and neuropsychological experiments have provided evidence for this theory: Mirror neurons are activated both when a human or animal performs an action and when they observe another human or animal performs the same action.
Researchers have found that the more these mirror neurons fire the more human subjects report empathy. From a neurological perspective, scientists argue that when a human empathizes with another, the brain operates as if the human is actually participating in the actions of the other person.
Thus, when performing altruistic actions motivated by empathy, humans experience someone else's pleasure of being helped.
Therefore, in performing acts of altruism, people act in their own self interests even at a neurological level. Explanatory power[ edit ] Even accepting the theory of universal positivity, it is difficult to explain, for example, the actions of a soldier who sacrifices his life by jumping on a grenade in order to save his comrades.
In this case, there is simply no time to experience positivity toward one's actions, although a psychological egoist may argue that the soldier experiences moral positivity in knowing that he is sacrificing his life to ensure the survival of his comrades, or that he is avoiding negativity associated with the thought of all his comrades dying.The history of Western ethics Ancient civilizations to the end of the 19th century The ancient Middle East and Asia.
The first ethical precepts must have been passed down by word of mouth from parents and elders, but as societies learned to use the written word, they began to set down their ethical beliefs. These records constitute the first . Is the Golden Rule really all that golden?
Yes, especially in contrast with two other rules of human conduct. 1. The Concepts of Beneficence and Benevolence. The term beneficence connotes acts of mercy, kindness, and charity.
It is suggestive of altruism, love, humanity, and promoting the good of others. In ordinary language, the notion is broad, but it is understood even more broadly in ethical theory to include effectively all forms of action intended to . While both James Rachael’s ‘Theory of Egoism and Moral Skepticism’, and David Hume’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiment’ are applicable to this scenario, Hume’s theory is, decisively, the most ethical theory of choice in application to this particular situation.
John Dewey, American Pragmatist. A wing of the Pragmatism Cybrary. John Dewey () was an American psychologist, philosopher, educator, social critic and political activist. He was born in Burlington, Vermont, on 20 October Dewey graduated from the University of Vermont in , and received his PhD from Johns .
The more consistently one attempts to adhere to an ideology, the more one's sanity becomes a series of unprincipled exceptions. — graaaaaagh (@graaaaaagh) February 5, Meeting with a large group of effective altruists can be a philosophically disconcerting experience, and my recent meetup with Stanford Effective Altruist Club .