The ancient concept of Hedonism reduced to a marketing ploy to promote selfish, indulgent and gratifying pleasures.... what would Aristippus of Cyrene make of it all....
Such a link to wine however is no fluke. It didn't take long before Hedonism acquired a mascot or two, the Greek and Roman God's of wine, Dionysus and Bacchus quickly became promoters of the Hedonist lifestyle. Drink and be merry indeed!
Below are two ways I suggest students remember Bentham's Hedonic Calculus. Method 1 or Method 2, what will work best for you?
So using the Hedonic Calculus you can work out what action will bring about the maximum pleasure for the maximum number of people involved. Probelms? Hell yea... Think about it, you can potentially justify all sorts of awful actions! Stealing, bullying, gang rape, murder/suicide for organ donations.... literally all sorts of actions can be justified via the Hedonic Calculus.
Origins in Hedonism
The term Hedonism derives from the Greek word Hedonismos which means 'delight'. Hedonism is an ancient idea dating back to Epicurus and Aristippus of Cyrene, who argued that pleasure was the universal and ultimate object of endeavor. Hedonists believed that seeking pleasure and avoiding pain should be the basis of all judgements. Although some great thinkers along the way saw purity in this concept, such as Plato and Aristotle who noted that it was good for man to strive to be happy, others saw it as an excuse for self indulgent and self gratifying acts that promoted immoral behaviour and base pleasures. Even today Hedonism is still associated with the latter. All I'm saying is don't google image search Hedonism thinking you will find anything relating to its ancient past.
Lesson catch up:
Jeremy Bentham's Act Utilitarianism
Bentham saw potential in Hedonism and used the idea as a basis for his ethical theory, Act Utilitarianism. Bentham had a theory of motivation- why we should use pleasure as a basis for moral decision making, and this was due to what he called moral fact-the fact that all humans and animals are motivated in their actions by seeking pleasure an avoiding pain, so why should this also not motivate moral decisions? He titled his ethical theory the principle of utility, aka- 'the greatest good for the greatest number'. Provided an action resulted in the maximum pleasure for the maximum number of people involved then that action was moral. Because this ethical theory looks to the end result and consequence of an action rather than the action itself it is a consequentialist and teleological theory.
Lesson Catch Up:
The Hedonic Calculus
Because Bentham's Act Utilitarianism works out the moral action based on the outcome of that action, it has to treat each situation uniquely. In order to do this Bentham had to come up with a way to actually measure the amount of pleasure or pain each action caused in each situation. In order to do this he developed the Hedonic Calculus. Seven categories as shown in the pictures to the left. Which way do you find easier to remember? Because Bentham's Utilitarianism treats every situation uniquely it is a relativistic theory. The morality of an action is relative to that particular situation.
Lesson Catch Up:
So using the Hedonic Calculus you for the train scenario below you can work out which action is the most moral: The train cannot be stopped, but you can choose which track it goes down. Track 1 which would kill 5 people or track 2 which would kill 1 person. If you direct it down the track 1 where 5 people would die, you have 5 different families experiencing pain weighed up against 1 family with the pleasure of their loved one surviving. On the other hand however if you direct the train down track 2 killing just 1 person, yes that 1 family experience pain but 5 different families get the pleasure of their loved ones surviving. Pleasure out weighs pain in this case, so you must direct the train down track 2 and kill the 1 individual.
However, what if those 5 people on track 1 were all homeless drug addicts or convicted murderers with no families, and the individual on track 2 was a top doctor, an expert in his field who saved hundreds of lives every day. What should the Utilitarian do then? The pleasure of the 5 criminals/ homeless people being saved would not outweigh the pain of the loving doctor being killed, but the pleasure of saving the doctor would far outweigh the death of the 5 criminals/ homeless people. Hence the Utilitarian must save the doctor.
You can see that the background information on the people involved is vital to making the moral decision in this case. But can we always guarantee we have all the background information before we decide what is the moral thing to do?
John Stuart Mill's Rule Utilitarianism