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Hedonic and Idealist Utilitarianism

Hedonic and Idealist Utilitarianism

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify the different ways to interpret the utility principle along the axis of Hedonic and Idealist Utilitarianism

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the Ethics tutorial on Hedonic and Idealist Utilitarianism. As we go through the tutorial, please keep in mind the definition for utilitarianism and how, while all utilitarians do utilize the principle of utility, they may implement it in different ways which can lead to different types of utilitarianism.

In this tutorial, we will be focusing on the differences between hedonic and idealist utilitarianism. Hedonism tends to favor physical pleasures and idealist perspectives tend to favor nonphysical pleasures. And these will come through in some examples for us to consider.

First, let's look at the idea of happiness and measurement. The principle of utility instructs us to increase happiness and, of course, to decrease unhappiness. And it seems then that there should be a way of measuring this, of quantifying it. And this is possible.

However, we can quickly see that hedonic and idealist methods don't measure goods in the same ways. And this leads us to understanding that there are different kinds.

For example, if I say that both apples and ideas fuel us, they are both kinds of foods and we can measure them, sure. We can do that. However, you know they feed us in different ways. Apples feed us in terms of our physicality. Ideas feed us in terms of our intelligence. So while they can be measured, they are measured in different ways. And they provide sustenance but they are of different kinds.

When it comes to measuring good from a hedonic point of view, hedonistic utilitarianism tends to view and maintain that all goods are of the same kind. They can be measured in the same way so that they are comparable and can be measured by the same scale.

So some examples of things that are different is specifically but are still of the same kind and can be measured in the same way are the following.

Ice cream. One bowl of ice cream is good and five bowls of ice cream is good. As a matter of fact, you could probably say five bowls of ice cream is a lot better. But they're the same type of pleasure. They're of the same kind. They're both foods. They're both tasty and sweet. And they both can be measured in bowls. So they're understood in the same way. And if we want to push the quantification, certainly it would seem logical that five is better than one, especially when it comes to ice cream.

Now another example that's slightly different but still fits hedonistic utilitarianism is that my trumpet and my friend's car are of the same kind in that they can both be understood in terms of monetary value. My trumpet has a price and the car has a price. So although they are different objects, they are of the same kind.

In contrast, for measuring idealist utilitarian goods, we acknowledge that they are not necessarily of the same kind because they fuel us. They provide good in different ways. Many things we call good cannot be put into the same category. And they point to different types of pleasures.

A couple of examples. Eating a tasty cheeseburger is good and a conversation with a long term friend is good. However, these goods are clearly of different kinds. One is physical, maybe emotional. One is definitely emotional and intellectual. So they are of different kinds and they cannot be measured in the same way.

Another example is with the idea of freedom. Freedom from bondage in a literal physical sense is good. And freedom from governmental oppression, which is more metaphorical, is also good. But these, although this word is the same, are also of different kinds.

And what this then leads us to understanding and being able to see is that, primarily from an idealist utilitarian perspective, there are distinctions between higher pleasures and lower pleasures. Higher pleasures tend to be more intellectual, more emotional, satisfying in a non-physical way. And the lower ones really are far more physical.

It takes a lot more to make me happy than it takes to make my cat happy. My cat is satisfied by eating the same food every day. That would get a bit tiresome for me and probably would actually lead to unhappiness. Therefore humans above other animals do tend towards higher pleasures, the more satisfying ones. And we value those more.

Think of it this way. What's more valuable in terms of higher and lower pleasures? 1,248 friends on Facebook or three really close lifelong friends? Clearly these are a different kind of friendship and they operate on different levels.

In summary, we can see that there are significant differences between hedonic and idealist utilitarianism. Although they both operate on the principle of utility and want to increase happiness and good, they do so in different ways by focusing on different types of pleasures. And we can see that they are then of different kinds.