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5. Calculating Welfare

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About this Lecture


In this module, we consider two more issues associated with utilitarianism. First, whose welfare matters? Should we include some people and not others? (If so, how do we decide who's in and who's out?) What about people who haven't been born yet? What about animals? Secondly, how do we calculate the level of welfare associated with an action? In the case of Bentham, it was (relatively) easy – simply compare the intensity and duration of the associated pleasure. But what about non-hedonistic accounts of welfare? What if the welfare associated with one action is simply incommensurable with that associated with another action?


In this course, Dr Iain Law (University of Birmingham) thinks about utilitarianism, one of the three major normative ethical theories alongside Kantian deontological ethics and virtue ethics. In the first module, we introduce the concept of a moral theory, before thinking about consequentialism and utilitarianism more specifically. In the second module, we think about utilitarianism as it was conceived by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), focusing in particular on his monistic conception of pleasure. After that, we consider the development of utilitarianism under John Stuart Mill (1806-73), thinking in particular about how Mill answered some of the objections levelled at Bentham, but also created problems of his own. We also think about his infamous 'proof' of utilitarianism. In the fourth module, we move on from the hedonism of Bentham and Mill to think about different theories of welfare, including desire satisfaction and objective list theory, before moving on in the fifth module to consider two more important issues associated with utilitarianism: first, whose welfare counts, and second, how do we calculate it? In the sixth module, we consider three of the most famous objections to utilitarianism, before turning in the seventh final module to consider a totally different conception of utilitarianism known as rule utilitarianism.


Iain Law is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. His main interests are in meta-ethics, applied ethics and ethical theory, and he is currently working on papers in moral theory, moral psychology, the philosophy of medicine and applied ethics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Law, I. (2019, January 09). Utilitarianism - Calculating Welfare [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Law, I. "Utilitarianism – Calculating Welfare." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jan 2019,