Was Robin Hood a Utilitarian?

What is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism is a teleologial ethical approach, which supports the consequences of an ethical decision, rather than the actions. According to Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian principle is the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number‘.  Utilitarianism could, therefore, allow killing if it lead to the best possible outcome for the most people.

Was Robin Hood a Utilitarian?

Robin Hood’s basic ethical principle, to steal from the rich and give to the poor, appears to be a utilitarian approach. This is because he is doing an action that may not be intrinsically a ‘right’ action. However, the result of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor does create the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This is because in Robin Hood’s time and place, there would have been many more peasants benefitting from Robin Hood’s acrtions than rich people suffering from it. In this sense, yes, Robin Hood was a utilitarian!

Robin Hood

Robin Hood Memorial (Nottingham)

Creative Commons

What are the Criticisms of Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism is a strong ethical theory, but is more difficult to apply in practice. Jeremy Bentham developed the Hedonic Calculus to try to measure pleasure and pain on several different levels. However, this still proves difficult to put in place, as it is subjective (based on opinion). The main problem with utilitarianism, is that any action under this approach, including stealing and killing, could be permitted.

What is the difference between Act and Rule Utilitarianism?

Act Utilitarianism is the first type of utilitarianism, and this fits in with Jeremy Bentham’s approach. In Act utilitarianism, the principle should be applied, without rules, to any given situation, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number. Again, this poses the problem that it allows any ‘wrong’ action to take place.

John Stuart Mill developed Rule Utilitarianism, which aimed to overcome the problem of Act utilitarianism. It meant that you could apply the utilitarian principle whilst still following a certain rule.

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Nietszche and the Death of God

Who was Nietzsche?

Nietszche was a German philosopher of the enlightenment period. Nietzsche is often misunderstood as pessimistic and anti-religion. It is Nietzsche’s concept of the death of God that seems to cause the most controversy.

What did Nietzsche mean when he said ‘God is Dead’?

Nietzsche made this radical statement in his book ‘The Gay Science’. He explores the concept of God through ‘the madman’ who asks ‘Where is God?’ the answer, of course, was that God is dead, and we have killed him.

When Nietzsche stated that ‘God is dead’ he did not mean that God was once alive and that we have literally killed him. God is not personified. What he meant was that the concept of God had died a death due to the process of secularisation. Society was moving away from revolving around the Parish and the importance of God in people’s lives was diminishing.

Nietzsche and Nihilism

If God is dead, does that mean that we no longer have moral values? And if we no longer have moral values, does that mean that we descend into nihilism? The problem is that without ethical values of Christianity, what morality do we have?

The answer, for Nietzsche, is to replace the slave morality of Christianity with the master morality of mankind. When we strive to become the ‘Ubermensch’ of Nietzsche’s philosophy, we no longer ascertain to the moral values of God or indeed anyone else.

What doe you think about Nietzsche’s philosophy? Is God dead? Are we all striving to become the Ubermensch?

Click here for further reading on Nietzsche: Death of God.