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This article discusses utilitarian ethical theory. For a discussion of John Stuart Mill's essay Utilitarianism (1861), see Utilitarianism (book).
The Utilitarianism series,
part of the Politics series
John Stuart Mill
Mere addition paradox
Paradox of hedonism
Rational choice theory
Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility, that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all persons. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome—the ends justify the means. Utility — the good to be maximized — has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus sadness or pain), though preference utilitarians like Peter Singer define it as the satisfaction of preferences. It may be described as a life stance with happiness or pleasure as ultimate importance.
It can be described by the phrase "the greatest good for the greatest number", though the phrase 'greatest number' gives rise to the problematic mere addition paradox. Utilitarianism can thus be characterized as a quantitative and reductionistic approach to ethics.
Utilitarianism can be contrasted with deontological ethics (which disregards the... [continues]
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