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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 consequences of performing an act, when determining its moral worth) and virtue ethics (which focuses on character), as well as with other varieties of consequentialism. Adherents of these opposing views have extensively criticized the utilitarian view, though utilitarians have been similarly critical of other schools of ethical thought.
In general use of the term utilitarian often refers to a somewhat narrow economic or pragmatic viewpoint. However, philosophical utilitarianism is much broader than this; for example, some approaches to utilitarianism consider non-human animals in addition to people.
2 Origin of the term
3.1 Act vs. rule
3.5 Average vs. total
3.6 Other species
3.7 Combinations with other ethical schools
4 Biological explanation
5 Criticism and defense
5.1 Comparing happiness
5.2 Predicting consequences
5.3 Importance of intentions
5.4 Human rights
5.5 Individual interests vs. a greater sum of lesser interests 5.6 Right and wrong dichotomy
5.8 Case for morality
5.9 Karl Marx's arguments
5.10 The Wittgensteinian Critique
6 Criticism of other schools
7 See also
9 References and further reading
10 External links
Jeremy BenthamThe origins of Utilitarianism are often traced back as far as the Greek philosopher Epicurus, but as a specific school of thought, it is generally credited to Jeremy Bentham. Bentham found pain and pleasure to be the only intrinsic values in the world: "nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure." From this he derived the rule of utility, that the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Later, after realizing that the formulation recognized two different and potentially conflicting principles, he dropped the second part and talked simply about "the greatest happiness...
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