Mill, John Stuart. “In Defense of Utilitarianism.”

Utilitarianism was a novel egalitarian theory when it was developed in the 1700s. It was a radical departure from authoritarian, aristocratic or otherwise hierarchical ways of thinking, positing that each person’s happiness and suffering was to count the same. In stark contrast to the social norms of the day, utilitarianism held that the happiness of the pauper is just as important as the happiness of the Prince or the Pope.

Contemporary utilitarians differ about whether the theory should be applied primarily to.

All of that sounds rather dire. And to an extent, the reputation is deserved. Part of utilitarianism really does involve the willingness to sacrifice one or more innocent people, albeit in very specific circumstances where this is truly necessary to save a greater number of other innocent people, and where doing this will genuinely make the world better all things considered—it’s not just about numbers. (For a sympathetic discussion of the morality of killing one to save the many, see this and the ‘‘ it inspired .)This element can be called instrumental or sacrificial harm.


Henry Sidgwick - Utilitarian Philosophy

When psychologists try to study utilitarianism, they focus almost exclusively on this issue of instrumental harm—asking people whether, for example, they would push a large man to his death in order to save five others from a runaway train. It is therefore not so surprising that psychopaths are the group of people that has been most consistently associated with utilitarianism in recent psychology, leading some to that ‘utilitarians are not nice people’.


what is the greatest good for the greatest ..

In Principles Chapter IV Bentham sets out his conception ofpleasure and utility in more detail, distinguishing between intrinsicand relational dimensions of pleasures. For our purposes, somedimensions matter more than others. Hedonism says that pleasure is theone and only intrinsic good and that pain is the one and only intrinsicevil. All other things have only extrinsic or instrumental valuedepending on whether and, if so, how much pleasure or pain theyproduce. Because the utilitarian asks us to maximize value, he has tobe able to make sense of quantities or magnitudes of value associatedwith different options, where he assigns value to pleasure and disvalueto pain. Intensity, duration, and extent would appear to be the mostrelevant variables here. Each option is associated with variouspleasures and pains both within a single life and across lives. For anygiven option we must find out how many pleasures and pains it produces,whether those occur in a single life or in different lives. For everydistinct pleasure and pain, we must calculate its intensity and itsduration. That would give us the total amount of (net) pleasure (orpain) associated with each option. Then we must do that option withgreatest total. If there are two (or more) options with the greatesttotal, we are free to select any of these.

* Others moral theories are non-utilitarian but ..

Utilitarianism has fallen into disrepute. It is now equated with Machiavellianism: the end justifies the means, whatever those ends may be. It is also seen as coldly calculating, or else simplistically pragmatic. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described it as a morality appropriate for shop keepers. Recently it has even been portrayed a . Pope Paul II put it succinctly in 1995:

Ethics Theories: Utilitarianism Vs

The second neglected feature of utilitarianism is that it draws no distinction between what we do versus fail to do. That is, it rejects the moral distinction between acts and omissions. Ordinary psychology involves a causal sense of responsibility: we intuitively believe we are responsible for the consequences of what we do, but not for what we omit or fail to do, even when the consequences of both are equally foreseeable and avoidable. If I drop a rock on you and kill you, I am guilty of murder. If I see a rock about to fall on you, and don’t warn you, I am guilty of nothing in law.