Utilitarianism pdf


Utilitarianismin normative ethicsa tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it.

Such a theory is in opposition to egoismthe view that a person should pursue his own self-interest, even at the expense of others, and to any ethical theory that regards some acts or types of acts as right or wrong independently of their consequences see deontological ethics. Utilitarianism also differs from ethical theories that make the rightness or wrongness of an act dependent upon the motive of the agent, for, according to the utilitarian, it is possible for the right thing to be done from a bad motive.

Utilitarians may, however, distinguish the aptness of praising or blaming an agent from whether the act was right. In the notion of consequences the utilitarian includes all of the good and bad produced by the act, whether arising after the act has been performed or during its performance. If the difference in the consequences of alternative acts is not great, some utilitarians do not regard the choice between them as a moral issue.

According to Mill, acts should be classified as morally right or wrong only if the consequences are of such significance that a person would wish to see the agent compelled, not merely persuaded and exhorted, to act in the preferred manner. In assessing the consequences of actions, utilitarianism relies upon some theory of intrinsic value : something is held to be good in itself, apart from further consequences, and all other values are believed to derive their worth from their relation to this intrinsic good as a means to an end.

Bentham and Mill were hedonists ; i. Utilitarians also assume that it is possible to compare the intrinsic values produced by two alternative actions and to estimate which would have better consequences. Bentham believed that a hedonic calculus is theoretically possible. A moralist, he maintained, could sum up the units of pleasure and the units of pain for everyone likely to be affected, immediately and in the future, and could take the balance as a measure of the overall good or evil tendency of an action.

Such precise measurement as Bentham envisioned is perhaps not essential, but it is nonetheless necessary for the utilitarian to make some interpersonal comparisons of the values of the effects of alternative courses of action.

As a normative system providing a standard by which an individual ought to act and by which the existing practices of society, including its moral code, ought to be evaluated and improved, utilitarianism cannot be verified or confirmed in the way in which a descriptive theory can, but it is not regarded by its exponents as simply arbitrary.

Bentham and Mill both believed that human actions are motivated entirely by pleasure and pain, and Mill saw that motivation as a basis for the argument that, since happiness is the sole end of human action, the promotion of happiness is the test by which to judge all human conduct. In addition, he reasoned that utilitarianism could solve the difficulties and perplexities that arise from the vagueness and inconsistencies of commonsense doctrines.

utilitarianism pdf

Most opponents of utilitarianism have held that it has implications contrary to their moral intuitions—that considerations of utility, for example, might sometimes sanction the breaking of a promise. Some utilitarians, however, have sought to modify the utilitarian theory to account for the objections.

One such criticism is that, although the widespread practice of lying and stealing would have bad consequences, resulting in a loss of trustworthiness and security, it is not certain that an occasional lie to avoid embarrassment or an occasional theft from a rich person would not have good consequences and thus be permissible or even required by utilitarianism.

But the utilitarian readily answers that the widespread practice of such acts would result in a loss of trustworthiness and security. It permits a particular act on a particular occasion to be adjudged right or wrong according to whether it is in accordance with or in violation of a useful rule, and a rule is judged useful or not by the consequences of its general practice.

Another objection, often posed against the hedonistic value theory held by Bentham, holds that the value of life is more than a balance of pleasure over pain. Mill, in contrast to Bentham, discerned differences in the quality of pleasures that make some intrinsically preferable to others independently of intensity and duration the quantitative dimensions recognized by Bentham.

Some philosophers in the utilitarian tradition have recognized certain wholly nonhedonistic values without losing their utilitarian credentials. Thus, the English philosopher G. Even in limiting the recognition of intrinsic value and disvalue to happiness and unhappiness, some philosophers have argued that those feelings cannot adequately be further broken down into terms of pleasure and pain and have thus preferred to defend the theory in terms of maximizing happiness and minimizing unhappiness.

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It is important to note, however, that, even for the hedonistic utilitarians, pleasure and pain are not thought of in purely sensual terms; pleasure and pain for them can be components of experiences of all sorts. Their claim is that, if an experience is neither pleasurable nor painful, then it is a matter of indifference and has no intrinsic value.Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher and reformer who was born in England in Bentham was a very prolific writer who left behind a vast number of papers.

He was also quite an eccentric figure, who had relatively radical ideas for his time that have inspired many that came after him.

Jeremy Bentham was interested in ways to reform the legal system and in developing a scientific set of principles that could be used to organize and guide political decisions. To that end, he used the theory of modern utilitarianism. In fact, Bentham is considered to be the father of utilitarianism, not because he originally proposed the idea, but because he was the one who brought all of the ideas together and consolidated them. Utilitarianism is a moral theory — it talks about what is right, and what is wrong, and based on what is right and wrong, how people and institutions should behave and make decisions.

utilitarianism pdf

First, there is the principle of utility and of the greatest happiness, which states that all behavior should be aimed at producing the greatest utility. Utility is basically wellness or happiness. Ultimately, the goal of behavior is to achieve well-being or happiness.

But, how do we know what act produces the greatest happiness? According to Bentham, maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain governs everything that we do, say, and think. If an act produces more pleasure than pain, it is right. And if an act produces more pain than pleasure, it is wrong.

Bentham believed that everything can be quantified and that one can come up with a scientifically proven system to calculate how much pleasure and pain one person gets from an act and how much pleasure and pain another person gets from that same act. In that way, the costs and benefits for all people can be calculated so that ultimately, the greatest happiness for the largest number of people can be achieved.

utilitarianism pdf

Bentham was a consequentialist, and utilitarianism is quite radical in the sense that it deals only with the consequences of behavior: if an act brings more pleasure than pain, then it is good. And if an act brings more pain than pleasure, then it is wrong. So if someone intends to do something bad, but the result is good then utilitarianism is only interested in the good consequence, not in the bad motivation that was initially behind it.

Thus, an act is judged by its consequences only, not by the intention behind it. And the utilitarianists were not just interested in the consequences that an act has for an individual, but in the consequences for the entire society. And that is why countries need to have a government. Because there can be a difference between where the optimum for an individual lies, and where the optimum for society lies. So maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain does not just apply to an individual, but to the whole of society and for all people who are affected by a certain act.

And according to utilitarianism, every person is just as valuable as another person. No one counts as more than another person. Jeremy Bentham developed ideas about many aspects of society, politics, and law, including for example about democracy, religion, animal rights, economics, and the criminal justice system. Some present-day psychologists have suggested that one of the reasons for this may be that Bentham did not get along that well with other people and likely suffered from Asperger syndrome, which is mild autism spectrum disorder.

Also, Bentham is considered to have been an armchair philosopher. Meaning that his work was largely theoretical and based on his own ideas, without being tested in the real world. Nevertheless, Jeremy Bentham is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of all time.Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.

Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem.

Return to Book Page. Preview — Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill. George Sher Editor. This expanded edition of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism includes the text of his speech to the British House of Commons defending the use of capital punishment in cases of aggravated murder. The speech is significant both because its topic remains timely and because its arguments illustrate the applicability of the principle of utility to questions of large-scale This expanded edition of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism includes the text of his speech to the British House of Commons defending the use of capital punishment in cases of aggravated murder.

The speech is significant both because its topic remains timely and because its arguments illustrate the applicability of the principle of utility to questions of large-scale social policy. Get A Copy. PaperbackSecond Edition71 pages. Published June 15th by Hackett Publishing Company first published More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

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Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Start your review of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill's book Utilitarianism is a classic exposition and defense of utilitarianism in ethics.

The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser's Magazine in ; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in Mill's aim in the book is to explain what utilitarianism is, to show why it is the best theory of ethics, and to defend it against a wide range of criticisms and misunderstandings.This structure means that the ends often justify the means when seeking to create a specific result.

That means if an action results in bringing happiness more than any other available alternative, then that is the acceptable choice to make. There are three specific premises for Utilitarianism which must go under review when determining the correctness of any action taken. Based on these premises, Utilitarianism suggests that happiness is always good for the individual. If you have an opportunity to increase this emotion, then you should do so because it is a core human desire.

That means when each member of a group or organization is happy, then so will the entirety of that team. The suggestion is simple: by focusing on happiness first, we will all be collectively better as a society because our focus is on how to improve ourselves. This theory does run into some practical concerns upon implementation, which is why a look at its advantages and disadvantages is so important.

It is a universal concept that all of us can understand. The goal of reducing personal harm while increasing happiness is something that every person pursues at some point in their life. By creating a society which places more value on actions that bring happiness, we could create a place where there is more common ground to be found. It is a principle that applies to every culture, which means it would be possible to take one more step closer to a borderless world.


Utilitarianism is a secular process which can incorporate religious elements if that is what makes you happy. This practice is not trying to find salvation for your soul. When your focus is on what makes you happy before anything else, then your spirituality is something that you can personally direct at all times. You get to pursue what has meaning in your life. Utilitarianism follows democratic principles. The fastest and fairest way to make decisions on a nationwide scale is to balance the differing interest of people through a majority vote.

His action created the distinction between right and wrong through the principles of Utilitarianism. It uses an objective process to decide what is right or wrong. When we make a choice, then there is always a consequence for our actions. The outcome might bring something positive, something negative, or a mixture of the two.

It is through these measurements that Utilitarianism seeks to define morality. By recognizing the outcomes that bring happiness more often, we can all work toward an independent and objective way to determine what is right and wrong on a personal level. Once we make this decision through the data we collect about ourselves, it becomes possible to join with others who come to similar conclusions.

Although this process would likely change the way we think about building communities around the world, it could also help to prevent the potential free-for-all of subjectivity that would likely happen if everyone was suddenly permitted to do their own thing.

This process is one that is very easy to use. We learn very quickly in our childhood about the things that we believe are right or wrong. You only touch a hot burner on the stove once, right? When we begin to compare the positive effects of our actions with the negative ones, then we can make logical choices about what our next actions will be. Even though someone with an outlier moral code might make different choices, the vast majority of people would look for ways to improve happiness that are simple, straightforward, and inclusive.

We know this advantage is possible because the principles of Utilitarianism always direct individuals toward the greatest good possible. If you cannot achieve success without bring harm to others, is that really the best outcome?

Utilitarianism works with our natural intuition. Although Utilitarianism sometimes struggles when approaching the issue of harm from an emotional perspective, it does work well with our natural intuition to not harm the people that we care about each day. The average person does not go walking downtown with a baseball bat, striking people with it because they think it is a fun activity. Part of the human condition is to go about life without creating physical harm to others, partially because such a decision could also create harm in our lives too.

We must evaluate all potential consequences when looking at how the ends justify the means, creating more of a logical approach to each decision than some people might realize on their first approach to this theory.Utilitarianism is a family of consequentialist ethical theories that promotes actions that maximize happiness and well-being for the affected individuals. For instance, Jeremy Benthamthe founder of utilitarianism, described utility as "that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoism and altruismutilitarianism considers the interests of all humans equally.

Proponents of utilitarianism have disagreed on a number of points, such as whether actions should be chosen based on their likely results act utilitarianism or whether agents should conform to rules that maximize utility rule utilitarianism. There is also disagreement as to whether total total utilitarianismaverage average utilitarianism or minimum [2] utility should be maximized.

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Though the seeds of the theory can be found in the hedonists Aristippus and Epicuruswho viewed happiness as the only good, the tradition of utilitarianism properly began with Bentham, and has included John Stuart MillHenry SidgwickR. HareDavid Braybrooke and Peter Singer.

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It has been applied to social welfare economics, the crisis of global poverty, the ethics of raising animals for food and the importance of avoiding existential risks to humanity. Benthamism, the utilitarian philosophy founded by Jeremy Benthamwas substantially modified by his successor John Stuart Millwho popularized the word 'Utilitarianism'. Rather, he adopted it from a passing expression in" John Galt 's novel Annals of the Parish.

The importance of happiness as an end for humans has long been recognized. Forms of hedonism were put forward by Aristippus and Epicurus ; Aristotle argued that eudaimonia is the highest human good and Augustine wrote that "all men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness.

Mohist consequentialism advocated communitarian moral goods including political stability, population growth, and wealth, but did not support the utilitarian notion of maximizing individual happiness. Although utilitarianism is usually thought to start with Jeremy Benthamthere were earlier writers who presented theories that were strikingly similar. Francis Hutcheson first introduced a key utilitarian phrase.

In An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and VirtueHutcheson says [11] when choosing the most moral action, virtue is in proportion to the number of people a particular action brings happiness to. In the same way, moral evilor viceis proportionate to the number of people made to suffer. The best action is the one that procures the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers—and the worst is the one that causes the most misery. In the first three editions of the book, Hutcheson included various mathematical algorithms " Some claim that John Gay developed the first systematic theory of utilitarian ethics.

utilitarianism pdf

To ask why I pursue happiness, will admit of no other answer than an explanation of the terms. This pursuit of happiness is given a theological basis: [14]. Now it is evident from the nature of God, viz. I am to do whatever lies in my power towards promoting the happiness of mankind. In all determinations of moralitythis circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind.

If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail; as soon as farther experience and sounder reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs, we retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil.

Gay's theological utilitarianism was developed and popularized by William Paley. It has been claimed that Paley was not a very original thinker and that the philosophical part of his treatise on ethics is "an assemblage of ideas developed by others and is presented to be learned by students rather than debated by colleagues.

Apart from restating that happiness as an end is grounded in the nature of God, Paley also discusses the place of rules. He writes: [19].This article discusses utilitarian ethical theory. For the architectural theory, see Utilitarianism architecture Utilitarianism is a theory about what we ought to do. The symbol sigma is used in mathematics to represent summationa process similarly done in total utilitarianism.

The philosopher John Stuart Mill developed this concept further. He included not only the quantity of the pleasure, but also the quality of pleasure. He focused on rules, instead of individual actions. Utilitarianism is a version of what Elizabeth Anscombe called " consequentialism ". Consequentialism states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Contrast this view with virtue ethicswhich enshrines virtue as a moral good.

Some believe. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoismutilitar- ianism considers all interests equally. Proponents of util- itarianism have disagreed on a number of points. Should individual acts conform to utility act utilitarianism?


Or, should agents conform to ethical rules rule utilitarian- ism? Should utility be calculated as an aggregate total utilitarianism or as an average average utilitarianism? Though the seeds of the theory can be found in the he- donists Aristippus and Epicuruswho viewed happiness as the only good, the tradition of utilitarianism properly begins with Bentham, and has included John Stuart Mill, Henry SidgwickR.

Hare and Peter Singer. Opponents of utilitarianism have raised a number of ob- jections. Some say that utilitarianism ignores justice. Others call it impractical. See also: Hedonism.

The importance of happiness as an end for humans has long been recognized. Mohist consequential- ism advocated communitarian moral goods including po- litical stability, population growth, and wealth, but did not support the utilitarian notion of maximizing individual happiness. He believed that the actions of a state, how- ever cruel or ruthless they may be, must contribute to- wards the common good of a society. Although utilitarianism is usually thought to start with Jeremy Benthamthere were earlier writers who pre- sented theories that were strikingly similar.

In An In- quiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and VirtueHutcheson says [ 1 1 ] when choosing the most moral action, virtue is in proportion to the number of people a particular action brings happiness to. The best action is the one that pro- cures the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers— and the worst is the one that causes the most misery.Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines right from wrong by focusing on outcomes.

It is a form of consequentialism. Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number. It is the only moral framework that can be used to justify military force or war. It is also the most common approach to moral reasoning used in business because of the way in which it accounts for costs and benefits.

This is one of the limitations of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism also has trouble accounting for values such as justice and individual rights. For example, assume a hospital has four people whose lives depend upon receiving organ transplants: a heart, lungs, a kidney, and a liver.

If a healthy person wanders into the hospital, his organs could be harvested to save four lives at the expense of one life.

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This would arguably produce the greatest good for the greatest number. But few would consider it an acceptable course of action, let alone the most ethical one. So, although utilitarianism is arguably the most reason-based approach to determining right and wrong, it has obvious limitations.