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Utilitarianism

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This article discusses utilitarian ethical theory. For a discussion of John Stuart Mill's book Utilitarianism, see Utilitarianism (book). For the architectural theory, seeUtilitarianism (architecture) [hide]This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (July
2013)

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Utilitarianism
Predecessors[hide]


Key people[hide]

Epicurus David Hume

Claude Adrien Helvtius

William Godwin Francis Hutcheson

Jeremy Bentham John Stuart Mill Henry Sidgwick Richard Mervyn Hare Peter Singer Sam Harris

Types of utilitarianism[hide]

Preference Rule Act Two-level Total Average Negative Hedonism


Key concepts[hide]

Enlightened self-interest


Problems[hide]

Pain Suffering Pleasure Utility Happiness Eudaimonia

Consequentialism Felicific calculus


Related topics[hide]

Mere addition paradox Paradox of hedonism Utility monster

Rational choice theory

Game theory Social choice

Neoclassical economics

Politics portal

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Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering. Classic utilitarianism's two most influential contributors are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. John Stuart Mill in his book Utilitarianism, stated, "In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality." According to Bentham and Mill, utilitarianism is hedonistic only when the result of an action has no decidedly negative impact on others.[1] It is now generally taken to be a form of consequentialism, although when Anscombe first introduced that term it was to distinguish between "old-fashioned utilitarianism" and consequentialism.[2] In utilitarianism, the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, although there is debate over how much consideration should be given to actual consequences, foreseen consequences and intended consequences. In A Fragment on Government, Bentham says, "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong" [3] and describes this as a fundamental axiom. In An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, he talks of "the principle of utility" but later prefers "the greatest happiness principle."[4][5] Utilitarianism can be characterized as a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. It is a type of naturalism.[6] It can be contrasted withdeontological ethics,[7] which does not regard the consequences of an act as a determinant of its moral worth; virtue

ethics,[8] which primarily focuses on acts and habits leading to happiness; pragmatic ethics; as well as with ethical egoism and other varieties of consequentialism.[9] Utilitarianism is influential in political philosophy. Bentham and Mill believed that a utilitarian government was achievable through democracy. Mill thought that despotism was also justifiable through utilitarianism as a transitional phase towards more democratic forms of governance. As an advocate of liberalism, Mill stressed the relationship between utilitarianism and individualism.[10]