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Key People:John Stuart MillHenry SidgwickWilliam Paley...(Show more)Related Topics:Philosophical radicalPreference UtilitarianismHedonic calculusHedonistic UtilitarianismAct utilitarianism...(Show more)

Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, a heritage stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and also John Stuart Mill follow to which an activity (or form of action) is best if it tends to promote delight or pleasure and wrong if it tends to produce unhappiness or pain—not just for the performer that the activity but also for anyone else influenced by it. Utilitarianism is a species of consequentialism, the general doctrine in principles that action (or types of action) need to be evaluate on the basis of their consequences. Utilitarianism and other consequentialist theories are in opposition to egoism, the see that each person should seek his or her own self-interest, also at the expense of others, and to any kind of ethical concept that regards part actions (or varieties of action) as best or wrong individually of their consequences (see deontological ethics). Utilitarianism additionally differs from honest theories the make the rightness or wrongness the an action dependent top top the motive of the agent—for, according to the utilitarian, the is possible for the right thing to be done from a negative motive. Utilitarians may, however, identify the aptness of praising or blaming an certified dealer from even if it is the activity was right.

The nature the utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is an initiative to carry out an answer come the valuable question “What candlestick a person to do?” The price is the a person ought come act so as to maximize pleasure or pleasure and also to minimization unhappiness or pain.

Basic concepts

In the notion of results the practical includes every one of the an excellent and bad produced by the action, whether developing after the activity has been performed or during its performance. If the distinction in the after-effects of alternate actions is no great, part utilitarians would certainly not for the choice between them as a ethical issue. Follow to Mill, acts should be divide as morally right or wrong just if the results are of such definition that a human being would great to watch the certified dealer compelled, not simply persuaded and also exhorted, come act in the wanted manner.

In assessing the results of actions, utilitarianism counts upon some theory of intrinsic value: other is organized to be an excellent in itself, personal from more consequences, and also all other values are believed to derive your worth from their relation to this intrinsic great as a way to one end. Bentham and also Mill were hedonists; i.e, castle analyzed delight as a balance the pleasure end pain and also believed that these feel alone are of intrinsic value and also disvalue. Utilitarians also assume the it is feasible to to compare the intrinsic values produced by two different actions and also to calculation which would certainly have better consequences. Bentham thought that a hedonic calculus is theoretically possible. A moralist, the maintained, might sum increase the units of pleasure and the devices of pain for everyone most likely to be affected, immediately and in the future, and also could take the balance together a measure up of the overall an excellent or evil tendency of one action. Such specific measurement together Bentham envisioned is maybe not essential, but it is nonetheless essential for the practical to make part interpersonal to compare of the worths of the results of alternative courses of action.


As a normative system providing a standard whereby an individual ought to act and by i m sorry the existing practices of society, consisting of its ethical code, must be evaluated and also improved, utilitarianism cannot be showed or shown in the method in i m sorry a descriptive theory can, but it is not pertained to by its index number as merely arbitrary. Bentham believed that only in regards to a utilitarian interpretation execute words such together “ought,” “right,” and also “wrong” have definition and that, whenever world attempt come combat the rule of utility, they perform so v reasons drawn from the principle itself. Bentham and Mill both believed that human being actions are encouraged entirely by pleasure and also pain, and Mill saw that motivation as a basis because that the dispute that, due to the fact that happiness is the sole end of human being action, the promo of joy is the test by which to referee all human being conduct.

One of the leading utilitarians of the late 19th century, the Cambridge theorist Henry Sidgwick, rejected such theories of motivation as well together Bentham’s concept of the an interpretation of moral terms and sought to support utilitarianism by showing that it follows from systematic reflection ~ above the morality of “common sense.” many of the demands of commonsense morality, he argued, can be based upon utilitarian considerations. In addition, that reasoned that utilitarianism might solve the difficulties and also perplexities the arise indigenous the vagueness and inconsistencies of commonsense doctrines.

Most adversaries of utilitarianism have held the it has actually implications contradictory to their ethical intuitions—that considerations that utility, for example, might sometimes ratify the break of a promise. Lot of the defense the utilitarian ethics has consisted in answering these objections, either by mirroring that utilitarianism walk not have actually the implications that that opponents insurance claim it has or by arguing against the opponents’ ethical intuitions. Part utilitarians, however, have actually sought to modify the utilitarian theory to accommodate the objections.


One together criticism is that, back the widespread practice of lying and also stealing would have poor consequences, causing a loss of trustworthiness and security, it is not particular that an occasional lie to prevent embarrassment or an occasional theft from a rich human would no have an excellent consequences and also thus it is in permissible or even required by utilitarianism. However the utilitarian easily answers the the widespread exercise of together acts would result in a lose of trustworthiness and security. To accomplish the objection to not permitting an sometimes lie or theft, some philosophers have protected a modification labelled “rule” utilitarianism. It permits a particular act ~ above a certain occasion to be adjudged best or wrong follow to even if it is it is in keeping with or in violation the a useful rule, and also a dominance is judged valuable or no by the after-effects of its general practice. Mill has actually sometimes been taken as a “rule” utilitarian, conversely, Bentham and Sidgwick were “act” utilitarians.

Another objection, frequently posed against the hedonistic value theory organized by Bentham, holds the the value of life is more than a balance of pleasure end pain. Mill, in contrast to Bentham, discerned distinctions in the high quality of pleasures the make some inherently preferable to others separately of intensity and also duration (the quantitative dimensions recognized by Bentham). Some thinkers in the utilitarian tradition have actually recognized details wholly nonhedonistic values without shedding their practical credentials. Thus, the English thinker G.E. Moore, one of the founders of modern analytic philosophy, regarded numerous kinds that consciousness—including friendship, knowledge, and also the suffer of beauty—as intrinsically beneficial independently that pleasure, a position labelled “ideal” utilitarianism. Also in limiting the recognition of intrinsic value and also disvalue come happiness and unhappiness, some theorists have suggested that those feelings cannot adequately it is in further damaged down right into terms that pleasure and pain and also have thus desired to protect the concept in terms of maximizing happiness and also minimizing unhappiness. The is important to note, however, that, even for the hedonistic utilitarians, pleasure and also pain room not believed of in purely sensual terms; pleasure and pain because that them deserve to be contents of experience of every sorts. Their case is that, if an suffer is neither pleasurable no one painful, then it is a issue of indifference and also has no intrinsic value.

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Another objection to utilitarianism is that the prevention or elimination of suffering should take precedence over any alternative act that would only increase the delight of someone already happy. Some modern-day utilitarians have actually modified their concept to call for this emphasis or even to limit ethical obligation to the avoidance or removed of suffering—a watch labelled “negative” utilitarianism.