<ethics, liberalism, finalism> a moral theory originally advanced by Jeremy Bentham according to which the moral character of an act -- whether it's good or bad or right or wrong -- is entirely determined by its consequences, and likening moral reasoning to economic calculation Utilitarians maintain the right course of action is always the one that has the most beneficial or least detrimental consequences overall, for all affected. Bentham's hedonistic brand of utilitarianism identifies the benefits in question with pleasure and the costs with pain. John Stuart Mill speaks, instead, of "happiness": according to Mill's greatest happiness principle, our moral aim should be "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." Contemporary utilitarians, like Peter Singer, are more apt to speak of the benefits to be counted as "preference satisfactions" or "interest satisfactions," counting the corresponding dissatisfactions as costs. Rule utilitarians hold that utilitarian calculation should be used to make rules rather than directly applied to evaluate actions.
<ethics, moral philosophy> normative theory that human conduct is right or wrong because of its tendency to produce favorable or unfavorable consequences for the people who are affected by it. The hedonistic utilitarianism of Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick maintains that all moral judgments can be derived from the greatest happiness principle. The ideal utilitarianism espoused by G. E. Moore, on the other hand, regarded aesthetic enjoyment and friendship as the highest ethical values. Contemporary utilitarians differ about whether the theory should be applied primarily to acts or rules. Recommended Reading: John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism and Other Essays, ed. by Alan Ryan (Viking, 1987); Ernest Albee, History of English Utilitarianism (Prometheus, 1957); M. D. Bayles, Contemporary Utilitarianism (Peter Smith, 1980); Anthony Quinton, Utilitarian Ethics (Open Court, 1989); Robert E. Goodin, Utilitarianism As a Public Philosophy (Cambridge, 1995); J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge, 1973); and Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge, 1982).
[A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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