Utilitarianism

Wikipedia Article: Utilitarianism

  • Introduced by Jeremy Bentham - an 18th-century English political philosopher.

  • The right thing to do, the just thing to do is to maximize utility

  • Utility: pleasure over pain, happiness over suffering

  • All human beings are governed by two sovereign masters: pain and pleasure. We like pleasure and dislike pain

  • The right thing to do individually or collectively is to maximize the overall level of happiness.

  • "The greatest good for the greatest number."

  • Bentham's version of utilitarianism: The highest principle of morality - whether personal or political morality - is to maximize the general welfare or the collective happiness or the overall balance of pleasure over pain: "maximize utility"

  • Bentham tells us to maximize utility as a principle not only for individuals but also for communities and legislators.

  • In deciding the best policy, in deciding what the law should be, in deciding what's just, citizens and legislators should as themselves the question - if we add up all of the benefits of this policy and subtract all of the costs, the right thing to do is the one that maximizes the happiness over suffering - that is what it means to maximize utility.

  • The above point is usually achieved using cost-benefit analysis. which is used by companies and by governments all the time. it involves placing a value - usually a dollar value - to stand for utility, and the costs and the benefits of various proposals.

  • In cost-benefit analysis, associating a dollar value to human life has raised controversies.

Objections to Utilitarianism

  1. Fails to respect individual/minority rights

  2. Not possible to aggregate all values into dollars.

The following case and its verdict is a related discussion area