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. 1.
    Fails to respect individual/minority rights
  2. 2.
    Not possible to aggregate all values into dollars.
The following case and its verdict is a related discussion area