- The ethical theory advanced by Bentham, both James and J. S. Mill, Sidgwick, and many others, that answers all questions of what to do, what to admire, or how to live, in terms of maximizing utility or happiness. As well as an ethical theory, utilitarianism is, in effect, the view of life presupposed in most modern political and economic planning, when it is supposed that happiness is measured in economic terms. In J. S. Mill's statement of the doctrine, ‘actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness’. The view is a form of consequentialism, in which the relevant consequences are identified in terms of amounts of happiness. Different conceptions of happiness separated Mill's version (‘better a Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’), which recognized qualitative differences between different kinds of pleasure, from Bentham's forthright attempt to reduce all questions of happiness to presence of pleasure or pain (‘other things being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry’). Bentham's version aims to render the basic concepts of ethics susceptible of comparison and measurement (see felicific calculus, hedonism ), but this goal will not be met in Mill's system. Critics of this aspect of the doctrine also query whether there is a conception of human happiness that stands sufficiently apart from general conceptions of behaving and acting well, to act as an independent target of action (see eudaimonia, virtue ethics ).The doctrine that applies utilitarianism to actions directly, so that an individual action is right if it increases happiness more than any alternative, is known as direct or act utilitarianism. Indirect versions apply in the first place to such things as institutions, systems of rules of conduct, or human characters: these are best if they maximize happiness, and actions are judged only in so far as they are those ordained by the institutions or system of rules, or are those that would be performed by the person of optimal character. Indirect versions of the doctrine overcome some of the problem that we are not likely to know, on individual occasions, which action will in fact maximize happiness. Even if we do not know that, we may know of the general impact institutions, rules, and character have on the happiness of those affected by them.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.
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Utilitarianism — U*til i*ta ri*an*ism, n. 1. The doctrine that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the end and aim of all social and political institutions. Bentham. [1913 Webster] 2. The doctrine that virtue is founded in utility, or that… … The Collaborative International Dictionary of English
utilitarianism — 1827, from UTILITARIAN (Cf. utilitarian) + ISM (Cf. ism) … Etymology dictionary
utilitarianism — ► NOUN 1) the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority. 2) the doctrine that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct … English terms dictionary
utilitarianism — [yo͞o til΄ə ter′ē əniz΄əm] n. 1. the doctrine that the worth or value of anything is determined solely by its utility 2. the doctrine, developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, that the purpose of all action should be to bring about the… … English World dictionary
Utilitarianism — This article discusses utilitarian ethical theory. For a discussion of John Stuart Mill s book Utilitarianism, see Utilitarianism (book). For the architectural theory, see Utilitarianism (architecture) Part of a series on … Wikipedia
utilitarianism — /yooh til i tair ee euh niz euhm/, n. the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons. [1820 30; UTILITARIAN + ISM] * * * Ethical… … Universalium
Utilitarianism — A philosophy that bases the moral worth of an action upon the number of people it gives happiness or pleasure to. A utilitarian philosophy is used when making social, economic or political decisions for the betterment of society . In… … Investment dictionary