When directed toward making social, economic, or political decisions, a utilitarian philosophy would aim for the betterment of society as a whole. Mill, in contrast to Bentham, discerned differences in the quality of pleasures that make some intrinsically preferable to others independently of intensity and duration (the quantitative dimensions recognized by Bentham). Learn more. Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy that an action is right if it promotes happiness for the majority of people. However, if you choose to do something morally wrong—even if legal—then your happiness and that of your colleagues, will decrease. Though not fully articulated until the 19 th century, proto-utilitarian positions can be discerned throughout the history of ethical theory.. Another objection to utilitarianism is that the prevention or elimination of suffering should take precedence over any alternative act that would only increase the happiness of someone already happy. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Utilitarianism definition is - a doctrine that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically : a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The theory of utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Antecedents of utilitarianism among the ancients, Growth of classical English utilitarianism, Utilitarianism since the late 19th century, Effects of utilitarianism in other fields, https://www.britannica.com/topic/utilitarianism-philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - The History of Utilitarianism. Actions are right if they promote happiness, and wrong if they promote unhappiness. Moore, one of the founders of contemporary analytic philosophy, regarded many kinds of consciousness—including friendship, knowledge, and the experience of beauty—as intrinsically valuable independently of pleasure, a position labelled “ideal” utilitarianism. One of the leading utilitarians of the late 19th century, the Cambridge philosopher Henry Sidgwick, rejected such theories of motivation as well as Bentham’s theory of the meaning of moral terms and sought to support utilitarianism by showing that it follows from systematic reflection on the morality of “common sense.” Most of the requirements of commonsense morality, he argued, could be based upon utilitarian considerations. This practice produces the highest good for the greatest number of people. Therefore, the name of the doctrine is utilitarianism, based on the principle of utility. In utilitarianism everything useful to happiness is good. Utilitarianism also has trouble accounting for values like justice and individual rights. What is Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism also cannot predict with certainty whether the consequences of our actions will be good or bad—the results of our actions happen in the future. Updates? Jeremy Bentham describes his "greatest happiness principle" in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, a 1789 publication in which he writes: "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. Utilitarian happiness is the biggest happiness which (supposetly) every human being looks for. Most companies have a formal or informal code of ethics, which is shaped by their corporate culture, values, and regional laws. In the airline industry, for example, many planes offer first-, business-, and economy-class seats. Much of the defense of utilitarian ethics has consisted in answering these objections, either by showing that utilitarianism does not have the implications that its opponents claim it has or by arguing against the opponents’ moral intuitions. Companies also must endeavor to keep their promises and put ethics at least on par with profits. These ethics also can be challenging to maintain in our business culture, where a capitalistic economy often teaches people to focus on themselves at the expense of others. Rule utilitarianism helps the largest number of people using the fairest methods possible. If a healthy person wanders into the hospital, his organs could be harvested to save four lives at the expense of his one life. Utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of an action performed by an individual or a society. How is justice accommodated? Customers who fly in first or business class pay a much higher rate than those in economy seats, but they also get more amenities—simultaneously, people who cannot afford upper-class seats benefit from the economy rates. Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action (or type of action) is right if it tends to promote happiness or pleasure and wrong if it tends to produce unhappiness or pain—not just for the performer of the action but also for everyone else … "The greatest good for the greatest number" is a maxim of utilitarianism. Bentham and Mill were hedonists; i.e, they analyzed happiness as a balance of pleasure over pain and believed that these feelings alone are of intrinsic value and disvalue. In utilitarian ethics, there are no shades of gray—either something is wrong or it is right. Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy introduced by pioneering figures such as Jeremy Bentham (introduced the classical utilitarianism), John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and G.E Moore. Utilitarians also assume that it is possible to compare the intrinsic values produced by two alternative actions and to estimate which would have better consequences. In liberal democracies throughout the centuries, the progenitors of utilitarianism spawned variants and extensions of its core principles. Here's more about the term and its real-world applications. How is happiness defined? At work, you display utilitarianism when you take actions to ensure that the office is a positive environment for your co-workers to be in, and then make it so for yourself. Utilitarianism would say that an action is right if it results in the happiness of the greatest number of people in a society or a group. (Philosophy) the theory that the criterion of virtue is utility Origin. Utilitarianism is a theory of morality, which advocates actions that foster happiness and opposes actions that cause unhappiness. Moreover, utilitarianism is the most common approach to business ethics because of the way that it accounts for costs and benefits. Thus, the English philosopher G.E. It is important to note, however, that, even for the hedonistic utilitarians, pleasure and pain are not thought of in purely sensual terms; pleasure and pain for them can be components of experiences of all sorts. Such precise measurement as Bentham envisioned is perhaps not essential, but it is nonetheless necessary for the utilitarian to make some interpersonal comparisons of the values of the effects of alternative courses of action. Act utilitarianism often demonstrates the concept that “the end justifies the means”—or it's worth it. The key passage from this book: "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action (or type of action) is right if it tends to promote happiness or pleasure and wrong if it tends to produce unhappiness or pain—not just for the performer of the action but also for everyone else affected by it.