utilitarianism (yōō´tĬlĬtr´ēənĬzəm, yōōtĬ´–), in ethics, the theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its usefulness in bringing about the most happiness of all those affected by it. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, which advocates that those actions are right which bring about the most good overall. Jeremy Bentham identified good consequences with pleasure, which is measured in terms of intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent. John Stuart Mill argued that pleasures differ in quality as well as quantity and that the highest good involves the highest quality as well as quantity of pleasure. Herbert Spencer developed an evolutionary utilitarian ethics in which the principles of ethical living are based on the evolutionary changes of organic development. G. E. Moore, in his Principia Ethica (1903), presented a version of utilitarianism in which he rejected the traditional equating of good with pleasure. Later in the 20th cent., versions of utilitarianism have been propounded by J. J. C. Smart and R. M. Hare.

See J. J. C. Smart and B. Williams, Utilitarianism (1973); A. Sen and B. Williams, ed., Utilitarianism and Beyond (1982).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Utilitarianism: Selected full-text books and articles

Geoffrey Scarre.
Routledge, 1996
An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy
John Grote.
Thoemmes, 1990
FREE! Utilitarianism
John Stuart Mill.
Longmans, Green, 1901
Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism
Roger Crisp.
Routledge, 1997
Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill
Frederick Rosen.
Routledge, 2003
The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill
J. H. Troyer.
Hackett, 2003
In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law
David Lyons.
Clarendon Press, 1991 (Revised edition)
Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham
James E. Crimmins.
Clarendon Press, 1990
Eight Theories of Ethics
Gordon Graham.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Utilitarianism"
Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics
Matti Häyry.
Routledge, 1994
Utilitarianism, Institutions, and Justice
James Wood Bailey.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Distributional Justice: Theory and Measurement
Hilde Bojer.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Welfarism: Utilitarianism and Welfare Economics"
Conflicts of Law and Morality
Kent Greenawalt.
Oxford University Press, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Utilitarianism: Consequential Reasons for Obedience"
Ethics, Rationality, and Economic Behaviour
Francesco Farina; Frank Hahn; Stefano Vannucci.
Oxford University, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Part II "Two Views on Utilitarianism"
Ethics, Economics, and Politics: Principles of Public Policy
I. M. D. Little.
Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Utilitarianism: Theory and Applications"
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