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© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Utilitarianism: Selected full-text books and articles

Utilitarianism By Geoffrey Scarre Routledge, 1996
FREE! Utilitarianism By John Stuart Mill Longmans, Green, 1901
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Eight Theories of Ethics By Gordon Graham Routledge, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Utilitarianism"
Utilitarianism, Institutions, and Justice By James Wood Bailey Oxford University Press, 1997
Conflicts of Law and Morality By Kent Greenawalt Oxford University Press, 1989
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Utilitarianism: Consequential Reasons for Obedience"
Ethics, Rationality, and Economic Behaviour By 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 By I. M. D. Little Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Utilitarianism: Theory and Applications"
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