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Utilitarianism

Edited by Anthony Skelton (University of Western Ontario)
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Summary Utilitarianism is the moral doctrine according to which an agent's action is right in so far as it produces at least as much surplus welfare for the aggregate of sentient beings as any other action the agent could have performed in her situation. Its most important and influential proponents include John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, Derek Parfit, Shelly Kagan, and Julia Driver, each of whom provides the view with a unique formulation and defence. Utilitarianism forms the basis of much moral reasoning about practical moral problems, especially in the work of R. M. Hare, Peter Singer, Laura Purdy, and Julian Savulescu. It has a rich and detailed history. The view thrived in the nineteenth century. Critics of the view contend that it cannot accommodate our intuitions about the moral importance of justice and individual rights, that it is too demanding and that its commitment to impartiality alienates us from certain of the most important human relationships (e.g., friendship). It serves as an important rival to all forms of deontology on the one hand and to the ethics of virtue on the other.
Key works Historically important defences of utilitarianism are found in Mill 1993 and in Sidgwick 1901. Historically important objections to the view are found in Carritt 1947, McCloskey 1965, Rawls 1971, Smart & Williams 1973, and Stocker 1976. Influential replies to these and other objections are located in Hare 1981, Parfit 1984, Railton 1984, Sumner 1987, Kagan 1989, Ashford 2000 and Mason 1998.
Introductions The very best introduction to utilitarianism is found in Shaw 1999. Useful discussions of the view appear in Moore 1965, Ewing 1953, Driver 2011, and in the papers in Sen & Williams 1982 and Scheffler 1988. Eggleston & Miller 2014 contains some helpful introductory essays on the history and the philosophy of utilitarianism. Driver 2010 and Schneewind 1977 provide useful accounts of utilitarianism's history. Singer 1993 and Purdy 1996 give one an indication of the practical implications of utilitarian moral reasoning.
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Subcategories:History/traditions: Utilitarianism
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  1. Lincoln Allison (ed.) (1990). The Utilitarian Response: The Contemporary Viability of Utilitarian Political Philosophy. Sage Publications.
    "Nearly all the essays are theoretically informed, argumentative, and exceptionally interesting; nearly all try to paint the merits (and demerits) of utilitarianism as a political philosophy in the light of attempted solutions to theoretical problems that are explored in some detail. The result is a searching, thoughtful volume." --Ethics "The Utilitarian Response is unique in the breadth of problems and questions in utilitarian theory covered. It is more suggestive of strategies by which contemporary utilitarianism could be improved than a comprehensive (...)
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  2. Michael J. Almeida (1992). The Paradoxes of Feldman's Neo-Utilitarianism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (4):455 – 468.
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  3. Íñigo Álvarez Gálvez (2009). Utilitarismo y Derechos Humanos: La Propuesta de John Stuart Mill. Plaza y Valdés.
    Se dice que el utilitarismo es incompatible con la defensa de los derechos humanos, pues la búsqueda del mayor bien para el mayor número que prescribe el utilitarismo, puede exigir, en ocasiones, pasar por encima de los derechos. Sin embargo, quizá sea posible ofrecer una solución al conflicto presentando una doctrina utilitarista, reconocible como tal, que sea lo suficientemente amplia como para dar cabida a los derechos. La presente obra tiene como objeto exponer la doctrina de John Stuart Mill como (...)
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  4. A. T. Anchustegui (2005). Biocentric Ethics and Animal Prosperity. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 19 (1):105-119.
    Singer’s utilitarian and Regan’s deontological views must be rejected because: (1) they rely on criteria for moral standing that can only be known a priori and (2) if these criteria were successful, they’d be too restrictive. I hold that while mental properties may be sufficient for moral standing, they are not necessary. (3) Their criteria of moral standing do not unambiguously abrogate needless harm to animals. I defend a theory of biocentric individualism that upholds the principle of species egalitarianism while (...)
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  5. John Anderson (1932). Utilitarianism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 10 (3):161 – 172.
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  6. Linda F. Annis (1986). Merit Pay, Utilitarianism, and Desert. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 3 (1):33-41.
  7. Lennart Åqvist (1969). Improved Formulations of Act-Utilitarianism. Noûs 3 (3):299-323.
    The article deals with two problems that arise within moorean style act-utilitarianism (a.u.): (i) how is the notion of 'the alternatives to' a particular action to be explicated? (ii) how should a.u. be formulated in order for it to validate the laws of standard deontic logic? it is argued that these intertwined problems can be solved only if the traditional formulations a a.u. are rejected in favor of some new and more viable ones. in the literature the two problems seem (...)
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  8. A. Revised Impracticability Argument (1994). Act Utilitarianism and Decision Procedures. Utilitas 6 (1).
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  9. Richard Arneson, Introduction to Rawls on Justice and Rawls on Utilitarianism.
    According to Rawls, the principles of justice are principles that determine a fair resolution of conflicts of interest among persons in a society. “A set of principles is required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of advantages and for underwriting an agreement on the proper distributive shares” (p. 4). Different interpretations or conceptions of justice fill out this core concept; a theory of justice seeks a best conception. Justice takes priority over other normative claims—as Rawls (...)
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  10. Richard Arneson, Rawls Versus Utilitarianism in the Light of Political Liberalism.
    The critique of utilitarianism forms a crucial subplot in the complex analysis of social justice that John Rawls develops in his first book, A Theory of Justice.1 The weaknesses of utilitarianism indicate the need for an alternative theory, and at many stages of the argument the test for the adequacy of the new theory that Rawls elaborates is whether it can be demonstrated to be superior to the utilitarian rival. The account of social justice shifts in the transition to Rawls’s (...)
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  11. Nomy Arpaly (2002). The Utilitarian's Song. Utilitas 14 (01):1-.
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  12. Elizabeth Ashford (2005). Utilitarianism with a Humean Face. Hume Studies 31 (1):63-92.
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  13. Robert B. Ashmore (1987). Utility and Rights. Edited by R. G. Frey. Modern Schoolman 64 (2):122-124.
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  14. Robert Audi (2007). Can Utilitarianism Be Distributive? Maximization and Distribution as Criteria in Managerial Decisions. Business Ethics Quarterly 17 (4):593-611.
    Utilitarianism is commonly defined in very different ways, sometimes in a single text. There is wide agreement that it mandates maximizing some kind of good, but many formulations also require a pattern of distribution. The most common of these take utilitarianism to characterize right acts as those that achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number.” This paper shows important ambiguities in this formulation and contrasts it (on any plausible interpretation of it) withthe kinds of utilitarian views actually defended by (...)
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  15. Guy Axtell, Utilitarianism and Dewey's “Three Independent Factors in Morals”.
    The centennial of Dewey & Tuft’s Ethics (1908) provides a timely opportunity to reflect both on Dewey’s intellectual debt to utilitarian thought, and on his critique of it. In this paper I examine Dewey’s assessment of utilitarianism, but also his developing view of the good (ends; consequences), the right (rules; obligations) and the virtuous (approbations; standards) as “three independent factors in morals.” This doctrine (found most clearly in the 2nd edition of 1932) as I argue in the last sections, has (...)
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  16. James Wood Bailey (2001). William H. Shaw, Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism, Oxford, Blackwell, 1999, Pp. 311. Utilitas 13 (01):134-.
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  17. James Wood Bailey (1997). Utilitarianism, Institutions, and Justice. Oxford University Press.
    This book is a rebuttal of the common charge that the moral doctrine of utilitarianism permits horrible acts, justifies unfair distribution of wealth and other social goods, and demands too much of moral agents. Bailey defends utilitarianism by applying central insights of game theory regarding feasible equilibria and evolutionary stability of norms to elaborate an account of institutions that real-world utilitarians would want to foster. With such an account he shows that utilitarianism, while still a useful doctrine for criticizing existing (...)
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  18. John M. Baker (1971). Utilitarianism and "Secondary Principles". Philosophical Quarterly 21 (82):69-71.
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  19. Stephen W. Ball (1987). Choosing Between Choice Models of Ethics: Rawlsian Equality, Utilitarianism, and the Concept of Persons. Theory and Decision 22 (3):209-224.
  20. Stephen W. Ball (1986). Economic Equality: Rawls Versus Utilitarianism. Economics and Philosophy 2 (02):225-.
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  21. Y. Michael Barilan (2004). Towards a Dialogue Between Utilitarianism and Medicine. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 7 (2):163-173.
    Utilitarianism focuses on the optimization of personal well being in ways that seems to make the practice of medicine irrelevant to the well being of the practitioners, unless given external incentives such as money or honor. Care based on indirect incentives is considered inferior to care motivated internally. This leads to the paradox of utilitarian care. Following Nozick's conceptual Pleasure Machine it is argued that in addition to the promotion of personal well being, people care about fulfilling their well being (...)
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  22. Jonathan Baron (1998). Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy, Robert E. Goodin. Cambridge University Press, 1995, 352 + Xii Pages. Economics and Philosophy 14 (01):151-.
  23. Jonathan Baron (1996). Norm-Endorsement Utilitarianism and the Nature of Utility. Economics and Philosophy 12 (02):165-.
    In this article, I shall suggest an approach to the justification of normative moral principles which leads, I think, to utilitarianism. The approach is based on asking what moral norms we would each endorse if we had no prior moral commitments. I argue that we would endorse norms that lead to the satisfaction of all our nonmoral values or goals. The same approach leads to a view of utility as consisting of those goals that we would want satisfied. In the (...)
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  24. Robin Barrow (1975). Plato, Utilitarianism and Education. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    Introduction I i Plato's critics The view that I shall put forward is that utilitarianism is the only acceptable ethical theory and that this was recognised ...
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  25. Brian Barry (1989). Utilitarianism and Preference Change. Utilitas 1 (02):278-.
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  26. Robert Bass (2012). Lives in the Balance: Utilitarianism and Animal Research. In Jeremy Garrett (ed.), The Ethics of Animal Research: Exploring the Controversy. MIT Press.
    In the long history of moral theory, non-human animals—hereafter, just animals—have often been neglected entirely or have been relegated to some secondary status. Since its emergence in the early 19th century, utilitarianism has made a difference in that respect by focusing upon happiness or well-being (and their contraries) rather than upon the beings who suffer or enjoy. Inevitably, that has meant that human relations to and use of other animals have appeared in a different light. Some cases have seemed easy: (...)
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  27. Gregory Bassham (2000). Utilitarianism. Teaching Philosophy 23 (2):210-213.
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  28. Edward F. Becker (1975). Justice, Utility, and Interpersonal Comparisons. Theory and Decision 6 (4):471-484.
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  29. H. A. Bedau (1992). Hardin's Utilitarianism. Utilitas 4 (02):317-.
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  30. H. A. Bedau (1985). The Limits of Utilitarianism and Beyond:Utilitarianism and Beyond. Amartya Sen, Bernard Williams; The Limits of Utilitarianism. Harlan B. Miller, William H. Williams. [REVIEW] Ethics 95 (2):333-.
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  31. Rafik I. Beekun, Yvonne Stedham, James W. Westerman & Jeanne H. Yamamura (2010). Effects of Justice and Utilitarianism on Ethical Decision Making: A Cross-Cultural Examination of Gender Similarities and Differences. Business Ethics 19 (4):309-325.
    This study investigates the relationship between intention to behave ethically and gender within the context of national culture. Using Reidenbach and Robin's measures of the ethical dimensions of justice and utilitarianism in a sample of business students from three different countries, we found that gender is significantly related to the respondents' intention to behave ethically. Women relied on both justice as well as utilitarianism when making moral decisions. By contrast, men relied only on justice, and did not rely on utilitarianism (...)
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  32. LindaA Bell (1978). Utilitarianism and the Reductio Ad Absurdum. Metaphilosophy 9 (3-4):233-241.
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  33. J. S. Bentham (2000). Mill, and Qualitative Hedonism'. Utilitas 12 (2).
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  34. Jeremy Bentham (2006). Value, Interest, and Well-Being. Utilitas 18 (4).
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  35. Jeremy Bentham (1983). Deontology ; Together with a Table of the Springs of Action ; and the Article on Utilitarianism. Oxford University Press.
    A critical edition of three works of Bentham, Deontology and The Article on Utilitarianism were previously unpublished. Together with An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, they provide a comrehensive exposition of Bentham's views. Based entirely on manuscripts by Bentham of his amanuenses, this edition's full introduction linking the three works. Each work is supplemented with detailed and critical notes.
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  36. Jeremy Bentham (1891/2001). A Fragment on Government. Lawbook Exchange.
    This volume makes available one of the central texts in the development of utilitarian tradition, in the authoritative 1977 edition prepared by Professors Burns and Hart as part of Bentham's Collected Works. Certain that history was on his side, Bentham sought to rid the world of the hideous mess wrought by legal obfuscation and confusion, and to transform politics into a rational, scientific activity, premised on the fundamental axiom that "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is (...)
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  37. Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill & John Austin (1962). Utilitarianism. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.
    UTILITARIANISM BY JEREMY BENTHAM. LONDON : PROGRESSIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY, "58 Stonecutter Street, ...
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  38. Lars Bergström (1977). Utilitarianism and Future Mistakes. Theoria 43 (2):84-102.
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  39. Lars Bergström (1976). On the Formulation and Application of Utilitarianism. Noûs 10 (2):121-144.
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  40. Lars Bergström (1973). On the Coherence of Act-Utilitarianism. Analysis 33 (3):98 - 102.
    The article is a reply to professor castaneda's criticism of a recursive formulation of act-utilitarianism which i have suggested in an earlier paper (analysis 29.2) and which was intended to satisfy the deontic principle that 'ought' is distributable over conjunctions. i argue that castaneda's arguments against my formulation are inconclusive.
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  41. Lars Bergström (1971). Utilitarianism and Alternative Actions. Noûs 5 (3):237-252.
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  42. Richard F. Bernstein (1979). Legal Utilitarianism. Ethics 89 (2):127-146.
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  43. Jerome E. Bickenbach (2008). Distributive Justice and Disability: Utilitarianism Against Egalitarianism. Social Theory and Practice 34 (2):300-306.
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  44. Guyora Binder & Nick Smith, Framed: Utilitarianism and Punishment of the Innocent.
    The most widely repeated retributivist argument against the utilitarian theory of punishment is that utilitarianism permits punishment of the innocent. While defenders of utilitarianism have shown that a publicly announced policy of punishing the innocent is unlikely to serve utility, critics have insisted that utilitarianism morally obliges officials to deceive the public by framing the innocent. Yet philosophers and legal scholars have heretofore failed to test this claim against the writings of the theory's originators. We directly examine the writings of (...)
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  45. Ken Binmore (1998). Egalitarianism Versus Utilitarianism. Utilitas 10 (3):353-367.
    This paper is a comparative analysis of egalitarianism and utilitarianism from a naturalistic perspective that offers some insight into the manner in which we come to make interpersonal comparisons of welfare.
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  46. Thomas Bivins (2007). Loyalty, Utility, and Integrity in Casablanca: The Use of Film in Explicating Philosophical Disputes Concerning Utilitarianism. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 22 (2 & 3):132 – 150.
    Can concepts such as loyalty and integrity remain intrinsically valuable personal traits even as we devote ourselves to that which requires the loyalty in the first place (the greater good)? Does utilitarian deliberation rest on too extreme a notion of impartiality - one that focuses exclusively on the consequences of actions, leaving people, in the words of Bernard Williams, "mere faceless numbers"? Using the film Casablanca as an extended analogy, this article attempts to reconcile the concept of loyalty to a (...)
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  47. Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson (2003). The Axiomatic Approach to Population Ethics. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2 (3):342-381.
    This article examines several families of population principles in the light of a set of axioms. In addition to the critical-level utilitarian, number-sensitive critical-level utilitarian, and number-dampened utilitarian families and their generalized counterparts, we consider the restricted number-dampened family and introduce two new ones: the restricted critical-level and restricted number-dependent critical-level families. Subsets of the restricted families have non-negative critical levels, avoid the `repugnant conclusion' and satisfy the axiom priority for lives worth living, but violate an important independence condition.
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  48. Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson (1997). Critical-Level Utilitarianism and the Population-Ethics Dilemma. Economics and Philosophy 13 (2):197-.
    Advances in technology have made it possible for us to take actions that affect the numbers and identities of humans and other animals that will live in the future. Effective and inexpensive birth control, child allowances, genetic screening, safe abortion, in vitro fertilization, the education of young women, sterilization programs, environmental degradation and war all have these effects. Although it is true that a good deal of effort has been devoted to the practical side of population policy, moral theory has (...)
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  49. Cyprian P. Blamires (1989). El Utilitarismo: una teoría de la elección racional. Josep M. Colomer, Barcelona, Montesinos, 1987, pp. 157. Utilitas 1 (01):167-.
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  50. Roland Paul Blum (1970). Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism. Journal of Value Inquiry 4 (2):140-152.
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