Utilitarianism

Edited by Anthony Skelton (University of Western Ontario)
About this topic
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 1863 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 1979 and Purdy 1996 give one an indication of the practical implications of utilitarian moral reasoning.
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  1. Timothy L. S. Sprigge.Leemon McHenry - 2002 - In Philip Dematteis, Peter Fosl & Leemon McHenry (eds.), British Philosophers, 1800-2000. Detroit, MI, USA: pp. 266-274.
    This biographical essay covers the life and thought of British philosopher, Timothy Sprigge, including the development of his metaphysics and ethics.
  2. Angelique: An Angel in Distress, Morality in Crisis.Necip Fikri Alican - 2018 - Dialogue and Universalism 28 (2):9–48.
    Michael H. Mitias argues that friendship is a central moral value constituting an integral part of the good life and therefore deserving a prominent place in ethical theory. He consequently calls upon ethicists to make immediate and decisive adjustments toward accommodating what he regards as a neglected organic relationship between friendship and morality. This is not a fanciful amendment to our standard conception of morality but a radical proposal grounded in a unifying vision to recapture the right way of doing (...)
  3. Beyond Sacrificial Harm: A Two-Dimensional Model of Utilitarian Psychology.Guy Kahane, Jim A. C. Everett, Brian D. Earp, Lucius Caviola, Nadira S. Faber, Molly J. Crockett & Julian Savulescu - 2018 - Psychological Review 125 (2):131-164.
    Recent research has relied on trolley-type sacrificial moral dilemmas to study utilitarian versus nonutili- tarian modes of moral decision-making. This research has generated important insights into people’s attitudes toward instrumental harm—that is, the sacrifice of an individual to save a greater number. But this approach also has serious limitations. Most notably, it ignores the positive, altruistic core of utilitarianism, which is characterized by impartial concern for the well-being of everyone, whether near or far. Here, we develop, refine, and validate a (...)
  4. John Gay and the Birth of Utilitarianism.Getty L. Lustila - 2018 - Utilitas 30 (1):86-106.
    This article concerns John Gay’s 1731 essay ‘Preliminary Dissertation Concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality’. Gay undertakes two tasks here, the first of which is to supply a criterion of virtue. I argue that he is the first modern philosopher to claim that universal happiness is the aim of moral action. In other words: Gay is the first utilitarian. His second task is to explain the source of moral motivation. He draws upon the principles of association to argue (...)
  5. Aggregation for General Populations Without Continuity or Completeness.David McCarthy, Kalle Mikkola & Teruji Thomas - 2017 - MPRA Paper No. 80820.
    We generalize Harsanyi's social aggregation theorem. We allow the population to be infi nite, and merely assume that individual and social preferences are given by strongly independent preorders on a convex set of arbitrary dimension. Thus we assume neither completeness nor any form of continuity. Under Pareto indifference, the conclusion of Harsanyi's theorem nevertheless holds almost entirely unchanged when utility values are taken to be vectors in a product of lexicographic function spaces. The addition of weak or strong Pareto has (...)
  6. The Replaceability Argument in the Ethics of Animal Husbandry.Nicolas Delon - 2016 - Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics.
    Most people agree that inflicting unnecessary suffering upon animals is wrong. Many fewer people, including among ethicists, agree that painlessly killing animals is necessarily wrong. The most commonly cited reason is that death (without pain, fear, distress) is not bad for them in a way that matters morally, or not as significantly as it does for persons, who are self-conscious, make long-term plans and have preferences about their own future. Animals, at least those that are not persons, lack a morally (...)
  7. No Title Available: Book Reviews. [REVIEW]Cyprian P. Blamires - 1989 - Utilitas 1 (1):167-168.
  8. Hardin's Utilitarianism: H. A. Bedau.H. A. Bedau - 1992 - Utilitas 4 (2):317-321.
  9. Étienne Dumont: Genevan Apostle of Utility*: Cyprian Blamires.Cyprian Blamires - 1990 - Utilitas 2 (1):55-70.
    In the years 1829 and 1830 there appeared in Geneva a short-lived journal called l'Utilitaire, edited by Antoine-Élysée Cherbuliez. In the preface to the first issue, the editor wrote that he was working ‘in the spirit of Bentham’, but did not wish to found a party tied to Bentham's name. He wished to emulate Bentham's thinking in so far as it was synonymous with a detached, neutral perspective on the world, a viewpoint superior to the strife of factions. Having spoken (...)
  10. Maximin Justice, Sacrifice, and the Reciprocity Argument: A Pragmatic Reassessment of the Rawls/Nozick Debate: Stephen W. Ball.Stephen W. Ball - 1993 - Utilitas 5 (2):157-184.
    Theories of economic justice are characteristically based on abstract ethical concerns often unrelated to practical distributive results. Two decades ago, Rawls's theory of justice began as a reaction against the alleged ‘sacrifices’ condoned by utilitarian theory. One variant of this objection is that utilitarianism permits gross inequalities, severe deprivations of individual liberty, or even the enslavement of society's least well-off individuals. There are, however, more subtle forms of the objection. In Rawls, it is often waged without any claim that utilitarianism (...)
  11. No Title Available: Book Reviews. [REVIEW]James Wood Bailey - 2001 - Utilitas 13 (1):134-136.
  12. Value, Welfare, and Morality.Connie S. Rosati, R. G. Frey & Christopher W. Morris - 1995 - Philosophical Review 104 (4):603.
  13. Utilitarianism and Beyond.Amartya Sen & Bernard Williams (eds.) - 1982 - Cambridge University Press.
    A volume of studies of utilitarianism considered both as a theory of personal morality and a theory of public choice. All but two of the papers have been commissioned especially for the volume, and between them they represent not only a wide range of arguments for and against utilitarianism but also a first-class selection of the most interesting and influential work in this very active area. There is also a substantial introduction by the two editors. The volume will constitute an (...)
  14. Interpersonal Comparisons of the Good: Epistemic Not Impossible.Mathew Coakley - 2016 - Utilitas 28 (3):288-313.
    To evaluate the overall good/welfare of any action, policy or institutional choice we need some way of comparing the benefits and losses to those affected: we need to make interpersonal comparisons of the good/welfare. Yet sceptics have worried either: that such comparisons are impossible as they involve an impossible introspection across individuals, getting ; that they are indeterminate as individual-level information is compatible with a range of welfare numbers; or that they are metaphysically mysterious as they assume the existence either (...)
  15. The Utility of Pain.Catharine C. Braddock - 1920 - International Journal of Ethics 30 (2):213-219.
  16. The Development of European Polity. Henry Sidgwick.George Claus Rankin - 1904 - International Journal of Ethics 14 (4):500-504.
  17. The Methods of EthicsHenry Sidgwick.Mary Gilliland Husband - 1903 - International Journal of Ethics 13 (2):251-254.
  18. Philosophy: Its Scope and Relations. Henry Sidgwick.A. E. Taylor - 1903 - International Journal of Ethics 13 (3):377-385.
  19. The True Significance of Sidgwick's "Ethics".F. H. Hayward - 1901 - International Journal of Ethics 11 (2):175-187.
  20. Practical Ethics. A Collection of Addresses and Essays.Henry Sidgwick.B. Bosanquet - 1898 - International Journal of Ethics 8 (3):390-394.
  21. Sidgwick and Schopenhauer on the Foundation of Morality.Michael Macmillan - 1898 - International Journal of Ethics 8 (4):490-496.
  22. Actual Rule Utilitarianism.Richard B. Miller - 2009 - Journal of Philosophy 106 (1):5-28.
  23. Rawls Versus Utilitarianism.David Lyons - 1972 - Journal of Philosophy 69 (18):535.
  24. Thomas Hurka, British Ethical Theorists From Sidgwick to Ewing , Pp. Xiv + 310.Jonas Olson - 2016 - Utilitas 28 (2):234-237.
  25. Mill, Intuitions, and Normativity.Christopher Macleod - 2013 - Utilitas 25 (1):46-65.
    It is the purpose of this paper to offer an account of Mill’s metaethics, byexpanding on clues given recently by Dale Miller, and previously by JohnSkorupski, to the effect that, when it comes to the foundations of hisphilosophy, Mill might share more with the intuitionists than we areaccustomed to think. Common wisdom holds that Mill had no time forthe normativity of intuitions. I wish to dispute, or at least temper, thisdogma, by claiming that Mill’s attitude towards intuitions is far morecomplex (...)
  26. Utilitarianism and the Ethics of Professional Psychologists.Samuel Knapp - 1999 - Ethics and Behavior 9 (4):383-392.
  27. The Utility of Pain.Catharine C. Braddock - 1919 - Ethics 30 (2):213.
  28. Mr. Hayward's Evaluation of Professor Sidgwick's Ethics: A Reply.F. H. Hayward - 1901 - Ethics 11 (3):360.
  29. Mr. Hayward's Evaluation of Professor Sidgwick's Ethics.E. E. Constance Jones - 1901 - Ethics 11 (3):354.
  30. The True Significance of Sidgwick's "Ethics".F. H. Hayward - 1900 - Ethics 11 (2):175.
  31. Sidgwick and Schopenhauer on the Foundation of Morality.Michael Macmillan - 1898 - Ethics 8 (4):490.
  32. Professor Sidgwick on the Ethics of Religious Conformity: A Reply.H. Rashdall - 1896 - Ethics 7 (2):137.
  33. Utilitarianism.John Anderson - 1932 - Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy 10 (3):161-172.
  34. Slippery Bentham.Hanna Fenichel Pitkin - 1990 - Political Theory 18 (1):104-131.
  35. Legislator Of The World? A Rereading of Bentham on Colonies.Jennifer Pitts - 2003 - Political Theory 31 (2):200-234.
    It has become almost commonplace to claim that utilitarianism was, from its inception, an imperialist theory. Many writers, from Bentham's own followers to recent scholars, have suggested that from Bentham onward, utilitarians reveled in the opportunity that they believed despotic power provided for the establishment of perfectly rational laws and institutions. A closer look at Bentham's own views on empire, however, reveals a sharp break between his position on European colonies and that of followers such as James and John Stuart (...)
  36. Value, Welfare, and Morality.R. G. Frey & Christopher W. Morris (eds.) - 2011 - Cambridge University Press.
    This book addresses critical issues in normative ethical theory. Every such theory must contain not only a theory of motivation but also a theory of value, and the link that is often forged between what is valuable and what would be right is human welfare or well-being. This topic is a subject of considerable controversy in contemporary ethics, not least because of the current reconsideration of utilitarianism. Indeed, there is as much disagreement about the nature of value and its relationship (...)
  37. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy.Robert E. Goodin - 1995 - Cambridge University Press.
    Utilitarianism, the great reforming philosophy of the nineteenth century, has today acquired the reputation for being a crassly calculating, impersonal philosophy unfit to serve as a guide to moral conduct. Yet what may disqualify utilitarianism as a personal philosophy makes it an eminently suitable guide for public officials in the pursuit of their professional responsibilities. Robert E. Goodin, a philosopher with many books on political theory, public policy and applied ethics to his credit, defends utilitarianism against its critics and shows (...)
  38. Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics.Matti Hayry - 1994 - Routledge.
    _Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics_ explores the foundations of early utilitarianism and, at the same time, the theoretical bases of social ethics and policy in modern Western welfare states. Matti Hayry sees the main reason for utilitarianism's growing disrepute among moral philosophers is that its principles cannot legitimately be extended to situations where the basic needs of the individuals involved are in conflict. He is able to formulate a solution to this fundamental problem by arguing convincingly that by combining a (...)
  39. Utilitarianism, Deontology, and the Priority of Right.Samuel Freeman - 1994 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 23 (4):313-349.
  40. Classical Utilitarianism From Hume to Mill.Frederick Rosen - 2003 - Routledge.
    This book presents a new interpretation of the principle of utility in moral and political theory based on the writings of the classical utilitarians from Hume to J.S. Mill. Discussion of utility in writers such as Adam Smith, William Paley and Jeremy Bentham is included.
  41. Utilitarianism.Geoffrey Scarre - 1996 - Routledge.
    Surveying the historical development and the present condition of utilitarian ethics, Geoffrey Scarre examines the major philosophers from Lao Tzu in the fifth century BC to Richard Hare in the twentieth. Utilitarianism traces the 'doctrine of utility' from the moralists of the ancient world, through the Enlightenment and Victorian utilitarianism up to the lively debate of the present day. Utilitarianism today faces challenges on several fronts: it cannot warrant the drawing of adequate protective boundaries around the essential interests of individuals, (...)
  42. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism.Roger Crisp - 1997 - Routledge.
    Mill was one of the most important British philosophers of the nineteenth century; his _Utilitarianism_ is a pivotal work in ethical thought. This book, written specifically for students coming to Mill - and perhaps philosophy - for the first time, will be an ideal guide. _Mill on Utilitarianism_ introduces and assesses: * Mill's life and the background of _Utilitarianism_ * the ideas and text of _Utilitarianism_ * the continuing importance of Mill's work to philosophy This is the first book dedicated (...)
  43. Formalizing Preference Utilitarianism in Physical World Models.Caspar Oesterheld - 2016 - Synthese 193 (9).
    Most ethical work is done at a low level of formality. This makes practical moral questions inaccessible to formal and natural sciences and can lead to misunderstandings in ethical discussion. In this paper, we use Bayesian inference to introduce a formalization of preference utilitarianism in physical world models, specifically cellular automata. Even though our formalization is not immediately applicable, it is a first step in providing ethics and ultimately the question of how to “make the world better” with a formal (...)
  44. Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism.William Shaw - 1999 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    Aimed at undergraduates, _Contemporary Ethics_ presupposes little or no familiarity with ethics and is written in a clear and engaging style. It provides students with a sympathetic but critical guide to utilitarianism, explaining its different forms and exploring the debates it has spawned. The book leads students through a number of current issues in contemporary ethics that are connected to controversies over and within utilitarianism. At the same time, it uses utilitarianism to introduce students to ethics as a subject. In (...)
  45. The Blackwell Guide to Mill's Utilitarianism.Henry West (ed.) - 2006 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    _The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism_ volume is an ideal commentary for students on Mill’s classic essay. Contains the complete text of Utilitarianism and twelve related essays. Essays cover the background to Mill’s classic essay, analyses of the arguments, and contemporary debates within the utilitarian tradition. Also includes a case study demonstrating the application of utilitarian theory to military or non-violent responses to terrorism. Each contribution is an original essay written by a specialist at the cutting edge of philosophical scholarship.
  46. Identità personale, carattere e virtù: Eugenio Lecaldano e il soggetto morale.Lorenzo Greco - 2010 - In Piergiorgio Donatelli & Maurizio Mori (eds.), Eugenio Lecaldano. L’etica, la storia della filosofia e l’impegno civile. Le Lettere. pp. 178-92.
  47. Huei-Chun Su, Economic Justice and Liberty: The Social Philosophy in John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism , Pp. Xx + 214.Wendy Donner - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (3):384-388.
  48. Utilitarianism, Multiplicity and Liberalism.Jeff Sebo - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (3):326-346.
    I argue that utilitarianism requires us to tolerate intrapersonal disagreement for the same reasons that it requires us to tolerate interpersonal disagreement. I begin by arguing that multiplicity has the same costs and benefits as multiculturalism: It causes conflict, but it also allows us to perform experiments in living, adopt a division of labour, compartmentalize harm and learn from ourselves. I then argue that, in light of these costs and benefits, utilitarianism requires us to adopt a liberal system of individual (...)
  49. Utilitarianism or Prioritarianism?Torbjörn Tännsjö - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (2):240-250.
    A simple hedonistic theory allowing for interpersonal comparisons of happiness is taken for granted in this article. The hedonistic theory is used to compare utilitarianism, urging us to maximize the sum total of happiness, with prioritarianism, urging us to maximize a sum total of weighed happiness. It is argued with reference to a few thought experiments that utilitarianism is, intuitively speaking, more plausible than prioritarianism. The problem with prioritarianism surfaces when prudence and morality come apart.
  50. Expanding the Justificatory Framework of Mill's Experiments in Living.Ryan Muldoon - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (2):179-194.
    In On Liberty, Mill introduced the concept of . I will provide an account of what Mill saw to be the basic problem he was addressing – the extensive pressure to fit in with the crowd, and how this bred mediocrity. I connect this to worries about public reason models of justification. I argue that a generalized version of Mill's argument offers us a better path to political justification stemming from experimentation. Rather than grounding political justification on shared political reasons, (...)
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