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. Cardinal Utility.Maurice Allais - 1991 - Theory and Decision 31 (2-3):99-140.
  2. The Utilitarian Response: The Contemporary Viability of Utilitarian Political Philosophy.Lincoln Allison (ed.) - 1990 - 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 (...)
  3. The Paradoxes of Feldman's Neo-Utilitarianism.Michael J. Almeida - 1992 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (4):455 – 468.
  4. Utilitarismo y Derechos Humanos: La Propuesta de John Stuart Mill.Íñigo Álvarez Gálvez - 2009 - Plaza y Valdés Editores.
    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 (...)
  5. Review of John Stuart Mill, Writings in India. [REVIEW]S. Ambirajan - 1992 - Utilitas 4 (1):154-157.
  6. Biocentric Ethics and Animal Prosperity.A. T. Anchustegui - 2005 - 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 (...)
  7. Utilitarianism.John Anderson - 1932 - Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy 10 (3):161-172.
  8. Merit Pay, Utilitarianism, and Desert.Linda F. Annis - 1986 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 3 (1):33-41.
  9. Improved Formulations of Act-Utilitarianism.Lennart Aqvist - 1969 - 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 (...)
  10. Act Utilitarianism and Decision Procedures.A. Revised Impracticability Argument - 1994 - Utilitas 6 (1).
  11. Introduction to Rawls on Justice and Rawls on Utilitarianism.Richard Arneson - unknown
    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 (...)
  12. Rawls Versus Utilitarianism in the Light of Political Liberalism.Richard Arneson - manuscript
    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 (...)
  13. Utilitarianism, Decision Theory and Eternity.Frank Arntzenius - 2014 - Philosophical Perspectives 28 (1):31-58.
  14. The Utilitarian's Song.Nomy Arpaly - 2002 - Utilitas 14 (1):1.
  15. Review of Kinzer, Robson and Robson's A Moralist In and Out of Parliament: John Stuart Mill at Westminster. [REVIEW]Richard Ashcraft - 1994 - Utilitas 6 (1):140-143.
  16. Utilitarianism with a Humean Face.Elizabeth Ashford - 2005 - Hume Studies 31 (1):63-92.
  17. Utility and Rights. Edited by R. G. Frey.Robert B. Ashmore - 1987 - Modern Schoolman 64 (2):122-124.
  18. Can Utilitarianism Be Distributive? Maximization and Distribution as Criteria in Managerial Decisions.Robert Audi - 2007 - 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 (...)
  19. Utilitarianism and Dewey's “Three Independent Factors in Morals”.Guy Axtell - unknown
    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 (...)
  20. William H. Shaw, Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism, Oxford, Blackwell, 1999, Pp. 311.James Wood Bailey - 2001 - Utilitas 13 (1):134.
  21. Utilitarianism, Institutions, and Justice.James Wood Bailey - 1997 - 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 (...)
  22. Utilitarianism and "Secondary Principles".John M. Baker - 1971 - Philosophical Quarterly 21 (82):69-71.
  23. Choosing Between Choice Models of Ethics: Rawlsian Equality, Utilitarianism, and the Concept of Persons.Stephen W. Ball - 1987 - Theory and Decision 22 (3):209-224.
  24. Economic Equality: Rawls Versus Utilitarianism.Stephen W. Ball - 1986 - Economics and Philosophy 2 (2):225.
    Perhaps the most salient feature of Rawls's theory of justice which at once attracts supporters and repels critics is its apparent egalitarian conclusion as to how economic goods are to be distributed. Indeed, many of Rawls's sympathizers may find this result intuitively appealing, and regard it as Rawls's enduring contribution to the topic of economic justice, despite technical deficiencies in Rawls's contractarian, decision-theoretic argument for it which occupy the bulk of the critical literature. Rawls himself, having proposed a “coherence” theory (...)
  25. Towards a Dialogue Between Utilitarianism and Medicine.Y. Michael Barilan - 2004 - 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 (...)
  26. Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy, Robert E. Goodin. Cambridge University Press, 1995, 352 + Xii Pages.Jonathan Baron - 1998 - Economics and Philosophy 14 (1):151.
  27. Norm-Endorsement Utilitarianism and the Nature of Utility.Jonathan Baron - 1996 - Economics and Philosophy 12 (2):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 (...)
  28. A New Approach to Rights in Social Choice Theory Which Incorporates Utilitarianism.Richard Barrett, Anne Petron-Brunel & Maurice Salles - unknown
    The paper axiomatises a generalised utilitarian aggregation rule, under which different weights are assigned to utilities depending on the different rights involved. The relationship between actions, rights and the evaluation of utilities is investigated. Application is made to a famous example, Edwin-Angelina-the Judge, which appears in the social choice literature.
  29. Plato, Utilitarianism and Education.Robin Barrow - 1975 - 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 ...
  30. Utilitarianism and Preference Change.Brian Barry - 1989 - Utilitas 1 (2):278.
  31. Lives in the Balance: Utilitarianism and Animal Research.Robert Bass - 2012 - 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: (...)
  32. Utilitarianism.Gregory Bassham - 2000 - Teaching Philosophy 23 (2):210-213.
  33. Comments on Utilitarianism and Moral Obligation Symposium.Charles A. Baylis - 1952 - Philosophical Review 61:327.
  34. Justice, Utility, and Interpersonal Comparisons.Edward F. Becker - 1975 - Theory and Decision 6 (4):471-484.
  35. Hardin's Utilitarianism.H. A. Bedau - 1992 - Utilitas 4 (2):317.
  36. Review: The Limits of Utilitarianism and Beyond. [REVIEW]H. A. Bedau - 1985 - Ethics 95 (2):333 - 341.
  37. The Limits of Utilitarianism and Beyond:Utilitarianism and Beyond. Amartya Sen, Bernard Williams; The Limits of Utilitarianism. Harlan B. Miller, William H. Williams. [REVIEW]H. A. Bedau - 1985 - Ethics 95 (2):333-.
  38. Effects of Justice and Utilitarianism on Ethical Decision Making: A Cross-Cultural Examination of Gender Similarities and Differences.Rafik I. Beekun, Yvonne Stedham, James W. Westerman & Jeanne H. Yamamura - 2010 - 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 (...)
  39. Utilitarianism and the Reductio Ad Absurdum.LindaA Bell - 1978 - Metaphilosophy 9 (3-4):233-241.
  40. Mill, and Qualitative Hedonism'.J. S. Bentham - 2000 - Utilitas 12 (2).
  41. Value, Interest, and Well-Being.Jeremy Bentham - 2006 - Utilitas 18 (4).
  42. Deontology ; Together with a Table of the Springs of Action ; and the Article on Utilitarianism.Jeremy Bentham - 1983 - 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.
  43. A Fragment on Government.Jeremy Bentham - 1891 - 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 (...)
  44. Utilitarianism and Future Mistakes.Lars Bergström - 1977 - Theoria 43 (2):84-102.
  45. On the Formulation and Application of Utilitarianism.Lars Bergstrom - 1976 - Noûs 10 (2):121-144.
  46. On the Coherence of Act-Utilitarianism.Lars Bergström - 1973 - 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.
  47. Utilitarianism and Alternative Actions.Lars Bergstrom - 1971 - Noûs 5 (3):237-252.
  48. A Discussion of the Present State of Utility Theory.Georges Bernard - 1986 - Theory and Decision 20 (2):173-188.
  49. Legal Utilitarianism.Richard F. Bernstein - 1979 - Ethics 89 (2):127-146.
  50. The Pursuit and Nature of Happiness.Lorraine Besser-Jones - 2013 - Philosophical Topics 41 (1):103-121.
    This paper challenges the idea that happiness—taken to be a subjective mental state marked by positive affect—is something that depends upon and arises from the satisfaction of interests. While this understanding of happiness seems to follow from reflection on the paradox of happiness, empirical research concerning the production of happiness tells us a different story, and suggests that whether or not we are happy is largely independent of whether or not we satisfy our interests. Following analysis of this research, I (...)
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