What is Utilitarianism?

Good afternoon,

I hope you’re all keeping well 🙂

Over the last few weeks, we’ve started to take a look at Philosophy & Ethics here on Sweeney’s Blogs, and I feel like we’ve finally got to a place where we can start looking at some of the different ethical theories that exist in the world, beginning with Utilitarianism today!

Hello & Welcome to Sweeney’s Blogs!

You may have seen that I have already briefly touched on what is meant by ‘Utilitarianism’ in my ‘What is Ethics?’ blog, but if you are coming into this blog without any prior knowledge, don’t you worry, I’ve got you covered 😉

Utilitarianism is a family of consequentialist normative ethical theories, which was first created most famously by Jeremy Bentham in 1789, and was later developed by John Stuart Mill in 1861, with many believing that Henry Sidgwick advanced the theory further in the early 1900s.

If you aren’t sure what I mean by a consequentialist normative ethical theory, don’t worry, I was a bit weary of the terminology at first too. The term ‘Consequentialist’ refers to the term ‘Consequentialism’ in Philosophy, which is the view that we judge what is right or wrong based solely on the consequences of different actions. If you would like to find out more about this view, be sure to check out my ‘What is Consequentialism?’ blog 🙂

The term normative ethics refers to the branch of moral philosophy concerned with what we see as morally right or wrong.

Right then, back to Utilitarianism 🤔

Utilitarians believe that the “morally right action is the one that creates the most good” for the greatest amount of people. Utilitarianism is a theory rooted in hedonism, where the good or utility is referring to the pleasure and happiness that an action can cause. We can see that it is a consequentialist theory, as it is concerned with the overall happiness caused by the consequences of our actions.

There are typically 2 different forms of Utilitarianism, Act Utilitarianism & Rule Utilitarianism:

Act Utilitarianism states that “an act is right if and only if it results in at least as much overall well-being as any act the agent could have performed”, with the agent in this case referring to the person performing the action.

Rule Utilitarians, however, believe that “we should judge the morality of individual actions by reference to general moral rules, and we should judge particular moral rules by seeing whether their acceptance into our moral code would produce more well-being than other possible rules.”

Under Utilitarianism, people are all measured as equals, regardless of their race, sexuality, disability, qualifications or anything else. Utilitarians justify their decisions based off of what creates the most happiness for the largest number of people – which is why it is closely related t the belief that we as people are designed to seek pleasure & avoid pain.

So, there we have it, this has been a summary of the normative ethical theory of ‘Utilitarianism’, I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog! I’ve embedded a couple of links in the blog for further reading if you’re interested in finding out more about Utilitarianism 🙂

Be sure to let me know your thoughts & opinions, either in the comments below or through our Facebook page!

Thanks for reading & I hope you have a lovely day!

Sweeney’s Blogs!

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James Sweeney

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