145 Utilitarianism Essay Topics

🏆 best essay topics on utilitarianism, 🔎 easy utilitarianism research paper topics, 👍 good utilitarianism essay topics to write about, 🎓 most interesting utilitarianism research titles, 💡 simple utilitarianism essay ideas, ❓ questions about utilitarianism.

  • Utilitarianism Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Human Trafficking from Perspectives of Deontology, Utilitarianism and Egoism
  • Utilitarianism and Corporate Social Responsibility
  • The Catholic Church’s Deontology and Utilitarianism Perspectives
  • Comparison of Utilitarianism and Christian Ethics
  • Utilitarianism and Deontology in Business
  • Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
  • Death Penalty: The Utilitarianism Ethical Theory Utilitarianism gives moral justification for the death penalty as long as it promotes society’s total well-being, approval, and happiness.
  • Ethical Reasoning: Utilitarianism & Universal Ethics Luke has been invited to work on a project involving the development of property recently bought by ABC for the construction of an adult entertainment retail store.
  • Utilitarianism Theory: Value and Disadvantages The author argues that, according to the utilitarianism theory happiness is an important result, but at the same time, consequences such as justice or equality are of great value.
  • Criminal Scheme: Utilitarianism and Deontology This paper will look into the issues concerning Bernie Madoff who has been involved in the Ponzi scheme on the basis of utilitarianism and deontological ethics.
  • Why Utilitarianism Is the Best Moral System This paper discusses the ideas and principles of utilitarianism, the advantages and critique of utilitarianism, and why utilitarianism is the best moral system.
  • Utilitarianism: Poverty Reduction Through Charity This paper shows that poverty levels can be reduced if wealthy individuals donate a part of their earnings, using the main principles of the utilitarian theory.
  • Qualified Candidates and Poor Credit Checks: The Ethical Theory of Utilitarianism This paper overviews how a manager can employ an ethical theory of utilitarianism to handle a situation and conflict of a qualified candidate with poor credit checks.
  • Animal Experimentation: The Theory of Utilitarianism This moral issue concerns animal experimentation. It is related to the theory of Utilitarianism, the idea of which induces preference of practical changes over morally obstacles.
  • Virtue Ethics Versus Utilitarianism Virtue ethics is an ethical theory that emphasizes character above behavior. The concept underscores the importance of mentality and personality.
  • Moral Theories: Utilitarianism, Duty-Based Ethics and Virtue-Based Ethics From the assessment of each theory, it can be seen that virtue based ethics can be considered less pragmatic, a feature which is more suitable for moral assessment.
  • The Utilitarianism Theory by John Stuart Mill According to Mill’s utilitarianism theory, the use of morally permissible violence is wrong as it directly affects the happiness of a person that violence is acted upon.
  • Immoral Actions and Utilitarianism The paper discusses utilitarianism. It is one of the directions in ethics, the leading position of which is the usefulness of actions.
  • Utilitarianism Theory: Applications and Issues Although the theory of utilitarianism appears to be relevant or applicable in most daily situations, there are deep underlying challenges associated with the concept.
  • Utilitarianism in Asian Business Being the largest and most diverse region of the world, Asia varies in the forms of business ethics practices by the corporations.
  • Utilitarianism as It Relates to Welfare Utilitarianism is an ethical approach that requires human beings to engage in actions that promote happiness for a greater number of people.
  • Amish Midwives: The Ethical Theory of Utilitarianism According to the utilitarian theory of ethics, the practice when unlicensed midwifes assist in labor to Amish women should not be banned, since it brings more happiness than grief.
  • Justice: Libertarianism and Utilitarianism Ethical values such as libertarianism and utilitarianism are among the significant philosophical views that influence rights, obligations, power, and riches.
  • Utilitarianism Theory: Principles and Ethical Forms This essay explores utilitarianism theory by discussing the principles and ethical forms, which have raised controversial views on the meaning of ethics and morality in society.
  • The Utilitarianism Argument for Public Policy Utilitarianism supports actions that increase happiness and opposes actions that cause unhappiness with the ultimate goal of making the whole society better.
  • The Theory of Utilitarianism: Philosophical Issues The philosophy of utilitarianism is oriented toward providing life with the least amount of suffering for most human beings.
  • Utilitarianism as a Concept Embedded in Human Nature The importance of people’s relationships can be seen starting from simple human relations and their continuation to economic ties between countries.
  • The Theory of the Act Utilitarianism Act utilitarianism is a theory of ethics stating that any act of a person is morally right only if it creates the greatest good for the majority.
  • Utilitarianism Theory Applied to Western Democracy According to the theory of utilitarianism, there are ethical norms that must be followed. As a result, they overlook the other virtues that favor the few.
  • Utilitarianism and PR During the Pandemic The principle of utilitarianism in the PR sphere contradicts the modern ethical paradigm because it cannot fully provide the ability to make decisions.
  • Utilitarianism and the Civil War The civil war in America can be justified by utilitarianism since the moral reform of slavery was central to the conflict.
  • Utilitarianism as the Only Effective Paradigm Utilitarianism developed in the eighteenth century is still employed in modern society as the central philosophical paradigm that frames the creation of laws and norms.
  • Virtue, Utilitarianism, and Deontology A set of guiding principles – morality – focuses on the core of what allows people to live in unified communities. Morality sets what society considers acceptable and right.
  • Handling Ethically Challenging Situations: Utilitarianism and Deontology The paper aims to study approaches to handling different ethically challenging situations from the utilitarianism and the deontological perspective.
  • Comparing Two Ethical Approaches: Utilitarianism and Social Contract Ethics Ethical norms regulate the relationship between people in society, and this paper aims to analyze the examples of utilitarianism and social contract ethics in action.
  • Kant’s Morality and Utilitarianism Morality is impossible without freedom, since if a person’s actions are determined by the will of God or the laws of nature, then one cannot speak of morality or morality.
  • Utilitarianism Applications and Criticism Utilitarianism can be viewed as a form of consequentialism that focuses on the results of actions and decisions.
  • Utilitarianism vs. Deontology in Case of Betrayal Ethics often asks questions of choice. In the case the ethical dilemma of Utilitarianism vs. Deontology appears.
  • Why Practicing Utilitarianism is Important Philosophy is an integral part of every person’s worldview and outlook on life which they espouse and through which they interpret various phenomena.
  • Does Utilitarianism Pose a Threat to Rights? Utilitarianism and rights can be juxtaposed, as utilitarianism denies the absolute nature of ethical rights and proclaims universal happiness as the only worthwhile goal.
  • Utilitarianism and Protection of People’s Rights Among criticisms targeted at the ethical theory of utilitarianism is one that states that it fails to protect people’s rights and freedoms.
  • Capital Punishment form Utilitarianism Perspective The admittance of capital punishment presents a controversial question these days, and multiple opinions are expressed on this topic.
  • Virtues, Utilitarianism, and Deontological Ethics In the paper, different outlooks on ethics and morality will be examined on the basis of virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological ethics.
  • Different Aspects of Utilitarianism This paper determines utilitarianism that refers to a theory, which teaches that the course of any action should be that which ensures pleasure.
  • Animal Exploitation and Utilitarianism The concept of animal welfare is connected to utilitarianism as the latter operates the notions of pleasure and pain of any animate beings.
  • The Main Risks of the Utilitarianism The Utilitarianism can be defined as the idea that maximizes or minimizes the preferences of utility. John Stuart Mill is a proponent of this theoryu
  • Utilitarianism as a Science of Society Utilitarianism is an ethical theory based on the idea that human actions should bring the best possible consequences.
  • Utilitarianism in the Ebola Controversy of 2014 This essay applies the principles of utilitarianism to the Ebola controversy of 2014 to evaluate their practicability.
  • Utilitarianism and Abortion: Mill’s Principle of Utility and Bentham’s Felicific Calculus The issue of abortion is often approached from spiritual or religious standpoints, and utilitarianism arguably has the potential to provide a refreshing perspective.
  • Utilitarianism: Moral Ideals and Practical Ethics Every person regularly has to make choices of the moral character. While the law clearly defines, what is right or wrong, life does not seem to be that uniform.
  • Utilitarianism Theory and Its Subtypes In general, utilitarianism is a theory in ethics that claims that the best actions are the ones that provide maximum utility.
  • “Utilitarianism” Essay by John Stuart Mill “Utilitarianism” by John Stuart Mill belongs to the number of the most famous works focusing on the role of utility in the life of any society.
  • Utilitarianism and Its Favorable Features The main distinctive feature of utilitarianism is its attempt to classify numerous acts, happiness and provide a credible rationale for this classification.
  • Utilitarianism: John Stuart Mill’s Philosophical Views Utilitarianism is about actions that make individuals happy. The paper studies notions of the greatest happiness, and explains why general happiness is desirable.
  • Utilitarianism vs. Cultural and Ethical Relativism
  • Kantian Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics
  • The Merits and Draw Backs of Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism and the Case for Euthanasia
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Pleasures Come Out of Utilitarianism
  • Discrimination and Affirmative Action and Their Connection to Utilitarianism and Deontological Concerns
  • Utilitarianism: For the Greater Good
  • Utilitarianism: Ethics and Contemporary Organizational Communication
  • Climate Policy Under Sustainable Discounted Utilitarianism
  • Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics
  • Utilitarianism: Pros and Cons
  • Understanding the Concept Behind the Contemporary Utilitarianism Theory
  • Difference Between Rule and Act Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism, Invariance Principles and the von Neumann-Morgenstern Hypothesis
  • The Mere Addition Paradox, Parity and Critical-Level Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism and the Role of Utility in Adam Smith
  • The Social and Ethical Movement of Utilitarianism
  • Rational Egoism vs. Utilitarianism
  • Act Utilitarianism and Its Moral Theory
  • Utilitarianism, Voting and the Redistribution of Income
  • Climate Change Economics and Discounted Utilitarianism
  • The Main Differences Between Act and Rule in Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism and Biomedical Ethics
  • Utilitarianism and Moral Justice
  • The Link Between Utilitarianism and Democracy
  • Utilitarianism and Social Contract Theory
  • John Gay and the Birth of Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism: Justice, Happiness, and Morality
  • The Golden Rule, Utilitarianism, and the Deontological
  • Utilitarianism and Aristotelian Virtue
  • Utilitarianism and Retributivism Views of Capital Punishment
  • Pro-Utilitarianism and Ethical Decision-Making
  • Utilitarianism With Prior Heterogeneity
  • Problems and Prospects for Utilitarianism
  • Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism
  • Wealth and Population Growth Under Dynamic Average Utilitarianism
  • Health Care and Utilitarianism
  • Act Utilitarianism and Justice
  • Utilitarianism and Utilitarian Theorists
  • Utilitarianism and Altruistic Acts
  • Government Surveillance From Perspective of Utilitarianism
  • Arguments Against Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism: The Conceptual Principle of Morality
  • John Stuart Mill Defending Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism Deontology Absolutist Duty Based Ethica System and Moderate
  • Social Justice, Utilitarianism, and Indigenous Australians
  • Utilitarianism: The Survival Lottery
  • Bernard Williams and Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism and Morality According to John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant
  • Difference Between Aristotelian Ethics and Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism Without Individual Utilities
  • Helvétius and the Problems of Utilitarianism
  • Rule Deontological Ethics vs. Rule Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism and Business Ethics
  • Hard Times and Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism and Social Corporate Responsibility
  • Utilitarianism, Egalitarianism, and the Timing Effect in Social Choice Problems
  • Act Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethical Theories in Business
  • Utilitarianism and the Objection of Individual Rights Philosophy
  • Ethical Theory, Utilitarianism and Kant’s Theory
  • Does Utilitarianism Violate Human Rights?
  • What Is the Difference Between Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Judge an Action if It Is Morally Right or Wrong?
  • Why Do People Reject Utilitarianism?
  • Is Utilitarianism a Good Ethical Theory?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Judge What Is Right or Wrong in Each Case?
  • What Is Utilitarianism Approach in Ethics?
  • Does Utilitarianism Provide a Helpful Method of Moral Decision Making?
  • What Is the Relation Between Suffering and Happiness in Utilitarianism?
  • How Does Peter Singer Use Utilitarianism?
  • Does Rule Utilitarianism Collapse Act Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Disadvantages of Utilitarianism?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Affect Healthcare Decision Making?
  • Can We Apply Utilitarianism in Our Daily Lives?
  • Why Is Jeremy Bentham Considered the Father of Utilitarianism?
  • Does Utilitarianism Fail to Preserve Human Rights?
  • How Successful Was J.S. Mill in Overcoming the Problems Associated With Bentham’s Utilitarianism?
  • What Is the Justice Objection to Utilitarianism?
  • Does Utilitarianism Have Good or Bad Effects on Business?
  • Is Democracy Based on Utilitarianism?
  • What Does John Stuart Mill Say About Utilitarianism?
  • How Is Utilitarianism Applied in Modern Times?
  • Does Utilitarianism Promote Immoral Behavior?
  • What Is the Difference Between Utilitarianism and Deontology?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Differ From Egoism?
  • Does Rule-Utilitarianism Solve the Problems Faced by Act-Utilitarianism?
  • What Is the Difference Between Bentham and Mill’s Version of Utilitarianism?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Define Morality?
  • Why Does Utilitarianism Disagree With Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • What Does Utilitarianism Mean in the Industrial Revolution?

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These essay examples and topics on Utilitarianism were carefully selected by the StudyCorgi editorial team. They meet our highest standards in terms of grammar, punctuation, style, and fact accuracy. Please ensure you properly reference the materials if you’re using them to write your assignment.

This essay topic collection was updated on January 9, 2024 .



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Discussion Questions

How does Mill define happiness and pleasure in “Utilitarianism? Does Mill refer to these experiences as the same thing?

Critics of utilitarianism contend that virtue is separate from utility or happiness. How does Mill respond to these critics? Does the idea of virtue contradict Mill’s Utility Principle?

Why does Mill believe it is impossible to provide direct proof for the Utility Principle? What is the proof that Mill does provide in Chapter 4 of “Utilitarianism”? How would you critique Mill’s proof?

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Arguments for Utilitarianism

Introduction: moral methodology & reflective equilibrium.

You cannot prove a moral theory. Whatever arguments you come up with, it is always possible for someone else to reject your premises—if they are willing to accept the costs of doing so. Different theories offer different advantages. This chapter will set out some of the major considerations that plausibly count in favor of utilitarianism. A complete view also needs to consider the costs of utilitarianism (or the advantages of its competitors), which is addressed in the chapter Objections to Utilitarianism . You can then reach an all-things-considered judgment as to which moral theory strikes you as overall best or most plausible.

To this end, moral philosophers typically use the methodology of reflective equilibrium . 1 This involves balancing two broad kinds of evidence as applied to moral theories:

  • Intuitions about specific cases (thought experiments).
  • General theoretical considerations, including the plausibility of the theory’s principles or systematic claims about what matters.

General principles can be challenged by coming up with putative counterexamples , or cases in which they give an intuitively incorrect verdict. In response to such putative counterexamples, we must weigh the force of the case-based intuition against the inherent plausibility of the principle being challenged. This could lead you to either revise the principle to accommodate your intuitions about cases or to reconsider your verdict about the specific case, if you judge the general principle to be better supported (especially if you are able to “explain away” the opposing intuition as resting on some implicit mistake or confusion).

As we will see, the arguments in favor of utilitarianism rest overwhelmingly on general theoretical considerations. Challenges to the view can take either form, but many of the most pressing objections involve thought experiments in which utilitarianism is held to yield counterintuitive verdicts.

There is no neutral, non-question-begging answer to how one ought to resolve such conflicts. 2 It takes judgment, and different people may be disposed to react in different ways depending on their philosophical temperament. As a general rule, those of a temperament that favors systematic theorizing are more likely to be drawn to utilitarianism ( and related views ), whereas those who hew close to common sense intuitions are less likely to be swayed by its theoretical virtues. Considering the arguments below may thus do more than just illuminate utilitarianism; it may also help you to discern your own philosophical temperament!

While our presentation focuses on utilitarianism, it is worth noting that many of the arguments below could also be taken to support other forms of welfarist consequentialism (just as many of the objections to utilitarianism also apply to these related views). This chapter explores arguments for utilitarianism and closely related views over non-consequentialist approaches to ethics.

What Fundamentally Matters

Moral theories serve to specify what fundamentally matters , and utilitarianism offers a particularly compelling answer to this question.

Almost anyone would agree with utilitarianism that suffering is bad, and well-being is good. What could be more obvious? If anything matters morally, human well-being surely does. And it would be arbitrary to limit moral concern to our own species, so we should instead conclude that well-being generally is what matters. That is, we ought to want the lives of sentient beings to go as well as possible (whether that ultimately comes down to maximizing happiness , desire satisfaction , or other welfare goods ).

Could anything else be more important? Such a suggestion can seem puzzling. Consider: it is (usually) wrong to steal. 3 But that is plausibly because stealing tends to be harmful , reducing people’s well-being. 4 By contrast, most people are open to redistributive taxation, if it allows governments to provide benefits that reliably raise the overall level of well-being in society. So it is not that individuals just have a natural right to not be interfered with no matter what. When judging institutional arrangements (such as property and tax law), we recognize that what matters is coming up with arrangements that tend to secure overall good results , and that the most important factor in what makes a result good is that it promotes well-being . 5

Such reasoning may justify viewing utilitarianism as the default starting point for moral theorizing. 6 If someone wants to claim that there is some other moral consideration that can override overall well-being (trumping the importance of saving lives, reducing suffering, and promoting flourishing), they face the challenge of explaining how that could possibly be so. Many common moral rules (like those that prohibit theft, lying, or breaking promises), while not explicitly utilitarian in content, nonetheless have a clear utilitarian rationale. If they did not generally promote well-being—but instead actively harmed people—it is hard to see what reason we would have to still want people to follow them. To follow and enforce harmful moral rules (such as rules prohibiting same-sex relationships) would seem like a kind of “rule worship”, and not truly ethical at all. 7

Similar judgments apply to hypothetical cases in which you somehow know for sure that a typically reliable rule is, in this particular instance, counterproductive. In the extreme case, we all recognize that you ought to lie or break a promise if lives are on the line. In practice, of course, the best way to achieve good results over the long run is to respect commonsense moral rules and virtues while seeking opportunities to help others. (It is important not to mistake the hypothetical verdicts utilitarianism offers in stylized thought experiments with the practical guidance it offers in real life .) The key point is just that utilitarianism offers a seemingly unbeatable answer to the question of what fundamentally matters : protecting and promoting the interests of all sentient beings to make the world as good as it can be.

The Veil of Ignorance

Humans are masters of self-deception and motivated reasoning. If something benefits us personally, it is all too easy to convince ourselves that it must be okay. We are also more easily swayed by the interests of more salient or sympathetic individuals (favoring puppies over pigs, for example). To correct for such biases, it can be helpful to force impartiality by imagining that you are looking down on the world from behind a “ veil of ignorance ”. This veil reveals the facts about each individual’s circumstances in society—their income, happiness level, preferences, etc.—and the effects that each choice would have on each person, while hiding from you the knowledge of which of these individuals you are . 8 To more fairly determine what ideally ought to be done , we may ask what everyone would have most personal reason to prefer from behind this veil of ignorance. If you’re equally likely to end up being anyone in the world, it would seem prudent to maximize overall well-being, just as utilitarianism prescribes. 9

It’s an interesting question how much weight we should give to the verdicts that would be chosen, on self-interested grounds, from behind the veil. The veil thought experiment serves to highlight how utilitarianism gives equal weight to everyone’s interests, in unbiased fashion. That is, utilitarianism is just what we get when we are beneficent to all : extending to everyone the kind of careful concern that prudent people have for their own interests. 10 But it may seem question-begging to those who reject welfarism , and so deny that interests are all that matter. For example, the veil thought experiment clearly doesn’t speak to the question of whether non-sentient life or natural beauty has intrinsic value. It is restricted to that sub-domain of morality that concerns what we owe to each other , where this includes just those individuals over whom our veil-induced uncertainty about our identity extends: presently existing sentient beings, perhaps. 11 Accordingly, any verdicts reached on the basis of the veil of ignorance will still need to be weighed against what we might yet owe to any excluded others (such as future generations, or non-welfarist values).

Still, in many contexts other factors will not be relevant, and the question of what we morally ought to do will reduce to the question of how we should treat each other. Many of the deepest disagreements between utilitarians and their critics concern precisely this question. And the veil of ignorance seems relevant here. The fact that some action is what everyone affected would personally prefer from behind the veil of ignorance seems to undermine critics’ claims that any individual has been mistreated by, or has grounds to complain about, that action.

Ex Ante Pareto

A Pareto improvement is better for some people, and worse for none. When outcomes are uncertain, we may instead assess the prospect associated with an action—the range of possible outcomes, weighted by their probabilities. A prospect can be assessed as better for you when it offers you greater well-being in expectation , or ex ante . 12 Putting these concepts together, we may formulate the following principle:

Ex ante Pareto: in a choice between two prospects, one is morally preferable to another if it offers a better prospect for some individuals and a worse prospect for none.

This bridge between personal value (or well-being) and moral assessment is further developed in economist John Harsanyi’s aggregation theorem. 13 But the underlying idea, that reasonable beneficence requires us to wish well to all , and prefer prospects that are in everyone’s ex ante interests, has also been defended and developed in more intuitive terms by philosophers. 14

A powerful objection to most non-utilitarian views is that they sometimes violate ex ante Pareto, such as when choosing policies from behind the veil of ignorance. Many rival views imply, absurdly, that prospect Y could be morally preferable to prospect X , even when Y is worse in expectation for everyone involved.

Caspar Hare illustrates the point with a Trolley case in which all six possible victims are stuffed inside suitcases: one is atop a footbridge, five are on the tracks below, and a train will hit and kill the five unless you topple the one on the footbridge (in which case the train will instead kill this one and then stop before reaching the others). 15 As the suitcases have recently been shuffled, nobody knows which position they are in. So, from each victim’s perspective, their prospects are best if you topple the one suitcase off the footbridge, increasing their chances of survival from 1/6 to 5/6. Given that this is in everyone’s ex ante interests, it’s deeply puzzling to think that it would be morally preferable to override this unanimous preference, shared by everyone involved, and instead let five of the six die; yet that is the implication of most non-utilitarian views. 16

Expanding the Moral Circle

When we look back on past moral atrocities—like slavery or denying women equal rights—we recognize that they were often sanctioned by the dominant societal norms at the time. The perpetrators of these atrocities were grievously wrong to exclude their victims from their “circle” of moral concern. 17 That is, they were wrong to be indifferent towards (or even delight in) their victims’ suffering. But such exclusion seemed normal to people at the time. So we should question whether we might likewise be blindly accepting of some practices that future generations will see as evil but that seem “normal” to us. 18 The best protection against making such an error ourselves would be to deliberately expand our moral concern outward, to include all sentient beings—anyone who can suffer—and so recognize that we have strong moral reasons to reduce suffering and promote well-being wherever we can, no matter who it is that is experiencing it.

While this conclusion is not yet all the way to full-blown utilitarianism, since it is compatible with, for example, holding that there are side-constraints limiting one’s pursuit of the good, it is likely sufficient to secure agreement with the most important practical implications of utilitarianism (stemming from cosmopolitanism , anti-speciesism , and longtermism ).

The Poverty of the Alternatives

We have seen that there is a strong presumptive case in favor of utilitarianism. If no competing view can be shown to be superior, then utilitarianism has a strong claim to be the “default” moral theory. In fact, one of the strongest considerations in favor of utilitarianism (and related consequentialist views) is the deficiencies of the alternatives. Deontological (or rule-based) theories, in particular, seem to rest on questionable foundations. 19

Deontological theories are explicitly non-consequentialist : instead of morally assessing actions by evaluating their consequences, these theories tend to take certain types of action (such as killing an innocent person) to be intrinsically wrong. 20 There are reasons to be dubious of this approach to ethics, however.

The Paradox of Deontology

Deontologists hold that there is a constraint against killing: that it is wrong to kill an innocent person even if this would save five other innocent people from being killed. This verdict can seem puzzling on its face. 21 After all, given how terrible killing is, should we not want there to be less of it? Rational choice in general tends to be goal-directed, a conception which fits poorly with deontic constraints. 22 A deontologist might claim that their goal is simply to avoid violating moral constraints themselves , which they can best achieve by not killing anyone, even if that results in more individuals being killed. While this explanation can render deontological verdicts coherent, it does so at the cost of making them seem awfully narcissistic, as though the deontologist’s central concern was just to maintain their own moral purity or “clean hands”.

Deontologists might push back against this characterization by instead insisting that moral action need not be goal-directed at all. 23 Rather than only seeking to promote value (or minimize harm), they claim that moral agents may sometimes be called upon to respect another’s value (by not harming them, even as a means to preventing greater harm to others), which would seem an appropriately outwardly-directed, non-narcissistic motivation.

Scheffler’s challenge remains that such a proposal makes moral norms puzzlingly divergent from other kinds of practical norms. If morality sometimes calls for respecting value rather than promoting it, why is the same not true of prudence? (Given that pain is bad for you, for example, it would not seem prudent to refuse a painful operation now if the refusal commits you to five comparably painful operations in future.) Deontologists may offer various answers to this question, but insofar as we are inclined to think, pre-theoretically, that ethics ought to be continuous with other forms of rational choice, that gives us some reason to prefer consequentialist accounts.

The Hope Objection

Impartial observers should want and hope for the best outcome. Non-consequentialists claim that nonetheless it is sometimes wrong to bring about the best outcome. Putting the two claims together yields the striking result that you should sometimes hope that others act wrongly.

Suppose it would be wrong for some stranger—call him Jack—to kill one innocent person to prevent five other (morally comparable) killings. Non-consequentialists may claim that Jack has a special responsibility to ensure that he does not kill anyone, even if this results in more killings by others. But you are not Jack. From your perspective as an impartial observer, Jack’s killing one innocent person is no more or less intrinsically bad than any of the five other killings that would thereby be prevented. You have most reason to hope that there is only one killing rather than five. So you have reason to hope that Jack acts “wrongly” (killing one to save five). But that seems odd.

More than merely being odd, this might even be taken to undermine the claim that deontic constraints matter , or are genuinely important to abide by. After all, to be important just is to be worth caring about. For example, we should care if others are harmed, which validates the claim that others’ interests are morally important. But if we should not care more about Jack’s abiding by the moral constraint against killing than we should about his saving five lives, that would seem to suggest that the constraint against killing is not in fact more morally important than saving five lives.

Finally, since our moral obligations ought to track what is genuinely morally important, if deontic constraints are not in fact important then we cannot be obligated to abide by them. 24 We cannot be obliged to prioritize deontic constraints over others’ lives, if we ought to care more about others’ lives than about deontic constraints. So deontic constraints must not accurately describe our obligations after all. Jack really ought to do whatever would do the most good overall, and so should we.

Skepticism About the Distinction Between Doing and Allowing

You might wonder: if respect for others requires not harming them (even to help others more), why does it not equally require not allowing them to be harmed? Deontological moral theories place great weight on distinctions such as those between doing and allowing harm , or killing and letting die, or intended versus merely foreseen harms. But why should these be treated so differently? If a victim ends up equally dead either way, whether they were killed or “merely” allowed to die would not seem to make much difference to them—surely what matters to them is just their death.

Indeed, it is far from clear that there is any robust distinction between “doing” and “allowing”. Sometimes you might “do” something by remaining perfectly still. 25 Also, when a doctor unplugs a terminal patient from life support machines, this is typically thought of as “letting die”; but if a mafioso, worried about an informant’s potentially incriminating testimony, snuck in to the hospital and unplugged the informant’s life support, we are more likely to judge it to constitute “killing”. 26 Bennett (1998) argues at length that there is no satisfactory, fully general distinction between doing and allowing—at least, none that would vindicate the moral significance that deontologists want to attribute to such a distinction. 27 If Bennett is right, then that might force us towards some form of consequentialism (such as utilitarianism) instead.

Status Quo Bias

Opposition to utilitarian trade-offs—that is, benefiting some at a lesser cost to others—arguably amounts to a kind of status quo bias, prioritizing the preservation of privilege over promoting well-being more generally.

Such conservatism might stem from the Just World fallacy: the mistake of assuming that the status quo is just, and that people naturally get what they deserve. Of course, reality offers no such guarantees of justice. What circumstances one is born into depends on sheer luck, including one’s endowment of physical and cognitive abilities which may pave the way for future success or failure. Thus, even later in life we never manage to fully wrest back control from the whimsies of fortune and, consequently, some people are vastly better off than others despite being no more deserving. In such cases, why should we not be willing to benefit one person at a lesser cost to privileged others? They have no special entitlement to the extra well-being that fortune has granted them. 28 Clearly, it is good for people to be well-off, and we certainly would not want to harm anyone unnecessarily. 29 However, if we can increase overall well-being by benefiting one person at the lesser cost to another, we should not refrain from doing so merely due to a prejudice in favor of the existing distribution. 30 It is easy to see why traditional elites would want to promote a “morality” which favors their entrenched interests. It is less clear why others should go along with such a distorted view of what (and who) matters.

It can similarly be argued that there is no real distinction between imposing harms and withholding benefits. The only difference between the two cases concerns what we understand to be the status quo, which lacks moral significance. Suppose scenario A is better for someone than B. Then to shift from A to B would be a “harm”, while to prevent a shift from B to A would be to “withhold a benefit”. But this is merely a descriptive difference. If we deny that the historically given starting point provides a morally privileged baseline, then we must say that the cost in either case is the same, namely the difference in well-being between A and B. In principle, it should not matter where we start from. 31

Now suppose that scenario B is vastly better for someone else than A is: perhaps it will save their life, at the cost of the first person’s arm. Nobody would think it okay to kill a person just to save another’s arm (that is, to shift from B to A). So if we are to avoid status quo bias, we must similarly judge that it would be wrong to oppose the shift from A to B—that is, we should not object to saving someone’s life at the cost of another’s arm. 32 We should not care especially about preserving the privilege of whoever stood to benefit by default; such conservatism is not truly fair or just. Instead, our goal should be to bring about whatever outcome would be best overall , counting everyone equally, just as utilitarianism prescribes.

Evolutionary Debunking Arguments

Against these powerful theoretical objections, the main consideration that deontological theories have going for them is closer conformity with our intuitions about particular cases. But if these intuitions cannot be supported by independently plausible principles, that may undermine their force—or suggest that we should interpret these intuitions as good rules of thumb for practical guidance, rather than as indicating what fundamentally matters.

The force of deontological intuitions may also be undermined if it can be demonstrated that they result from an unreliable process. For example, evolutionary processes may have endowed us with an emotional bias favoring those who look, speak, and behave like ourselves; this, however, offers no justification for discriminating against those unlike ourselves. Evolution is a blind, amoral process whose only “goal” is the propagation of genes, not the promotion of well-being or moral rightness. Our moral intuitions require scrutiny, especially in scenarios very different from our evolutionary environment. If we identify a moral intuition as stemming from our evolutionary ancestry, we may decide not to give much weight to it in our moral reasoning—the practice of evolutionary debunking . 33

Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer argue that views permitting partiality are especially susceptible to evolutionary debunking, whereas impartial views like utilitarianism are more likely to result from undistorted reasoning. 34 Joshua Greene offers a different psychological debunking argument. He argues that deontological judgments—for instance, in response to trolley cases —tend to stem from unreliable and inconsistent emotional responses, including our favoritism of identifiable over faceless victims and our aversion to harming someone up close rather than from afar. By contrast, utilitarian judgments involve the more deliberate application of widely respected moral principles. 35

Such debunking arguments raise worries about whether they “prove too much”: after all, the foundational moral judgment that pain is bad would itself seem emotionally-laden and susceptible to evolutionary explanation—physically vulnerable creatures would have powerful evolutionary reasons to want to avoid pain whether or not it was objectively bad, after all!

However, debunking arguments may be most applicable in cases where we feel that a principled explanation for the truth of the judgment is lacking. We do not tend to feel any such lack regarding the badness of pain—that is surely an intrinsically plausible judgment if anything is. Some intuitions may be over-determined : explicable both by evolutionary causes and by their rational merits. In such a case, we need not take the evolutionary explanation to undermine the judgment, because the judgment also results from a reliable process (namely, rationality). By contrast, deontological principles and partiality are far less self-evidently justified, and so may be considered more vulnerable to debunking. Once we have an explanation for these psychological intuitions that can explain why we would have them even if they were rationally baseless, we may be more justified in concluding that they are indeed rationally baseless.

As such, debunking objections are unlikely to change the mind of one who is drawn to the target view (or regards it as independently justified and defensible). But they may help to confirm the doubts of those who already felt there were some grounds for scepticism regarding the intrinsic merits of the target view.

Utilitarianism can be supported by several theoretical arguments, the strongest perhaps being its ability to capture what fundamentally matters . Its main competitors, by contrast, seem to rely on dubious distinctions—like “doing” vs. “allowing”—and built-in status quo bias. At least, that is how things are apt to look to one who is broadly sympathetic to a utilitarian approach. Given the flexibility inherent in reflective equilibrium, these arguments are unlikely to sway a committed opponent of the view. For those readers who find a utilitarian approach to ethics deeply unappealing, we hope that this chapter may at least help you to better understand what appeal others might see in the view.

However strong you judge the arguments in favor of utilitarianism to be, your ultimate verdict on the theory will also depend upon how well the view is able to counter the influential objections that critics have raised against it .

The next chapter discusses theories of well-being, or what counts as being good for an individual.

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Resources and Further Reading

  • John Broome (1987). Utilitarianism and Expected Utility , The Journal of Philosophy 84 (8): 405–422.
  • John Broome (1991). Weighing Goods: Equality, Uncertainty and Time . Blackwell.
  • Krister Bykvist (2010). Utilitarianism: A Guide for the Perplexed . Continuum.
  • Robert Goodin (1995). Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy . Cambridge University Press.
  • Caspar Hare (2016). Should We Wish Well to All? , Philosophical Review 125(4): 451–472.
  • John C. Harsanyi (1955). Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility , The Journal of Political Economy 63 (4): 309–321.
  • John C. Harsanyi (1977). Rational Behavior and Bargaining Equilibrium in Games and Social Situations . Cambridge University Press.
  • Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek & Peter Singer (2017). Chapter 2: Justifications, in Utilitarianism: A Very Short Introduction . Oxford University Press.
  • J.J.C. Smart (1973). An outline of a system of utilitarian ethics, in J.J.C. Smart & Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism: For and Against . Cambridge University Press.

Daniels, N. (2020). Reflective Equilibrium . The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Edward N. Zalta (ed.).  ↩︎

That is not to say that either answer is in fact equally good or correct, but just that you should expect it to be difficult to persuade those who respond to the conflicts in a different way than you do.  ↩︎

Of course, there may be exceptional circumstances in which stealing is overall beneficial and hence justified, for instance when stealing a loaf of bread is required to save a starving person’s life.  ↩︎

Here it is important to consider the indirect costs of reducing social trust, in addition to the obvious direct costs to the victim.  ↩︎

Compare our defense of aggregationism in chapter 2 , showing how, in practice, almost everyone endorses allowing sufficiently many small benefits to outweigh great costs to a few: “For example, allowing cars to drive fast on roads increases the number of people who die in accidents. Placing exceedingly low speed limits would save lives at the cost of inconveniencing many drivers. Most people demonstrate an implicit commitment to aggregationism when they judge it worse to impose these many inconveniences for the sake of saving a few lives.”

See also Goodin, R. (1995). Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy . Cambridge University Press.  ↩︎

Peter Singer argues, relatedly, that “we very swiftly arrive at an initially preference utilitarian position once we apply the universal aspect of ethics to simple, pre-ethical decision making.” (p.14)

Singer, P. (2011). Practical Ethics , 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press.  ↩︎

Smart, J.J.C. (1956). Extreme and restricted utilitarianism. The Philosophical Quarterly , 6(25): 344–354.  ↩︎

The “veil of ignorance” thought experiment was originally developed by Vickrey and Harsanyi, though nowadays it is more often associated with John Rawls, who coined the term and tweaked the thought experiment to arrive at different conclusions. Specifically, Rawls appealed to a version in which you are additionally ignorant of the relative probabilities of ending up in various positions, in order to block the utilitarian implications and argue instead for a “maximin” position that gives lexical priority to raising the well-being of the worst-off.

Vickrey, W. (1945). Measuring Marginal Utility by Reactions to Risk. Econometrica , 13(4): 329.

Harsanyi, J.C. (1953). Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking. Journal of Political Economy , 61(5): 434–435.

Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice . Belknap Press.  ↩︎

Harsanyi formalized his argument for utilitarianism in Harsanyi, J. (1978). Bayesian Decision Theory and Utilitarian Ethics . The American Economic Review , 68(2): 223–228.

For discussion about his proof, see Greaves, H. (2017). A Reconsideration of the Harsanyi–Sen–Weymark Debate on Utilitarianism . Utilitas , 29(2): 175–213.  ↩︎

Caspar Hare (2016). Should We Wish Well to All? Philosophical Review , 125(4): 451–472.  ↩︎

It’s notoriously unclear how to apply the veil of ignorance to “different number” cases in population ethics , for example. If the agent behind the veil is guaranteed to exist, it would naturally suggest the average view . If they might be a merely possible person, and so have some incentive to want more (happy) lives to get to exist, it would instead suggest the total view .  ↩︎

Ex post interests, by contrast, concern the actual outcomes that result. Interestingly, theories may combine ex post welfare evaluations with a broader “expectational” element. For example, ex post prioritarianism assigns extra social value to avoiding bad outcomes (rather than bad prospects ) for the worst off individuals, but can still assess prospects by their expected social value .  ↩︎

Harsanyi (1955, pp. 312–314; 1977, pp. 64–68), as reinterpreted by John Broome (1987, pp. 410–411; 1991, pp. 165, 202–209). For further explanation, keep an eye out for our forthcoming guest essay on Formal Arguments for Utilitarianism, by Johan E. Gustafsson & Kacper Kowalczyk, to appear at <www.utilitarianism.net/guest-essays/>.  ↩︎

For example: Hare, C. (2016). Should We Wish Well to All? Philosophical Review , 125(4): 451–472.  ↩︎

Hare, C. (2016). Should We Wish Well to All? Philosophical Review , 125(4): 451–472, pp. 454–455.  ↩︎

Hare (2016) discusses some philosophers’ grounds for skepticism about the moral significance of ex ante justifiability to all , and supports the principle with further arguments from presumed consent , dirty hands , and composition .  ↩︎

Singer, P. (2011). The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress . Princeton University Press.  ↩︎

Cf. Williams, E. G. (2015). The Possibility of an Ongoing Moral Catastrophe . Ethical Theory and Moral Practice , 18(5): 971–982.  ↩︎

The following arguments should also apply against virtue ethics approaches, if they yield non-consequentialist verdicts about what acts should be done.  ↩︎

Absolutist deontologists hold such judgments to apply no matter the consequences . Moderate deontologists instead take the identified actions to be presumptively wrong, and not easily outweighed, but allow that this may be outweighed if a sufficient amount of value was on the line. So, for example, a moderate deontologist might allow that it is permissible to lie in order to save someone’s life, or to kill one innocent person in order to save a million.  ↩︎

Samuel Scheffler noted that “either way, someone loses: some inviolable person is violated. Why isn’t it at least permissible to prevent the violation of five people by violating one?” (p. 88)

Scheffler, S. (1994). The Rejection of Consequentialism , revised edition. Oxford University Press.  ↩︎

Scheffler, S. (1985). Agent-Centred Restrictions, Rationality, and the Virtues . Mind , 94(375): 409–19.  ↩︎

See, e.g., Chappell, T. (2011). Intuition, System, and the “Paradox” of Deontology . In Jost, L. & Wuerth, J. (eds.), Perfecting Virtue: New Essays on Kantian Ethics and Virtue Ethics . Cambridge University Press, pp. 271–88.  ↩︎

It is open to the deontologist to insist that it should be more important to Jack , even if not to anyone else. But this violates the appealing idea that the moral point of view is impartial, yielding verdicts that reasonable observers (and not just the agent themselves) could agree upon.  ↩︎

For example, you might gaslight your spouse by remaining hidden in camouflage, when they could have sworn that you were just in the room with them. Or, as Foot (1978, 26) suggests, “An actor who fails to turn up for a performance will generally spoil it rather than allow it to be spoiled”.

Foot, P. (1978). The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect. In Virtues and Vices and Other Essays . University of California Press.  ↩︎

Beauchamp, T. (2020). Justifying Physician-Assisted Deaths. In LaFollette, H. (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (5th ed.), pp. 78–85.  ↩︎

Bennett, J. (1998). The Act Itself . Oxford University Press.  ↩︎

In a similar vein, Derek Parfit wrote that “Some of us ask how much of our wealth we rich people ought to give to these poorest people. But that question wrongly assumes that our wealth is ours to give. This wealth is legally ours. But these poorest people have much stronger moral claims to some of this wealth. We ought to transfer to these people… at least ten per cent of what we earn”.

Parfit, D. (2017). On What Matters, Volume Three . Oxford University Press, pp. 436–37.  ↩︎

On the topic of sacrifice, John Stuart Mill wrote that “The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted.”

Mill, J. S. (1863). Chapter 2: What Utilitarianism Is , Utilitarianism .  ↩︎

However, this does not mean that utilitarianism will strive for perfect equality in material outcomes or even well-being. Joshua Greene notes that “a world in which everyone gets the same outcome no matter what they do is an idle world in which people have little incentive to do anything. Thus, the way to maximize happiness is not to decree that everyone gets to be equally happy, but to encourage people to behave in ways that maximize happiness. When we measure our moral success, we count everyone’s happiness equally, but achieving success almost certainly involves inequality of both material wealth and happiness. Such inequality is not ideal, but it’s justified on the grounds that, without it, things would be worse overall.

Greene, J. (2013). Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them . Penguin Press, p. 163. See also: The Equality Objection to Utilitarianism .  ↩︎

In practice, the psychological phenomenon of loss aversion means that someone may feel more upset by what they perceive as a “loss” rather than a mere “failure to benefit”. Such negative feelings may further reduce their well-being, turning the judgment that “loss is worse” into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But this depends on contingent psychological phenomena generating extra harms; it is not that the loss is in itself worse.  ↩︎

Bostrom, N. & Ord, T. (2006). The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics . Ethics , 116(4): 656–679.  ↩︎

There are other types of debunking arguments not grounded in evolution. Consider that in most Western societies Christianity was the dominant religion for over one thousand years, which explains why moral intuitions grounded in Christian morality are still widespread. For instance, many devout Christians have strong moral intuitions about sexual intercourse, which non-Christians do not typically share, such as the intuition that it is wrong to have sex before marriage or that is wrong for two men to have sex. The discourse among academics in moral philosophy generally disregards such religiously-contingent moral intuitions. Many philosophers, including most utilitarians, would therefore not give much weight to the Christian’s intuitions about sexual intercourse.  ↩︎

de Lazari-Radek, K. & Singer, P. (2012). The Objectivity of Ethics and the Unity of Practical Reason . Ethics, 123(1): 9–31.  ↩︎

Greene, J. (2007). The secret joke of Kant’s soul . In Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 3 . MIT Press.  ↩︎

A Level Philosophy & Religious Studies


This page: full notes      a* summary notes       c/b summary notes, bentham’s act utilitarianism.

Jeremy Bentham invented the first form of Utilitarianism – Act utilitarianism. He was one of the first atheist philosophers and wanted to devise a morality that would reflect an atheistic understanding of what it meant to be human. Such an understanding involved no longer considering ourselves as a special part of creation, but as just a part of nature. On this basis, Bentham made this claim:

“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure’” – Bentham.

This means that it is human nature to find pleasure good and pain bad, which Bentham goes on claim suggests that it is pleasure and pain which determine what we ought to do as well as what we will do. We can say that we value something other than pleasure, but Bentham claims we would just be pretending. It is the nature of the human animal to seek pleasure and avoid pain, so that’s all there is for morality to be about. From this, Bentham devised the principle of utility:

An action is good if it leads to the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethical theory because it is what an action “leads to”, i.e. its consequences, that determines whether it is good.

Bentham’s felicific/hedonic calculus

The principle of utility holds that the ‘greatest’ pleasure is the goal of ethical action. It follows that a method for measuring pleasure is required. Bentham devised the hedonic calculus to do this. It is a list of seven criteria which each measure a different aspect of the pleasurable consequences of an action. In order to decide which action to do, you need to know in advance which action will result in the greater amount of pleasure. The hedonic calculus is what allows you to calculate that.

  • How strong the pleasure is.
  • How long the pleasure lasts.
  • How likely it is that the pleasure will occur.
  • How far away in time the pleasure will occur.
  • The likelihood that the pleasure will lead to further pleasure.
  • The likelihood that the pleasure will be followed by pain.
  • How many people are affected.

Mill’s qualitative Utilitarianism; higher & lower pleasures

The claim of Utilitarianism, that the morality of an action reduces entirely to how far it maximises pleasure, provoked many to criticise it for degrading morality and humanity; that it is a “doctrine worthy only of swine”.

Mill combated this objection by distinguishing between lower pleasures gained from bodily activity, such as food, sex and drugs, and higher pleasures gained from mental activity, such as poetry, reading, philosophy, music. Swine are not capable of experiencing higher pleasures, so to combat this objection Utilitarianism need only show that higher pleasures are superior to the lower.

Mill points out that Utilitarian thinkers had already successfully defended against this issue by showing that higher pleasures are overall superior at producing a greater quantity of happiness than lower. Lower pleasures are fleeting, lasting only for the duration of the action that produce them. Furthermore, lower pleasures are costly because they are addictive and tempt people to choose instant gratification, or what Mill calls a ‘nearer good’ over greater goods like health, for example by consuming sugar or drinking alcohol. Higher pleasures of the mind have no such ill effects and can have a lasting enlightening effect on a mind which has cultivated a habit of appreciating them.

Bentham claimed that all pleasures were equal, that the pleasure gained from poetry is just as valuable as that gained from playing pushpin (a children’s game). Yet even Bentham’s quantitative approach will judge higher pleasures superior for tending to produce more durable pleasure with less cost than lower pleasures.

However, Mill goes further than Bentham and claims that the superiority of higher pleasures can be proven not only on quantitative grounds, but a ‘higher ground’ than that, their superior quality.

“It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others” – Mill

Higher pleasures are of greater quality than lower pleasures. That is why they are worth more. We can determine whether a pleasure is of greater quality than another based on which is preferred over the other. Through education in the collective experience and choices of humanity we can discover which pleasures are desired over others.

‘Competent judges’ are people with experience of both higher and lower pleasures. Mill claims they always prefer higher pleasures to lower pleasures, thus demonstrating their greater quality. Mill now has his full answer to those who say Utilitarianism is a doctrine fit only for swine:

“it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides” – Mill.

Humans can experience mental pleasures of a higher quality than the low pleasures that both humans and pigs can experience. Socrates illustrates that some humans can experience mental pleasures of a higher quality than other humans. Mill’s claim is that when we investigate such cases, we find that beings prefer the highest mental pleasure they are capable of experiencing over lower pleasures. In fact, people acquainted with both higher and lower pleasures show such a great preference for the higher that they will put up with discontent to get them and would not lose it even for any quantity of a lower pleasure. Mill concludes:

“we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account” – Mill.

When we study what types of pleasure are preferred over others by those with the capacity to experience many types, we find that it is those higher pleasures of the mind that are preferred and are often pursued while sacrificing comfort. We can thus conclude of their greater quality.

For example, consider the case of an artist who suffers from financial deprivation to produce their art. A piano player who arduously wades through hours of practice to finally experience the pleasure of playing some composition of genius. A student who avoids short-term pleasures and indolence by diligently studying for their exams, to avoid a monotonous life and pursue the pleasure that comes from development, exercise and eventual mastery of their interests and talents.

Many will object to Mill’s claim that a person who can and has experienced higher pleasures will always prefer them to lower ones. There are plenty of times when mentally cultivated people will occasionally give in to instant gratification or even sink into complete addiction to lower pleasures.

However, Mill responds that this objection misunderstands his argument. Everyone prefers the highest pleasures they have been able to experience, but it doesn’t follow that everyone always chooses them over lower ones. The ability to experience higher pleasures requires careful cultivation which is easily lost, either due to falling into addiction, weakness of will/character, external pressures or lack of internal support.

“Capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has thrown them, are not favourable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise. Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have not time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying.” – Mill.

Rule Utilitarianism

Generic Rule Utilitarianism adds the idea of following rules to the principle of utility. So, an action is good if it conforms to a rule which maximises happiness.

We need to determine whether following a rule, e.g., like not lying, will promote more happiness than not following it. If so, then following that rule is good.

This then typically splits into strong and weak rule Utilitarianism. Strong Utilitarianism is the view that the rules should be stuck to no matter the situation. Weak Utilitarianism is the view that the rules can be broken if it maximises happiness to do so.

Strong Rule Utilitarianism is typically criticised for simply becoming deontological, for abandoning the principle of utility and its consequentialism and becoming an empty deontological theory that follows rules for no good reasons, having abandoned its own supposed meta-ethical grounding.

Weak Rule Utilitarianism is typically criticised for in effect reducing into act utilitarianism, since they would judge every action the same. If following a rule such as telling the truth maximises happiness in a situation, then both Act and weak Rule would say to tell the truth. If breaking the rule and lying maximises happiness in a situation, then both act and weak rule would say to lie.

Mill’s Rule Utilitarianism

Mill’s version of Rule Utilitarianism was an attempt to improve on Bentham’s and arguably also avoids the issues of the strong and weak varieties.

The principle of Utility holds that the goal of moral action is to maximise happiness. Mill says he “entirely” agrees with Bentham’s principle of Utility, that what makes an action good is the degree to which it promotes happiness over suffering. Mill calls this the principle of Utility the ‘first principle’.

However, Mill disagreed with Bentham’s approach of judging every action by the principle of utility. Mill claimed that happiness is ‘much too complex and indefinite a goal’ for that.

“Although I entirely agree with Bentham in his principle, I do not agree with him that all right thinking on the details of morals depends on its explicit assertion. I think that utility or happiness is much too complex and indefinite a goal to be sought except through various intermediate goals” – Mill.

This is an attempt to solve the issue of calculation. It is extremely difficult to calculate which action will maximise happiness. Even though that is what constitutes the moral rightness of an action, nonetheless because of our limited knowledge our actual moral obligation is to follow whatever secondary principles humanity’s current level of understanding has produced regarding how to gain happiness and minimise suffering. We can draw on the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of our species on what avoids suffering and produces satisfaction and happiness.

This gives us ‘secondary principles’ which are more general rules and guidelines. These are the product of our civilisation’s current best attempt to understand how to produce happiness. They are therefore subject to improvement. As particularly obvious examples, Mill points to murder and theft as being injurious to human happiness.

Another secondary principle Mill thought important enough to be adopted as the practice of government was the harm principle. It essentially states that people should be free to do what they want so long as they aren’t harming others. Mill argued that each individual is in the best position to make themselves happy and so if we all allowed each other to do what made us happy, society would overall be the happiest it could be.

Of course, secondary principles will sometimes conflict. Another secondary principle could be helping others. In the case of the trolly problem, where killing one person is the only way to save five people, the harm principle conflicts with the principle of helping others. In the case of theft, which is a harm, if it is the only way to save a starving family then the secondary principles of not harming and not stealing come into conflict. Mill explains that to resolve conflicts we need to apply the first principle:

“ Those who adopt utility as a standard can seldom apply it truly except through the secondary principles … It is when two or more secondary principles conflict that a direct appeal to some first principle becomes necessary” – Mill

If we appeal to the first principle of utility, it looks like we should steal to save starving people or inflict harm (to the point of killing) by pulling the leaver in the trolly problem, to save five people.

It’s debated whether Mill is a Rule Utilitarian. He clearly thinks that it is morally right to do an action that conforms to a rule which experience has shown to maximise happiness. However, Mill clearly also thinks that sometimes individual actions should be judged to resolve a conflict or applicability issue in rules/principles. Arguably the question of how exactly to categorise Mill is irrelevant and we could simply conclude that Mill’s Utilitarianism is the perfect synthesis of Act and Rule Utilitarianism. It does avoid the problem of generic Rule Utilitarianism, that it either becomes a meta-ethically empty deontological theory or collapses back into Act Utilitarianism.

Criticisms of Utilitarianism

Problems with calculation.

Utilitarianism seems to require:

  • That we know can the future.

If the goodness of an action depends on whether it maximises pleasure, then we need to know the consequences of the action before we do it. That seems to require that we know the future. Yet, predicting the future is often incredibly difficult.

Worse, we need to know not only the consequences of an action, but of all the possible actions we could do in a situation.

  • That we can make incredibly complex calculations about the range of possible actions, sometimes under time-constraints.

Once we know the consequences of all the actions we could do, we then need to calculate the impact they will have on pleasure and pain. Not just in the short, but in the long-term. Worse, we might need to make these calculations in time-sensitive situations.

  • That these calculations include the objective measuring of subjective mental states like pleasure and pain.

We can only make objective measurements of objective things. For example we can measure a thing’s length by putting a tape measure next to it. The calculations about the amount of pleasure and pain an action will lead to require that we measure subjective feelings, which seems impossible. There is no objective way to measure subjective feelings because we can’t put a ruler next to them.

All three of these conditions are plagued with difficulty, and yet each seems absolutely necessary if we are act on the principle of utility.

Bentham’s response to issues with calculation. Bentham claims that an action is right regarding “the tendency which it appears to have” to maximise happiness. So, we actually only need to have a reasonable expectation of what the consequences will be based on how similar actions have tended to turn out in the past.

To further defend Bentham, we could argue that we can measure subjective feelings. In hospital, doctors ask patients how much pain they are in out of 10. Doctors will admit that this is never a perfect indicator, but it is accurate enough to be informative.

Mill’s response to issues with calculation. Mill’s version of Utilitarianism seems to avoid these issues regarding calculation. We do not need to know the future, nor make incredibly complex calculations, nor measure subjective feelings. We only need to know the secondary principles that our civilisation has, through its collective efforts and experience, judged to be those best conducive to happiness. We then need to simply follow those principles as best we can. For Mill, the moral rightness of an action depends on maximise happiness, but because of the immense complexity of that, our only moral obligation is to just do our best to follow the principles geared towards producing happiness of our society, which are themselves only the best current principle that our current stage of civilisation and culture has managed to develop.

Mill is admitting that to perfectly act on the principle of utility is currently impossible. However, he denies that this means Utilitarianism fails in its requirement as a normative theory to successfully guide action. For that, Utilitarianism can rely on the principles and rules that, to the best of our current knowledge, most produce happiness. Society also ought to be progressive, meaning it should retrospectively assess and improve its principles and rules. This works well enough and in principle can continue to work better as we discover more, biologically, psychologically, sociologically and politically how to maximise happiness.

In cases of a conflict of rules, Mill adopts the same approach as Bentham and says we must judge the individual action by the principle of utility, though Mill adds that we should consider the quality not only quantity of the pleasure it could produce. He agrees with Bentham’s point that when judging individual actions, we can base our calculations on what we know of the ‘tendencies’ actions have. We do not need to exactly predict their consequences.

Regarding how to calculate or measure the quality of a pleasure, Mill explains that we need only investigate people’s preferences and we see that people always prefer higher pleasures to lower ones, except when falling into addiction or weakness of character.

Mill’s response to issues with calculation is quite amusing in how dismissive he is, so I’ve been tempted to quote part of it in full:

“Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this—that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. The answer to the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time, mankind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which experience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life, are dependent … Men really ought to leave off talking a kind of nonsense on this subject, which they would neither talk nor listen to on other matters of practical concernment. Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not founded on astronomy, because sailors cannot wait to calculate the Nautical Almanack. Being rational creatures, they go to sea with it ready calculated; and all rational creatures go out upon the sea of life with their minds made up on the common questions of right and wrong” – Mill.

Utilitarianism justifies bad actions and is against human rights

The moral basis of human rights is deontological because human rights are intrinsically good. This seems incompatible with consequentialist ethics like Utilitarianism, which argue that something is only good not because of anything intrinsic but depending on whether it leads to happiness. So, Utilitarianism could never say ‘X is wrong’ or ‘X is right’. They can only say that ‘X is right/wrong if it leads to/doesn’t lead to – the greatest happiness for the greatest number’. In that case they couldn’t say ‘torture is wrong’. In fact, if 10 people gained happiness from torturing one person, a Utilitarian it seems would have to say that was morally right as it led to the greatest happiness for the greatest number. When a majority of people decide, for their benefit, to gang up on a minority, that is called the tyranny of the majority.

Bentham didn’t accept that his theory had this consequence. In a case like 10 torturers gaining pleasure from torturing one person, that is certainly more pleasure than pain – but Bentham’s theory is not simply about producing more pleasure than pain. It is about maximising pleasure. An action is good if it maximises pleasure, meaning if it is the action which produces the maximum amount of pleasure possible. The action of allowing torture produces less pleasure than the action which finds a way to make everyone happy – not just the torturers.

However, what if, since we have limited resources, the best action we can possibly do is not one which enables everyone to be happy? In that situation, which does seem to be our actual situation, it looks like the logic of Bentham’s theory would justify the sacrifice of the well-being or even deliberate infliction of pain on some minority of the sake of the pleasure of the majority.

Mill’s Rule utilitarianism attempts to solve those kinds of issues too. The rule of the harm principle will result in a happier society than one which doesn’t. Since torture is harm, Mill’s utilitarianism can overrule individual cases where torture might result in happiness. Mill does not believe in rights. He thinks that everyone should be free to do whatever they want except harm others. The justification for this freedom from harm is not that people have a ‘right’ to be unharmed, but that it is for the greatest happiness for the greatest number that we live without harming each other. So, while Mill doesn’t believe in intrinsic rights, he proposes rules which seem identical to rights in their ethical outcome. Arguably that is sufficient.

It’s questionable whether Mill’s harm principle really is what would make people happiest. Arguably individuals are not in the best position to figure out and follow through on what will make them happy. This can be seen by the various mistakes and bad life choices people make when trying to achieve happiness.

Many argue that the problem with secular society is that people have become selfishly focused on their own happiness. The hyper-individualism that comes from capitalism and the oversexualisation of western culture are argued to be the result of Mill’s liberalism and his utopian belief that individuals best know how to make themselves happy.

Mill was writing in a time when religion and culture created a huge pressure of social conformity. Mill thought that because people were actually so different, each person would be much better off trying figure out what made them happy than if they were forced to behave the way others might prefer.

The issue of intentions and character

  Utilitarianism only views the consequences of actions as good, not the character (integrity) of the person who performs them. This goes against the intuition that a person can be a good person. It also has the bizarre effect that e.g stabbing someone could be good if after being rushed to hospital it was found, coincidentally, they had a brain tumour. Or someone who attempts to do good but bad consequences result which were unforeseeable, such as the priest who saved Hitler’s life when he was a child. The way we’d normally solve this problem is to claim that although the action had good consequences, the person’s intentions or character was bad. However, consequentialist theories seem unable to claim that because for them, it is only consequences which are good or bad, not intentions/character.

Mill responds firstly that a person’s character does matter because it will determine their future actions. The stabber should be condemned for his motive because that will prevent them stabbing others in future. The priest should be forgiven because he’s not likely to do anything bad in the future as his character is good. Secondly, Mill argues that having a good character helps you become happy. Motives and character therefore do matter ethically, though not intrinsically but only insofar as they result in good consequences, in line with consequentialism.

Kant vs consequentialism

If a Nazi asked whether we were hiding Jews and we were, it seems Kant is committed to the view that it’s wrong to lie. That seems to go against most people’s moral intuitions because of the obvious terrible consequences to telling the truth in that situation. This puts Kant at odds with consequentialist theories like Utilitarianism.

Kant could respond that each person is ultimately responsible for what they do. As a rational agent, you are responsible for what you do, and the Nazi is responsible for what they do. Lying to prevent the Nazi from killing is to act as if you were responsible for the Nazi’s action, but you are not. You are responsible for what you do, and so you should not lie.

Kant points out that we cannot control consequences in the example of the murderer at the door. If we lied about where the victim was, yet unknown to us the victim had actually moved there, then we would be responsible for their death. So Kant is arguing that we cannot control consequences and thus cannot be responsible for them. So, they cannot be part of our moral equation.

Arguably we are responsible for what others do. Kant pictures a human being as a rational agent who is ultimately an individual, responsible only for what they do. This arguably overlooks the fact that we exist in complex webs of social influence such that part of who we are depends on our interactions with other people. We exist in deep connection to other people and thus to that extent are in fact responsible for each other’s actions.

Furthermore, just because we can’t control consequences completely, does that mean they don’t matter ethically? Also, consequentialism isn’t arguing we can completely control the consequences, just that we should consider them when acting. Furthermore, we can control consequences to a degree. Shouldn’t we therefore be responsible for them to that degree?

The issue of partiality

Utilitarianism argues that we should do whatever action leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. It does not consider an individual’s particular emotional ties to their family or friends as relevant to that ethical calculation. E.g most parents would save their child’s life over the life of two random people. However, Utilitarianism would not regard that as the most moral action as saving two rather than one would lead to the greatest happiness. Therefore, Utilitarianism seems to be against the foundation of familial relationships which is at least a practical impediment to its implantability because family relationships define so much of our social existence. It is arguably also a conceptual flaw since family is intuitively thought of as a good thing.

Mill tried to respond that most people don’t have the opportunity to help a multitude of people so it’s good to just focus on those in our lives.

However, these days we have extensive charities all over the world so Mill’s argument seems outdated.

Peter Singer makes the point that being brought up in a loving family is the best way to ensure children grow up to be as happy as they can. Singer points out that there have been experiments at bringing up children without parents and that they haven’t worked out well. So, if no one had a family, people would be much less happy therefore perhaps the happiness we gain from family is worth the unhappiness caused by our exclusion from our consideration of those who are not our family.

But, if you think about how much parents in the west spend on their children, if half that money were given to charity instead, actually the amount of suffering that reduced might outweigh the happiness the world gains by its having family relationships.

The burning building

If you were in a burning building and had a choice between saving a child and an expensive painting, which would you choose? Most people on first hearing this scenario would say the child, but utility based ethics seems to suggest that saving the painting is better because we could sell the paining for enough money to save the life of a hundred children. Giles Fraser argues that saving the painting suggests a lack of sympathy for the child and thus Utilitarianism encourages us to be immoral.

William MacAskill responds that actually saving the painting suggests a more cultivated sympathy which is able to connect to the many more children elsewhere who are in just as much need of saving and outnumber the single child there now. Their needs are greater than the individual needs of the one child.

Arguably it is practically impossible to expect people to act in the way utilitarianism wants, even if we admitted it was right in theory. Human emotions, especially empathy, are thus a practical impediment to the implementation of utilitarianism.

Possible exam questions for Utilitarianism

Easy Does utilitarianism provide a helpful method of moral decision-making? Can moral judgement be based on the extent to which, in any given situation, utility is best served?

Medium Is it possible to measure good or pleasure and then reach a moral decision? “The moral action is the one which has the greatest balance of pleasure over pain” – Discuss. Is moral action a matter of following accepted laws that lead to the greatest balance of pleasure over pain? Is an action morally justified if it produces the greatest amount of good over evil? Assess whether rule utilitarianism successfully improves on act utilitarianism. Critically compare act and rule utilitarianism

Hard How morally valid is the hedonic calculus? “Morality is not based on utility” – Discuss. Should Utilitarianism aim to promote the greatest overall balance of good over evil or the greatest amount of good over evil?

Quick links

Year 12 ethics topics: Natural Law. Situation ethics. Kantian ethics. Utilitarianism. Euthanasia. Business ethics. 

Year 13 ethics topics: Meta-ethics. Conscience. Sexual ethics. 

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Utilitarianism Theory Essay

Utilitarianism is an ethical movement that began in 18th century. It dictates that the best course of action is the one that benefits majority. Here, you will discover an essay about utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism theory argues that the consequence of an action determines whether that particular action is morally right or wrong. Philosophers behind this theory include Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, R.M. Hare and Peter Singer. All these philosophers evaluate morality of actions depending on overall happiness or well-being. Thus, they see utilitarianism as a consequentialist ethic.

Consequentialist ethics holds that in determining whether an act, policy, rule or motive is morally right, we should check whether it has good consequences for all affected persons. Rather than asking if an action has good consequences for a person, we should just inquire whether that action adds to the person’s happiness.

Therefore, utilitarianism is an ethical theory that centers on happiness, not just the happiness of one person, but happiness of many people. Thus, the greatest happiness principle is synonymous with the principle of utility. The principle of greatest happiness states that a person should do things that will have the most happiness for all involved persons.

Critics of utilitarian ethics argue that because utilitarianism emphasizes on results, utilitarian theorists should agree that the theory of ethical relativism solves the problem of relativism. These critics claim that since utilitarian theorists argue that morality of an action depends on what the product of the action will take to all affected persons, then almost every action is moral. That is to say, utilitarianism is a consequentialistic ethic and thus, we cannot know whether an action is immoral until we see its bad consequences.

Given that, utilitarian ethics in some ways holds morality of an action hostage to the result, morality of the action appears relative. However, we refute ethical relativism since utilitarian ethics is a type of universalism, given its grounds in trust in universal human nature. Utilitarian theorists say that all people have altruistic and egoistic elements, and all people seek to evade pain and augment pleasure. Then, instead of ethical relativism, they support a liberal ethics that acknowledges there are universal principles and values.

The utilitarian perspective that ethics is more inclined to our feelings and not our rationality may seem to give evidence that utilitarianism is a type of relativism. Obviously, people have different outlooks about different matters. However, description of ethics may not always be from this perspective. Think about a cruel act such as premeditated murder.

How comes that this act immoral? Is it due to societal, divine, or natural laws? The truth is that human beings cannot make the moral judgment that premeditated murder is immoral until they experience negative sentiments about such acts. If there are human beings who do not get negative sentiments after reflecting on the idea of premeditated murder, or other monstrous acts, it is because those persons have something wrong with them and thus, cannot feel others pain.

Desensitization is the contemporary psychological word that describes why some people may not have feeling for the pain of others. People become desensitized making them not feel others pain. This psychological thought matches perfectly well with the utilitarian idea of sentience. However, human nature is universal and a universal ethics rests upon nothing more than human sentiments.

At the center of the utilitarian argument that shifts from the concern we physically have for our personal feelings of pain and pleasure, to others feelings of pain and pleasure, is the belief that this is the nature of human beings. When we hear about calamities happening to others, we may find ourselves flinching or grimacing. However, to go from a claim about our human nature to a moral claim that we ought to do this, and it is correct that we do this, and wrong when we fail to do this, includes an extra step in the argument.

The crucial step is to ask ourselves whether there is actually a difference between our pains and joys and other peoples’ pains and joys. This, for instance, is a problem to any racist. If dissimilar races experience equal pleasures and pains, then how come one race sees itself as superior to another race? If there is actually no difference between our pains and pleasures with others pains and pleasures, then we ought to, just due to consistency, view their suffering as just as significant as ours.

This is the heart of the justification of the theory of utility; we should do what will have the best outcomes for all persons involved, not only for ourselves, since there actually is no significant difference involving our welfare and other people’s welfare.

It is clear that equality is a main concept involved in this reasoning. A different way to portray the central utilitarian concept is just to say humans are equal; your pain or happiness is equal to another person’s anguish or happiness. However, another person’s happiness, well-being, suffering, pleasure and pain are not more crucial than yours. Hence, considering ethics along utilitarian line takes us from egoism through altruism to equality.

Other critics of utilitarianism argue that it is difficult and impossible to apply its principles. Those that hold that it is difficult to apply utilitarian principles argue that calculating the outcomes for all persons is impractical due to uncertainty and the big number involved. The truth, however, is that utilitarianism offers a clear way of determining whether an action is moral or not, and this does not involve calculations.

As mentioned earlier, a morally right action should have pleasurable consequences. Therefore, a person who says that it is difficult to apply this theory should support his/her claims with examples of actions that produce pleasurable outcomes, but are wrong. Therefore, the argument that it is difficult to calculate what is right does not hold any water, since it has no harm to the principle of utility. Rather, this is a problem of the human condition.

Other critics that oppose the application of utilitarian principles argue that it is not possible to gauge or quantify happiness and there is no defined method of weighing happiness against suffering. However, the truth is that happiness is measurable and comparable through words like happier and happiest. If it were not measurable, then these words would have little meaning.

In conclusion, the theory of utilitarianism is sound, logical and consistent. Utilitarian ethics follow the law of greatest happiness. According to this law, human beings seek to decrease suffering and maximize happiness. Hence, an action that is correct morally must lead to the greatest possible pleasure. This also implies that actions that cause pain on human beings are morally wrong. As seen in the arguments above, this theory is beyond reproach, as it caters for all possible objections.

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Essay Samples on Utilitarianism

Beneficence and nonmaleficence: the main principles of utilitarianism.

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Deontology Or Utilitarianism: The Debate On Ethics

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Utilitarianism And Kantianism: Kant's Stance On Metaphysics

John Mill’s Utilitarianism and Immanuel Kant's Major Standard of the Metaphysic of Profound quality shows the two scholar's dissimilar perspectives in accordance to good principle. Mill's Utilitarianism is an increasingly sophisticated principled attitude contrasted with Kant's analysis of the power and its utilization in demonstrating...

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Utilitarianism Versus Kantianism: Two Branches Of Philosophy

A decent measure of individuals will in general overlook that Utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism, an excessive amount of delight is certainly not something to be thankful for ethically as per Mills. The hypothesis of utilitarianism proposes the best great or bliss guideline. An...

Separate Argumentation On Deontology And Utilitarianism

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The Main Goal And Purpose Of Utilitarianism And Virtue Ethics

Act-utilitarianism and virtue ethics are two philosophic theories that have the common goal of happiness. Both theories have a purpose, and they can be used to guide our life based on our actions. Even though these two philosophic ideas were created with good intentions to...

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John Stuart Mill's Utilitarian Approach on Liberty in His Just Society Theory

John Stuart Mill was someone who thinks a lot about how people think, political scientist, money-flow expert, and government worker. His way of thinking was strongly influenced by usefulness which hugged and supported as a basic lesson rule and way of thinking’’ the greatest good...

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Comparison of the Act and Rule Types of Utilitarianism, Their Strengths and Weaknesses

Utilitarianism hypothesis explains the scope of Liberty and Freedom for the individuals under a state's authority. Utilitarianism focuses on the rights of individuals versus other rights and is a form of justice. There are two types of Utilitarianism which are Act and Rule. Act Utilitarianism...

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Consideration of Deontology and Utilitarianism in the Off-Duty Police Work

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The Morality of Physician Assisted Suicide in Belgium

The assignment reflects in fact that although there is no such thing like death penalty in Belgium but there is a rule allowing physician assisted suicide. So, current assignment focusses on the issue whether it is ethical to give a person such a assisted suicide...

The Morality of Utilitarian Society

Introduction First introduced by the philosopher and moral thinker John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism is a derivation off of a normative ethical theory known as consequentialism. Mill applies this form of consequentialist theory to correctly evaluate and answer the moral question of what are right and...

Analysis of John Stuart Mill's Idea of Utilitarianism

The question that this essay is attempting to answer is an extremely significant question in the research of how individuals should derive their moral decisions. This is because if John Stuart Mill is correct in his belief that actions are morally right when they produce...

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Critical Analysis of Jeremy Bentham's Philosophy of Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham is a famous English political radical and philosopher. Among his philosophical works, the most well-known is the concept of utilitarianism in which the acts and actions are assessed based on the potential outcomes and consequences (Stanford Encyclopedia, 2019). The most aspired result or...

Advantages and Disadvantages of Jeremy Bentham's Idea of Utilitarianism

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Utilitarianism in Novel 'Hard Times' In Charles Dickens

“Hard Times” is a novel written by Charles Dickens in 1854, taken place in a small town called Coketown. In this novel we learn about many characters, but two stick out to the readers the uttermost, Thomas Gradgrind and Louisa. Gradgrind is brought into the...

Social Issues During Industrialization In 'Hard Times'

Through a distinctly Victorian lens, Charles Dickens wrote a didactic novel about social issues during industrialization. During the time of rapid economic growth, living and working conditions for workers were poor. The wealthy prospered on the greedy exploitation of these laborers. Utilitarianism was a primary...

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Deontology and Utilitarianism in the Accounting Career

Human genetic engineering under utilitarianism and deontology.

There are many ethical issues that are currently occurring. One topic that is talked about currently is the idea of genetic engineering in people. While genetic engineering can provide benefits to people with genetic illness, it is not ethically accepted under many forms of ethical...

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Utilitarianism as an Ethical Theory in the Batman Films

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Analysis Of "The Coddling Of The American Mind" Through Ethics

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Moral Issues In Dead Poets Society By N.H. Kleinbaum

From my opinion, the Utilitarian ethical theory stands appropriate for Mr. John Keating. Utilitarianism is good theory that promotes activities that advance by and large satisfaction or joy and rejects activities that reason misery or hurt. Mr. John Keating was not only a tutor who...

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Advocating The Notion Of Utilitarianism Through Bernard Williams’ Example Cases

In this essay I will argue that it is always morally obligated to do what’ll result in the most happiness for the most people. Through Bernard Williams’ example cases I will defend the notion of utilitarianism, arguing that his claims in opposition are not enough...

Best topics on Utilitarianism

1. Beneficence And Nonmaleficence: The Main Principles Of Utilitarianism

2. Deontology Or Utilitarianism: The Debate On Ethics

3. Utilitarianism And Kantianism: Kant’s Stance On Metaphysics

4. Utilitarianism Versus Kantianism: Two Branches Of Philosophy

5. Separate Argumentation On Deontology And Utilitarianism

6. The Main Goal And Purpose Of Utilitarianism And Virtue Ethics

7. John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarian Approach on Liberty in His Just Society Theory

8. Comparison of the Act and Rule Types of Utilitarianism, Their Strengths and Weaknesses

9. Consideration of Deontology and Utilitarianism in the Off-Duty Police Work

10. The Morality of Physician Assisted Suicide in Belgium

11. The Morality of Utilitarian Society

12. Analysis of John Stuart Mill’s Idea of Utilitarianism

13. Critical Analysis of Jeremy Bentham’s Philosophy of Utilitarianism

14. Advantages and Disadvantages of Jeremy Bentham’s Idea of Utilitarianism

15. Utilitarianism in Novel ‘Hard Times’ In Charles Dickens

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Utilitarianism Essay Topics & Ideas

  • Utilitarianism Essay Topics for High School Students
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Argumentative Essay Topics About Utilitarianism

Good essay topics about utilitarianism, persuasive essay topics about utilitarianism, ✒️ utilitarianism essay topics for high school students.

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✨ Best utilitarianism Topic Ideas & Essay Examples

  • Comparison between Utilitarianism and Idealism Idealism would be a better theory for a society with highly intellectual people, and that a combination of this theory would be the best way for our society to evolve from the level of the “is” to the level of the “ought” Plat’s way to go from the “….
  • The Divine Command Theory Cultural Relativism Kantian and Utilitarianism However, Jim is a foreigner and is honored by the captain. Because of this special occasion, Pedro gives Jim the option to shoot and kill one Indian. If Jim accepts, the other nineteen Indians can go free, if not, Pedro will shoot all twenty like ….
  • Dostoevsky and Dickens’ Criticism of the Social Effects of Industrialization and Utilitarianism Dickens and Dostoevsky both critique the social effects of industrialisation and utilitarianism, though each has a different approach and a slightly different focus. Dickens employs parody, satire and caricature to ridicule the effects of the new ….
  • Deontology and Utilitarianism Describe the main principles of the two normative ethical theories of deontology and utilitarianism. Compare and contrast the two theories, bringing out any problems or limitations you see in each. INTRODUCTION:- Bioethicists ask these questions in ….
  • A Dilemma and My Solution Based On Utilitarianism Ethical Model Many people from all walks of life have trouble making decisions in their everyday lives, especially on tough or critical situations that may even involve life and death considerations. To address this issue, there are four ethical models and four ….
  • Utilitarianism Is Attempting to Do the Greatest Good For the Greatest Number of People Many people weigh the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives when making significant decisions. They create mental balance sheets listing the pluses and minuses of each course of action. When it’s a particularly important choice, such as ….
  • Definition of Utilitarianism Given that all sound moral theories are multifaceted outlines for the best methods of action for humanity, we all have our opinions as to which of these theories are valid and which are not. Moreover, given that the innate nature of ethics is ….
  • Utilitarianism and Deontology Utilitarianism and Deontology Kambua Medical Consultants Ltd, a firm which offers medical consultations is the Company of focus. The doctors in this firm are faced with several ethical issues which will be judged whether they are morally right or ….
  • Act Utilitarianism Is Associated With Jeremy Bentham The basic foundation answering what is considered good, would lead to a consequentialist answer that is anything producing a net amount of pleasure or happiness. All people seek happiness so this is the ideal mechanism that determines morality. ….
  • Utilitarianism and Christianity’s Points of Convergence Pain suffering and death lie at the heart of the Christian story and for Christians the fundamental question with regards to PAS is what does life in Jesus Christ the one who hang on the cross, suffered and died a not so dignified death enable and ….

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Essays on Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism essay topics for college students.

As a college student, choosing the right essay topic is crucial to the success of your assignment. This page aims to provide you with a variety of Utilitarianism essay topics to inspire your creativity and personal interests.

Essay Types and Topics

Argumentative essay topics.

  • The ethical implications of utilitarianism in healthcare
  • Utilitarianism vs. deontology: a critical analysis
  • Utilitarianism and its application in environmental ethics

Paragraph Example:

Utilitarianism, as a moral theory, has sparked debates and discussions in various fields, especially in healthcare ethics. This essay aims to critically analyze the ethical implications of utilitarianism in healthcare, shedding light on its potential benefits and drawbacks.

Thesis statement: While utilitarianism provides a framework for making ethical decisions, its application in healthcare raises important questions about individual rights and justice.

The ethical implications of utilitarianism in healthcare are complex and multifaceted. This essay has highlighted the need for a balanced approach that considers both the greater good and individual rights, urging for further research and ethical discussions in this field.

Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics: a comparative analysis
  • Utilitarianism in Western vs. Eastern philosophical traditions
  • The utilitarian perspective on animal rights vs. human rights

Descriptive Essay Topics

  • Utilitarianism in everyday decision-making
  • The impact of utilitarianism on social welfare policies
  • A day in the life of a utilitarian thinker

Persuasive Essay Topics

  • Advocating for utilitarian principles in public policy
  • Challenging common misconceptions about utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism as a moral framework for the 21st century

Narrative Essay Topics

  • Personal reflections on applying utilitarianism in real-life situations
  • An imaginary world governed by utilitarian principles
  • A historical narrative of utilitarianism's impact on society

Engagement and Creativity

As you explore these Utilitarianism essay topics, we encourage you to engage with your interests and critical thinking skills. Utilitarianism is a rich and complex philosophical theory that can be applied to various aspects of life, giving you ample opportunities to express your creativity and analytical abilities through your essays.

Educational Value

Each essay type offers unique learning outcomes, allowing you to develop different skills such as analytical thinking, persuasive writing, descriptive abilities, and narrative techniques. By delving into Utilitarianism through these essays, you will not only deepen your understanding of the theory but also enhance your academic and intellectual capabilities.

Utilitarianism Theory: a Critical Evaluation

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Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarianism Theory

Deontology versus utilitarianism in everyday life, utilitarianism and hedonism as philosophical theories, act vs. rule utilitarian: comparison of mill’s adopted stances, let us write you an essay from scratch.

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Comparison of Utilitarian and Deontological Theories

John mills: happiness and mill's utilitarianism, theories of utilitarianism and deontology and its application within society, deontology & utilitarianism: critical perspectives, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

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Deontology Vs Utilitarianism: Volkswagen's Emissions-cheating Scandal

Similarities between deontology and utilitarianism, the notions of lower and higher pleasures in utilitarianism, death penalty: viewpoint of immanuel kant, the view on fairness of the judgment process from the utilitarian perspective, resolving the discrepancies in mill’s preference-based utilitarianism, reflection on ethical theories: utilitarianism and deontology, jeremy bentham and the foundation of utilitarianism, ethical structure in business decision making, utilitarianism and the 13th amendment, ethical theories: deontology and utilitarianism, analysis of the case of transcanada in terms of kant’s moral theory and utilitarian perspective, history and ethics: conflicting theories in areas of knowledge, analysis of economic inequality within mill’s utilitarian theory, deontology versus utilitarianism in terms of morality in one’s actions, the ‘trolley problem’: utilitarianism vs deontology, utilitarianism vs deontology: a case study, the two ethical frameworks are utilitarianism and deontology, utilitarianism and deontological in ethical theory, discussion on whether the use of public funding for life-saving drugs is acceptable, relevant topics.

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essay topics on utilitarianism

Utilitarianism Essay Questions

  • What Is a Good Example of Utilitarianism?
  • How Would Charles Darwin Critique John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism?
  • What Are Some Objections to Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Main Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism and Formalism?
  • What Is Utilitarianism in Layman’s Terms?
  • What’s the Difference between Act and Rule Utilitarianism?
  • How Does the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill Compare to Jeremy Bentham’s?
  • What Is the Difference between Pragmatism and Utilitarianism?
  • How Would Aristotle Respond to Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Best Arguments for and Against Utilitarianism?
  • Which Definition Best Describes Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Main Principles of Utilitarianism?
  • What Is the Opposite of Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Three Types of Utilitarianism?
  • Is Utilitarianism Fundamentally Opposed to Libertarianism?
  • What Is the Relationship between Utilitarianism and Consequentialism?
  • Why Is Utilitarianism Called an Unfalsifiable Ethic?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Differ between John Stuart Mill and Peter Singer?
  • Why Are INTJs Obsessed With the Philosophy of Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Criticisms of Utilitarianism?
  • What Are the Best Arguments Against Utilitarianism and for Deontology?
  • What Are the Two Key Objections to Utilitarianism?
  • Is Democracy Based on Utilitarianism?
  • What Does the Term Utilitarianism in English Literature Mean?
  • Which Is Right: Utilitarianism, Deontology, or Some Combination of the Two?
  • Why Is Utilitarianism Considered a Consequentialist Theory?
  • How Can a Libertarian Refute a Progressive Plea to Utilitarianism?
  • Who Came up With Utilitarianism?
  • Where Was Utilitarianism Practiced?
  • How Does Utilitarianism Threaten Individual Rights?

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  1. Utilitarianism: Suggested Essay Topics

    Suggestions for essay topics to use when you're writing about Utilitarianism.

  2. 113 Utilitarianism Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    This essay gives a description of the differences in how ethical contractarianism, utilitarianism, virtue, and deontological ethics theories address ethics and morality. The foundation of utilitarianism theory is in the principle of utility. On the other hand, the theory of deontology embraces the concept of duty.

  3. 145 Utilitarianism Essay Topics & Research Titles at StudyCorgi

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    Essay Topics. 1. How does Mill define happiness and pleasure in "Utilitarianism? Does Mill refer to these experiences as the same thing? 2. Critics of utilitarianism contend that virtue is separate from utility or happiness.

  5. Utilitarianism

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    Utilitarianism began as a movement in ethics of the late eighteenth-century primarily associated with the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The basic principle of Utilitarianism involves a ...

  8. Utilitarianism

    Generic Rule Utilitarianism adds the idea of following rules to the principle of utility. So, an action is good if it conforms to a rule which maximises happiness. We need to determine whether following a rule, e.g., like not lying, will promote more happiness than not following it. If so, then following that rule is good.

  9. Essay on Utilitarianism Theory

    Learn More. Utilitarianism theory argues that the consequence of an action determines whether that particular action is morally right or wrong. Philosophers behind this theory include Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, R.M. Hare and Peter Singer. All these philosophers evaluate morality of actions depending on overall happiness or well-being.

  10. Utilitarianism Essays: Samples & Topics

    Essay Samples on Utilitarianism. Essay Examples. Essay Topics. Beneficence And Nonmaleficence: The Main Principles Of Utilitarianism. Autonomy is when someone has a rational capacity for self-governance or self- determination which is the ability to direct one's life and make choices for themselves. A person should be allowed capacity for ...

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    In this essay, we will explore the definition and history of utilitarianism, examining its association with renowned philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. We will also delve into the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism and how they can be addressed to promote ethical and moral decision-making.

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    Good Essay Topics About Utilitarianism. The Utilitarianism Theory. The Utilitarianism Theory in Society. Understanding Moral Relativism and Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism - Act and Rule. Utilitarianism & Social Contract in Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well. Utilitarianism and Abortion. Utilitarianism and Business Ethics.

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    Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill, is an essay written to provide support for the value of utilitarianism as a moral theory, and to respond to misconceptions about it. Mill defines utilitarianism as a theory based on the principle that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."

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    Students are often asked to write an essay on Utilitarianism in their schools and colleges. And if you're also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic. Let's take a look… 100 Words Essay on Utilitarianism Understanding Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a theory in ethics.

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