Utilitarianism


Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is a theory in philosophy about right and wrong. It says that the morally best action is the one that makes the most overall happiness.
The motto of utilitarianism is: " Make the world a happier place".
Because it focuses on happiness, utilitarianism has been called the "greatest happiness principle". The theory was made popular by 18th and 19th century British philosophers like Francis Hutcheson, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill, but the idea goes all the way back to ancient times.
Utilitarians sometimes disagree with each other about happiness. Hedonists say that happiness is a matter of pleasure (the nice-feeling 'buzz' of tasty foods, sex, relaxation, and close friendship) and pain (physical aches and emotional sadness). They say that the more pleasure people have, and the less pain they have, the happier they are. Other utilitarians say that happiness is not a matter of pleasure and pain, but instead a matter of getting what they want. If lots of their desires are satisfied, and only a few of their desires are unsatisfied, then they are happy. Other utilitarians have other ideas about happiness. But, even though they disagree about what happiness is, all utilitarians agree that morality is a matter of overall happiness.
Animals can be happy or unhappy, and so utilitarians think that animals and humans are both morally important. This idea goes back to Jeremy Bentham. They say that it's wrong to hurt animals and make them unhappy, and that we should try to make animals happier by treating them well.
Many utilitarians do not eat meat because they are concerned about the harm done to animals.
"Common sense" morality tells us to make people happy and that we should not be biased. So there is some agreement between utilitarianism and common sense. But there is also a lot of disagreement. Utilitarianism says that it can be OK to hurt someone, as long as it makes the world a happier place. But common sense morality says that they should never hurt someone, even if they think it will be worth it. Utilitarians usually say that, because of the way the world is, hurting people "almost never" makes the world a happier place -- so hurting people is "almost always" wrong. But critics worry about this "almost always"; they think that they should not hurt people, no matter what.
Because utilitarianism tells us to make the world a happier place, some critics worry that it is asking for too much. For example, if they go to the movies, then they are spending money on their own happiness, instead of sending the money to help very poor people. The poor people need the money a lot more than they need to see a movie. So, since utilitarianism says that they should make as much happiness as they can, they should send the money to the poor people instead of going to the movies. But then they "never" get to go to the movies! they should "always" send any extra money they have to help poor people. Critics worry that, if they do what utilitarianism tells them, they will end up with a boring life.
Utilitarians know about these worries, and they try to make their theory more sophisticated.
Philosophers who are interested in moral right and wrong still look carefully at utilitarian ideas.


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