Utilitarianism

Edited by Anthony Skelton (University of Western Ontario)
About this topic
Summary Utilitarianism is the moral doctrine according to which an agent's action is right in so far as it produces at least as much surplus welfare for the aggregate of sentient beings as any other action the agent could have performed in her situation. Its most important and influential proponents include John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, Derek Parfit, Shelly Kagan, and Julia Driver, each of whom provides the view with a unique formulation and defence. Utilitarianism forms the basis of much moral reasoning about practical moral problems, especially in the work of R. M. Hare, Peter Singer, Laura Purdy, and Julian Savulescu. It has a rich and detailed history. The view thrived in the nineteenth century. Critics of the view contend that it cannot accommodate our intuitions about the moral importance of justice and individual rights, that it is too demanding and that its commitment to impartiality alienates us from certain of the most important human relationships (e.g., friendship). It serves as an important rival to all forms of deontology on the one hand and to the ethics of virtue on the other.
Key works Historically important defences of utilitarianism are found in Mill 1863 and in Sidgwick 1901. Historically important objections to the view are found in Carritt 1947, McCloskey 1965, Rawls ms, Smart & Williams 1973, and Stocker 1976. Influential replies to these and other objections are located in Hare 1981, Parfit 1984, Railton 1984, Sumner 1987, Kagan 1989, Ashford 2000 and Mason 1998.
Introductions The very best introduction to utilitarianism is found in Shaw 1999. Useful discussions of the view appear in Moore 1965, Ewing 1953, Driver 2011, and in the papers in Sen & Williams 1982 and Scheffler 1988. Eggleston & Miller 2014 contains some helpful introductory essays on the history and the philosophy of utilitarianism. Driver 2010 and Schneewind 1977 provide useful accounts of utilitarianism's history. Singer 1979 and Purdy 1996 give one an indication of the practical implications of utilitarian moral reasoning.
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  1. Utilitarianism and the Moral Status of Animals: A Psychological Perspective.François Jaquet, Manon Delphine Gouiran & Florian Cova - forthcoming - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-19.
    Recent years have seen a growing interest among psychologists for debates in moral philosophy. Moral psychologists have investigated the causal origins of the opposition between utilitarian and deontological judgments and the psychological underpinnings of people’s beliefs about the moral status of animals. One issue that remains underexplored in this research area is the relationship between people’s disposition to engage in utilitarian thinking and their attitudes towards animals. This gap is unfortunate considering the tight philosophical connection between utilitarianism and the claim (...)
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  2. Utilitarianism ako praktická voľba s empirickou podporou v etike Joshuu Greena – kritická reflexia.Stanislav Spodniak - 2021 - Filozofia 76 (6):451-464.
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  3. DE LAZARI-RADEK, Katarzyna and SINGER, Peter: Utilitarianism: A Very Short Introduction.Martin Foltin - 2019 - Filozofia 74 (8).
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  4. Some Merits of One Form of Rule-Utilitarianism.R. B. Brandt - 1967 - University of Colorado Studies 3:39-65.
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  5. Prospect Utilitarianism and the Original Position.hun CHung - forthcoming - Journal of the American Philosophical Association:1-35.
    Suppose we assume that the parties in the original position took Kahneman and Tversky's prospect theory as constituting their general knowledge of human psychology that survives through the veil of ignorance. How would this change the choice situation of the original position? In this paper, I present what I call ‘prospect utilitarianism’. Prospect utilitarianism combines the utilitarian social welfare function with individual utility functions characterized by Kahneman and Tversky's prospect theory. I will argue that, once prospect utilitarianism is on the (...)
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  6. Reflections on Utilitarianism and Neoliberalism From the Perspective of Marxist Equity.菲菲 黄 - 2022 - Advances in Philosophy 11 (5):1277-1281.
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  7. Buddhism and Utilitarianism.Calvin Baker - 2022 - An Introduction to Utilitarianism.
    This article considers the relationship between utilitarianism and the ethics of Early Buddhism and classical Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism. Section 2 discusses normative ethics. I argue (i) that Early Buddhist ethics is not utilitarian and (ii) that despite the many similarities between utilitarianism and Mahāyāna ethics, it is at best unclear whether Mahāyāna ethics is consequentialist in structure. Section 2 closes by reconstructing the Buddhist understanding of well-being and contrasting it to hedonism. -/- Section 3 focuses on applied ethics. I suggest (...)
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  8. Utilitarianism Versus the Privileging of Speech.Terence Rajivan Edward - 2022 - IJRDO Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research 8 (11):12.
    Apparently the Western philosophical tradition has (wrongly) preferred speech over writing – so claims Jacques Derrida. In this paper, I consider whether utilitarianism involves such a preference. There are at least two arguments against the claim.
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  9. Utilitarianism and Co-Operation.Donald Regan - 1980 - Oxford University Press.
    The author identifies and defines the features of traditional utilitarian theories which account for their appeal, demonstrates that no theory which is exclusively act-oriented can have all the properties that ultilitarians have attempted to build into their theories, and develops a new theory co-operative utilitarianism.
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  10. Review of David Phillips, Sidgwick's The Methods of Ethics: A Guide. [REVIEW]Anthony Skelton - 2022 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
    This is a review of David Phillips, Sidgwick's The Methods of Ethics: A Guide.
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  11. L'asso pigliatutto: il caso dell'utilitarismo libertario.Fabio Massimo Nicosia - 2020 - Genova: De Ferrari.
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  12. Duty of Care Trumps Utilitarianism in Multi-Professional Obesity Management Decisions.Toni McAloon, Vivien Coates & Donna Fitzsimons - 2022 - Nursing Ethics 29 (6):1401-1414.
    Background Escalating levels of obesity place enormous and growing demands on Health care provision in the United Kingdom. Resources are limited with increasing and competing demands upon them. Ethical considerations underpin clinical decision making generally, but there is limited evidence regarding the relationship between these variables particularly in terms of treating individuals with obesity. Research aim To investigate the views of National Health Service clinicians on navigating the ethical challenges and decision making associated with obesity management in adults with chronic (...)
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  13. Futilitarianism: Neoliberalism and the Production of Uselessness.Neil Vallelly - 2021 - London: Goldsmiths Press.
    If maximizing utility leads to the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, as utilitarianism has always proposed, then why is it that as many of us currently maximize our utility--by working endlessly, undertaking further education and training, relentlessly marketing and selling ourselves--we are met with the steady worsening of collective social and economic conditions? In Futilitarianism, social and political theorist Neil Vallelly eloquently tells the story of how neoliberalism transformed the relationship between utility maximisation and the common good. (...)
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  14. Applying Two-Level Utilitarianism and the Principle of Fairness to Mandatory Vaccination During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Situation in South Korea.Sungjin Park - forthcoming - Asian Bioethics Review.
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  15. Evolution, Utilitarianism, and Normative Uncertainty: Tthe Practical Significance of Debunking Arguments.Andreas Mogensen & William MacAskill - 2022 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 22 (3).
    It has been argued that evolutionary considerations favour utilitarianism by selectively debunking its competitors. However, evolutionary considerations also seem to undermine the practical significance of utilitarianism, since commonsense beliefs about well-being seem like prime candidates for evolutionary debunking. We argue that the practical significance of utilitarianism is not undermined in this way if we understand the requirements of practical rationality as sensitive to normative uncertainty. We consider the view that rational decision-making under normative uncertainty requires maximizing expected choice-worthiness, as well (...)
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  16. Pleasure is Goodness; Morality is Universal.Neil Sinhababu - forthcoming - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-17.
    This paper presents the Universality Argument that pleasure is goodness. The first premise defines goodness as what should please all. The second premise reduces 'should' to perceptual accuracy. The third premise invokes a universal standard of accuracy: qualitative identity. Since the pleasure of all is accurate solely about pleasure, pleasure is goodness, or universal moral value. The argument proceeds from a moral sense theory that analyzes moral concepts as concerned with what all should hope for, feel guilty about, and admire. (...)
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  17. Utilitarianism.John Stuart Mill - 2002 - In The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill. Modern Library.
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  18. 175 An Ethical Analysis of Evidence-Based Medicine.Wesley J. Park - 2022 - BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 27 (Suppl 1):A48.
    Evidence-based medicine is a clinical decision-making framework which makes claims about what physicians ought to do. Though heralded as the cutting edge of medical science, evidence-based medicine is a value-laden normative theory which implicitly depends on substantive views regarding what is morally good or right. In this paper, I provide an ethical analysis of evidence-based medicine. I consider its normative underpinnings in three ethical theories: utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and virtue ethics. In the face of uncertainty, evidence-based medicine endorses expected utility (...)
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  19. Does Utilitarianism Need a Rethink? Review of Louis Narens and Brian Skyrms' The Pursuit of Happiness.Heather Browning & Walter Veit - 2021 - Journal of Economic Methodology 29 (3):256-261.
    Philosophers have typically shown high confidence in their evaluations of Utilitarianism, whether as an endorsement or a disparagement. Rarely, however, has much effort been spent on investigating...
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  20. Bain's Theory of Moral Judgment and the Development of Mill's Utilitarianism.Aaron Zimmerman - forthcoming - Utilitas:1-19.
    In Utilitarianism, Mill defers to Alexander Bain's expertise on the subject of moral judgment to answer common criticisms of the creed. First, we do not blame people or label them immoral when they are less than ideal. Judgments of immorality are commonly reserved for substandard behavior, not suboptimal comportment. Second, we do not commonly insist on full neutrality in benevolence. Indeed, some philosophers argue that we are obliged to exhibit partiality, insofar as it is demanded by our roles as friends, (...)
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  21. Christopher Woodard, Taking Utilitarianism Seriously (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2019), Pp. Xii + 217.Lizzy Ventham - 2022 - Utilitas 34 (3):363-366.
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  22. Haidt’s Durkheimian Utilitarianism—a Charitable Interpretation.Maciej Juzaszek - forthcoming - Philosophia:1-15.
    In the paper, I aim to reconstruct a charitable interpretation of Durkheimian utilitarianism, a normative theory of public morality proposed by well-recognised American moral psychologist – Jonathan Haidt, which might provide reasons to justify particular legal regulations and public policies. The reconstruction contains a coherent theory that includes elements of rule-utilitarianism, value pluralism, objective list theory and perfectionism, as well as references to Emile’s Durkheim views on human nature. I also compare Durkheimian utilitarianism with two similar theories – Brad Hooker’s (...)
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  23. When Utilitarianism Dominates Justice as Fairness: An Economic Defence of Utilitarianism From the Original Position.Hun Chung - forthcoming - Economics and Philosophy.
    The original position together with the veil of ignorance have served as one of the main methodological devices to justify principles of distributive justice. Most approaches to this topic have primarily focused on the single person decision-theoretic aspect of the original position. This paper, in contrast, will directly model the basic structure and the economic agents therein to project the economic consequences and social outcomes generated either by utilitarianism or Rawls’s two principles of justice. It will be shown that when (...)
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  24. The Role of Kant in Sidgwick’s Classical Utilitarianism: Two Self-Evident Axioms and the Partial Convergence Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism.Annette Dufner - 2022 - Kantian Review 27 (3):345-362.
    Among the most surprising claims in The Methods of Ethics is Sidgwick’s assertion that his key ethical axioms are corroborated by Kant. This article analyses Sidgwick’s claim that his axioms of justice and benevolence closely correspond to particular features in Kant. I shall argue that his claim of agreement with Kant was a serious overstatement. In particular, the restrictions which Sidgwick places on his acceptance of Kant’s universal law formula of the categorical imperative seem to call into question whether the (...)
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  25. Kantianism for humans, utilitarianism for nonhumans? Yes and no.Jeff Sebo - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-20.
    Should we accept that different moral norms govern our treatment of human and nonhuman animals? In this paper I suggest that the answer is both yes and no. At the theoretical level of morality, a single, unified set of norms governs our treatment of all sentient beings. But at the practical level of morality, different sets of norms can govern our treatment of different groups in different contexts. And whether we accept that we should, say, respect rights or maximize utility (...)
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  26. Are the Folk Utilitarian About Animals?Guy Kahane & Lucius Caviola - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-23.
    Robert Nozick famously raised the possibility that there is a sense in which both deontology and utilitarianism are true: deontology applies to humans while utilitarianism applies to animals. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in such a hybrid views of ethics. Discussions of this Nozickian Hybrid View, and similar approaches to animal ethics, often assume that such an approach reflects the commonsense view, and best captures common moral intuitions. However, recent psychological work challenges this empirical assumption. We review (...)
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  27. “What is the Difference Between Your Subset Objection to Rawls on Utilitarianism and T.H. Irwin’s Commentary?”.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    T.H. Irwin’s stimulating commentary on John Rawls anticipates but does not make “the subset objection to Rawls.” This term of mine is potentially misleading, but Irwin’s commentary is more so: I argue that relevant parts involve dubious commitments.
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  28. Utilitarianism as an Exercise of Suspicion?Ernst Wolff - 2022 - European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 14 (1).
    This article examines pragmatism and hermeneutics as kindred approaches to action as they face the persistent influence of utilitarianism in social life. The essential traits of the utilitarian paradigm in action theory are presented, together with critiques of the theory, as articulated by Hans Joas. Pragmatism is then presented as a response to the flaws of utilitarianism. Next, the debate with utilitarianism is traced from Joas’s pragmatism to Ricœur’s hermeneutics. Ricœur’s distinction between hermeneutics as the recollection of meaning, and hermeneutics (...)
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  29. Multiple Moralities: A Game-Theoretic Examination of Indirect Utilitarianism.Paul Studtmann & Shyam Gouri-Suresh - manuscript
    In this paper, we provide a game-theoretic examination of indirect utilitarianism by comparing the expected payoffs of attempts to apply a deontological principle and a utilitarian principle within the context of the Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD). Although many of the best-known utilitarians and consequentialists have accepted some indirect form of their respective views, the results in this paper suggest that they have been overly quick to dismiss altogether the benefits of directly enacting utilitarian principles. We show that for infallible moral agents, (...)
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  30. Utilitarianism on the Front Lines: COVID-19, Public Ethics, and the "Hidden Assumption" Problem.Charles Shaw - 2022 - Ethics and Bioethics (in Central Europe) 12 (1-2):60-78.
    How should we think of the preferences of citizens? Whereas self-optimal policy is relatively straightforward to produce, socially optimal policy often requires a more detailed examination. In this paper, we identify an issue that has received far too little attention in welfarist modelling of public policy, which we name the "hidden assumptions" problem. Hidden assumptions can be deceptive because they are not expressed explicitly and the social planner (e.g. a policy maker, a regulator, a legislator) may not give them the (...)
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  31. A Test of ‘Utilitarianism for Animals, Kantianism for People’.David Wendler - 2021 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 18 (5):473-499.
    Many people believe that animals possess moral status, but human beings possess higher moral status than animals. To try to identify a theoretical basis for this view, Robert Nozick proposed Utilitarianism for Animals, Kantianism for People. The present manuscript evaluates Nozick’s proposal by identifying the tradeoffs in welfare that it permits in medical research with animals and assessing whether those tradeoffs are indeed permissible. This analysis suggests that at least some deontological side constraints apply to the treatment of sentient animals, (...)
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  32. Samuel Fleischacker, Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy. [REVIEW]Getty L. Lustila - 2022 - Society 59 (2):213-215.
    With Being Me Being You, Samuel Fleischacker provides a reconstruction and defense of Adam Smith’s account of empathy, and the role it plays in building moral consensus, motivating moral behavior, and correcting our biases, prejudices, and tendency to demonize one another. He sees this book as an intervention in recent debates about the role that empathy plays in our morality. For some, such as Paul Bloom, Joshua Greene, Jesse Prinz, and others, empathy, or our capacity for fellow-feeling, tends to misguide (...)
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  33. Utilitarianism in the Early American Republic.James E. Crimmins - 2021 - New York, NY: Routledge.
    In Utilitarianism in the Early American Republic James E. Crimmins provides a fresh perspective on the history of antebellum American political thought. Based on a broad-ranging study of the dissemination and reception of utilitarian ideas in the areas of constitutional politics, law education, law reform, moral theory and political economy, Crimmins illustrates the complexities of the place of utilitarianism in the intellectual ferment of the times, in both its secular and religious forms, intersection with other doctrines, and practical outcomes. The (...)
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  34. Economic Justice and Liberty: The Social Philosophy in John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism.Huei-Chun Su - 2013 - Routledge.
    This new book reopens the debate on theories of justice between utilitarian theorists and scholars from other camps. John Rawls' 1971 publication of A Theory of Justice put forward a devastating challenge to the long-established dominance of utilitarianism within political and moral philosophy, and until now no satisfactory and comprehensive utilitarian reply has yet been put forward. By expounding John Stuart Mill's system of knowledge and by reconstructing his utilitarianism, Huei-chun Su offers a fresh and comprehensive analysis of Mill's moral (...)
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  35. Plato, Utilitarianism and Education.Robin Barrow - 1975 - Routledge.
    Argues that Plato's views as expounded in the "Republic" indicate that he was a utilitarian. This book also argues that utilitarianism is the only acceptable ethical theory, and that these conclusions have significant repercussions for education.
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  36. Routledge Revivals: The Greatest Happiness Principle (1986): An Examination of Utilitarianism.Lanny O. Ebenstein - 1991 - Routledge.
    First published in 1991, The Greatest Happiness Principle traces the history of the theory of utility, starting with the Bible, and running through Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. It goes on to discuss the utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in detail, commenting on the latter's view of the Christianity of his day and his optimal socialist society. The book argues that the key theory of utility is fundamentally concerned with happiness, stating that happiness has largely been left (...)
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  37. Utility, Predictability, and Rights: Bentham’s Utilitarianism and Constitutional Entitlements.Francesco Ferraro - 2022 - Ratio Juris 35 (1):38-54.
    Ratio Juris, Volume 35, Issue 1, Page 38-54, March 2022.
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  38. Desert-Adjusted Utilitarianism, People, and Animals.Jean-Paul Vessel - 2021 - Environmental Ethics 43 (4):355-377.
    Recent decades have witnessed a surge in philosophical attention to the moral standing of non-human animals. Kantians, Neo-Kantians, utilitarians, and radical animal rights theorists have staked their claims in the literature. Here Fred Feldman’s desert-adjusted utilitarianism is introduced into the fray. After canvassing the prominent competitors in the dialectic, a conception of an overall moral ranking consonant with desert-adjusted utilitarianism is developed. Then the conception’s implications regarding the particular locations of individual people and animals in such rankings across various scenarios (...)
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  39. Trolleys, Triage and Covid-19: The Role of Psychological Realism in Sacrificial Dilemmas.Markus Kneer & Ivar R. Hannikainen - 2022 - Cognition and Emotion 36 (1):137-153.
    At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, frontline medical professionals at intensive care units around the world faced gruesome decisions about how to ration life-saving medical resources. These events provided a unique lens through which to understand how the public reasons about real-world dilemmas involving trade-offs between human lives. In three studies (total N = 2298), we examined people’s moral attitudes toward the triage of acute coronavirus patients, and found elevated support for utilitarian triage policies. These utilitarian tendencies did not (...)
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  40. From Utilitarianism to Paternalism: When Behavioral Economics Meets Moral Philosophy.Cyril Hédoin - 2015 - Revue de Philosophie Économique 2:73-106.
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  41. Ethics of U.S. Government Policy Responses to the COVID‐19 Pandemic: A Utilitarianism Perspective.Terri L. Herron & Timothy Manuel - 2022 - Business and Society Review 127 (S1):343-367.
    Business and Society Review, Volume 127, Issue S1, Page 343-367, Spring 2022.
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  42. Desert-Adjusted Utilitarianism, People, and Animals in Advance.Jean-Paul Vessel - forthcoming - Environmental Ethics.
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  43. Mill, Socialism, and Utilitarianism: On Helen McCabe’s John Stuart Mill, Socialist.Christopher Woodard - forthcoming - History of European Ideas:1-3.
  44. Hedonistic Utilitarianism.Torbjörn Tännsjö - 1998 - Edinburgh University Press.
    This volume presents a comprehensive statement in defense of the doctrine known as classical, hedonistic utilitarianism. It is presented as a viable alternative in the search for a moral theory and the claim is defended that we need such a theory. The book offers a distinctive approach and some quite controversial conclusions. Torbjorn Tannsjo challenges the assumption that hedonistic utilitarianism is at variance with common sense morality particularly as viewed through the perspective of the modern feminist moral critique.
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  45. Education, Democracy and Representation in John Stuart Mill's Political Philosophy.Corrado Morricone - 2016 - Dissertation, Durham University
    This thesis is concerned with John Stuart Mill’s democratic theory. In chapter I, I examine the relations between political philosophy and political theory and science before providing a detailed outline of the aims of the dissertation. In chapter II, I argue that in order to reconcile the concepts of progress and equality within a utilitarian theory, a Millian political system needs to devise institutions that promote general happiness, protect individual autonomy, safeguard society from mediocrity. Chapter III discusses what different authors (...)
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  46. Africa’s Development Crisis and the Limits of Popper’s Negative Utilitarianism.Adeolu Oluwaseyi Oyekan - 2021 - In Oseni Taiwo Afisi (ed.), Karl Popper and Africa: Knowledge, Politics and Development. Springer. pp. 43-56.
    The extent of Africa’s developmental challenges conspicuously manifests themselves in the poor living standards of most of its people. Poverty, low literacy and life expectancy rate, hunger and poor sanitary environment are some of the features that characterize life in a region widely acclaimed as most backward in the world today. How best should states in the kind of situation most of Africa has found itself react? What areas of life deserve or require the involvement of the state, and to (...)
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  47. Bentham’s Public Utilitarianism and Its Jurisprudential Significance.Dan Priel - 2021 - Ratio Juris 34 (4):415-437.
    Ratio Juris, Volume 34, Issue 4, Page 415-437, December 2021.
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  48. Bentham’s Public Utilitarianism and Its Jurisprudential Significance.Dan Priel - 2021 - Ratio Juris 34 (4):415-437.
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  49. Critique of Bentham's Utilitarianism.Irfan Ajvazi - 2022 - Tesla Academy 1:10.
    Over time, the actions of mankind have been the victim of two vague labels, right and wrong. The criteria for these labels are not clearly defined, but they still seem to be the standard by which the actions of man are judged. There are some people that abide by a deontological view when it comes to judging the nature of actions; the deontological view holds that it is a person's intention that makes an action right or wrong. On the other (...)
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  50. Aumentare la felicità come unico dovere. [REVIEW]Armando Massarenti - 2001 - Il Sole 24 Ore 146 (22 Aprile):VIII.
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