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ROLL NO. : BA0140009
CLASS: Sec. A, 2nd Semester, B.A., LL.B (Hons.)
SUBMITTED ON: 20.04.2014


What is Utilitarianism? 7
Basic Concepts .. 8
Utilitarianism as a common sensical ideology 9
History of Utilitarianism . 12
Types of Utilitarianism 15
Utilitarianism and its relation to political obligation 20
Positives of Utilitarianism ...... 21
Negatives of Utilitarianism . 24
Conclusion 26
References . 27


I, M.G.ARAVIND RAJ, hereby declare that this project titled

UTILITARIANISM submitted to Tamil Nadu National Law School,
Tiruchirappalli , is the record of an bonafide work done by me under the expert
guidance of the venerated political science faculties of Tamil Nadu National
Law School, Tiruchirappalli.

All authentic information furnished in the project is true to the best of my

knowledge and belief.


First of all, I thank my political science Professor.Mr. T.V.Aramudhan for

having allotted me such a challenging and dynamic topic. Even repaying him
through mere words in beyond the domain of my lexicon that was the backbone
during all hurdles that I confronted during the making of this project, hence I
am forever duly indebted to him as a student.

Also, I am grateful to the staff and administration of Tamil Nadu National Law
School who contributed useful resources tremendously in the making of this
project by providing library infrastructure and data connections.

This entire project wouldnt have been possible without the involvement of
precious inputs of my parents and friends who sacrificed their valuable time to
guide and advice me at all times of need to make this project a successful one.

Last but not the least, I am also grateful to God for giving me the courage and
strength to withstand all hinderances during this project and make it
successfully finally since its inception.

An Introduction

Lets consider that we are going to plan on doing something. What is among the
first few things that come into our mind? It would be the concept of utility.
We tend to consider whether the decision we are going to make, is it going to be
for a greater good or a part of the greater bad. The same goes with the purchase
of products. We tend to analyse how useful and productive a particular resource
and measure it on a utility scale and then use it. That is when the concept of
utilitarianism comes into existence.

Utility, in a philosophical context, refers to what is good for a human being.

Utilitarianism is a moral theory according to which welfare is the fundamental
human good. Welfare may be understood as referring to the happiness or well
being of individuals. Utilitarianism is most commonly a theory about the
rightness of actions; it is the doctrine that, from a range of possibilities, the right
action is the action which most increases the welfare of human beings or
sentient creatures in general. Of the many moral theories now called Utilitarian,
all share this claim that morality ought to be concerned with increasing welfare.

Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the moral action is the
one that maximizes utility. Utility is defined in various ways, including as
pleasure, economic well-being and the lack of suffering. Utilitarianism is a form
of consequentialism, which implies that the consequences of an action are of
moral importance. This view can be contrasted or combined with seeing
intentions, virtues or the compliance with rules as ethically important.1


An action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to

produce the reverse of happinessnot just the happiness of the performer of the
action but also that of everyone affected by it. Such a theory is in opposition to
egoism, the view that a person should pursue his own self-interest, even at the
expense of others and to any ethical theory that regards some acts or types of
acts as right or wrong independently of their consequences (see deontological
ethics). Utilitarianism also differs from ethical theories that make the rightness
or wrongness of an act dependent upon the motive of the agent, for, according to
the utilitarian, it is possible for the right thing to be done from a bad motive.
Utilitarians may, however, distinguish the aptness of praising or blaming an
agent from whether the act was right.


In the notion of consequences the Utilitarian includes all of the good and bad
produced by the act, whether arising after the act has been performed or during
its performance. If the difference in the consequences of alternative acts is not
great, some Utilitarians do not regard the choice between them as a moral issue.
According to Mill, acts should be classified as morally right or wrong only if
the consequences are of such significance that a person would wish to see the
agent compelled, not merely persuaded and exhorted, to act in the preferred

In assessing the consequences of actions, Utilitarianism relies upon some theory

of intrinsic value: something is held to be good in itself, apart from further
consequences, and all other values are believed to derive their worth from their
relation to this intrinsic good as a means to an end. Bentham and Mill were

hedonists; i.e., they analyzed happiness as a balance of pleasure over pain and
believed that these feelings alone are of intrinsic value and disvalue. Utilitarians
also assume that it is possible to compare the intrinsic values produced by two
alternative actions and to estimate which would have better consequences.
Bentham believed that a hedonic calculus is theoretically possible. A moralist,
he maintained, could sum up the units of pleasure and the units of pain for
everyone likely to be affected, immediately and in the future, and could take the
balance as a measure of the overall good or evil tendency of an action. Such
precise measurement as Bentham envisioned is perhaps not essential, but it is
nonetheless necessary for the Utilitarian to make some interpersonal
comparisons of the values of the effects of alternative courses of action.


One of the most important ethical theories is Utilitarianism. For utilitarianism,

moral duty is to be determined through an assessment of the consequences of an
action. In other words, utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory of ethics. More
specifically, utilitarianism finds moral worth in those actions which maximize
overall happiness the happiness of the greatest number of people. The premise
of the theory is a naturalistic view of ethics: ethics is said to be associated not
only with consequences of actins but, more specifically, with pleasure-
maximizing consequences. This is the case because utilitarianism sees human
nature as pleasure-seeking. For pleasure you can substitute utility, preference, or
happiness if you insist, but the main point remains the same. This is not an
implausible human psychology, of course. Ethics cannot be about psychology [it
is about what ought to be done and not about what is in fact the case], but
ethical theories cannot ignore human psychology, either; if an ethical theory

ignored human psychology, it would be running the risk of recommending what

might be impossible for human nature what is called supererogation, or
sainthood to put it in a different way.

Utilitarianism claims to be a theory that appeals to common sense. This is

certainly strength and an asset for a theory. It is indeed a matter of common
sense that if we want to perform moral deeds toward people, we should wish to
make them happy. Pay attention to this: For utilitarianism, it does not matter at
all whether we intend to make people happy. As said above, utilitarianism is a
consequentialist theory it pays attention to consequences; all that matters is
that the outcome of our action redounds to the greatest possible happiness of the
greatest possible number. A strange corollary of this is that we are supposed to
have done something moral even if our motives for benefiting the greatest
possible number of people are not at all moral even if they are self-interested.

Notice also that utilitarianism does not recommend that you pay attention to
your own happiness and pleasure. Utilitarianism is not a form of moral egoism
it is not a theory that tells you to put yourself above everyone else.
Utilitarianism does not tell you to put those close to you above all else either.
Clearly, if you did that, you would not be taking into account the benefit or
happiness of the greatest possible number of people. You might be wondering
now: why should one care about the greatest possible number of people? This is
not an objection against utilitarianism in particular any more than it is an
objection against any ethical theory: why should we care about doing the right
thing? This is not always an easy question to answer theoretically but it
becomes an easier question once we pay attention to common sense and to the
ways in which human beings are constituted and known to comport themselves

toward other people. If you want to do the right thing, utilitarianism gives you
an objective and almost formulaic answer: act in such a way as to benefit the
greatest possible number of people. In other words, you should act in such a
way as to maximize the happiness of the greatest number or overall happiness.
There are many particular variants of utilitarianism. For some, you maximize
happiness of the greatest number; for other versions, you maximize a utility that
can be minutely calculated; or the preferences of people, after you ask them
directly instead of appealing to expert opinions. But, in any case, for a theory to
be utilitarian, what is maximized must be the happiness, utility curves, average
utility, preferences, happiness, or whatever of the greatest number.


Though the first systematic account of utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy

Bentham (17481832), the core insight motivating the theory occurred much
earlier. That insight is that morally appropriate behavior will not harm others,
but instead increase happiness or utility. What is distinctive about
utilitarianism is its approach in taking that insight and developing an account of
moral evaluation and moral direction that expands on it. Early precursors to the
Classical Utilitarians include the British Moralists, Cumberland, Shaftesbury,
Hutcheson, Gay, and Hume. Of these, Francis Hutcheson (16941746) is
explicitly utilitarian when it comes to action choice.

Some of the earliest utilitarian thinkers were the theological utilitarians such as
Richard Cumberland (16311718) and John Gay (16991745). They believed
that promoting human happiness was incumbent on us since it was approved by
God. After enumerating the ways in which humans come under obligations (by
perceiving the natural consequences of things, the obligation to be virtuous,
our civil obligations that arise from laws, and obligations arising from the
authority of God) John Gay writes: from the consideration of these four
sorts of obligationit is evident that a full and complete obligation which will
extend to all cases, can only be that arising from the authority of God; because
God only can in all cases make a man happy or miserable: and therefore, since
we are always obliged to that conformity called virtue, it is evident that the
immediate rule or criterion of it is the will of God (R, 412). Gay held that since
God wants the happiness of mankind, and since God's will gives us the criterion
of virtue, the happiness of mankind may be said to be the criterion of virtue,
but once removed (R, 413). This view was combined with a view of human
motivation with egoistic elements. A person's individual salvation, her eternal
happiness, depended on conformity to God's will, as did virtue itself. Promoting

human happiness and one's own coincided, but, given God's design, it was not
an accidental coincidence.2

This approach to utilitarianism, however, is not theoretically clean in the sense

that it isn't clear what essential work God does, at least in terms of normative
ethics. God as the source of normativity is compatible with utilitarianism, but
utilitarianism doesn't require this.

Gay's influence on later writers, such as Hume, deserves note. It is in Gay's

essay that some of the questions that concerned Hume on the nature of virtue
are addressed. For example, Gay was curious about how to explain our practice
of approbation and disapprobation of action and character. When we see an act
that is vicious we disapprove of it. Further, we associate certain things with their
effects, so that we form positive associations and negative associations that also
underwrite our moral judgments. Of course, that we view happiness, including
the happiness of others as a good, is due to God's design. This is a feature
crucial to the theological approach, which would clearly be rejected by Hume in
favor of a naturalistic view of human nature and a reliance on our sympathetic
engagement with others, an approach anticipated by Shaftesbury (below). The
theological approach to utilitarianism would be developed later by William
Paley, for example, but the lack of any theoretical necessity in appealing to God
would result in its diminishing appeal.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (16711713) is generally

thought to have been the one of the earliest moral sense theorists, holding that
we possess a kind of inner eye that allows us to make moral discriminations.


This seems to have been an innate sense of right and wrong, or moral beauty
and deformity. Again, aspects of this doctrine would be picked up by Francis
Hutcheson and David Hume (17111776). Hume, of course, would clearly
reject any robust realist implications. If the moral sense is like the other
perceptual senses and enables us to pick up on properties out there in the
universe around us, properties that exist independent from our perception of
them, that are objective, then Hume clearly was not a moral sense theorist in
this regard. But perception picks up on features of our environment that one
could regard as having a contingent quality. There is one famous passage where
Hume likens moral discrimination to the perception of secondary qualities, such
as color. In modern terminology, these are response-dependent properties, and
lack objectivity in the sense that they do not exist independent of our responses.
This is radical. If an act is vicious, its viciousness is a matter of the human
response (given a corrected perspective) to the act (or its perceived effects) and
thus has a kind of contingency that seems unsettling, certainly unsettling to
those who opted for the theological option.


Utilitarianism in itself is a very broad topic. It can be therefore classified into a

number of other types based on a few nuances that make up the differences in it.
The types include:

Classical Utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism
Act Utilitarianism
Preference Utilitarianism
Ideal Utilitarianism

We shall see some these types in little detail further.


There are many forms of utilitarianism. Classical utilitarianism, ideal

utilitarianism, and preference utilitarianism are but a few examples. The most
well-known form of utilitarianism is also the oldest, classical utilitarianism, as
articulated in the writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Although
utilitarianism has been considerably developed since its earliest presentations,
subsequent forms of utilitarianism may be helpfully understood in terms of their
relation to classical utilitarianism.

Classical utilitarianism may be broken down into two main components: a

theory of value (or the "good"), and a theory of right action. A theory of value is
meant to specify what things (e.g., pleasure or equality) are valuable or good:
These are the things, which we would like to have promoted or increased in the
world. A theory of right action is meant to specify which actions are right and
wrong, or, in other words, provide action-guiding rules for moral agents. (See
also normative ethics.)

Classical utilitarianism endorses hedonism as a theory of value. Hedonism,

then, is meant to spell out what is good. A classical utilitarian would formulate
this in terms of utility; quite literally, utility is that which is useful to human
beings. So, hedonism is a theory of utility (or, in another word, welfare), and
utility is offered as what is valuable or good. Secondly, classical utilitarianism
endorses consequentialism as a theory of correct action. A theory of correct
action specifies what actions moral agents ought to perform; and
consequentialism says that the rightness of an action is determined by its
consequences. This is incipient, if not fully articulate, in Mills formulation of
the principle of utility, which he regards as the fundamental moral principle:
"The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest
Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to
promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."[1]

Historically, the hedonism of classical utilitarianism has always been

controversial. Many philosophers have rejected hedonism as a theory of value,
without rejecting the insight that morality ought to be concerned with promoting
valuable states of affairs (i.e., consequentialism). Philosophers have articulated
alternative accounts of value, all the while maintaining the consequentialist
element in classical utilitarianism. Preference utilitarianism is an example of
utilitarianism without hedonism, can be seen below. There are, it seems, an
almost countless number of distinct moral theories called utilitarian, all of
which are variations and attempted refinements of the basic ideas presented by
Bentham and Mill.

For the Classical Utilitarians, happiness is understood in terms of a presence of

pleasure and an absence of pain. In this they depart from many ancient Greek
discussions of eudemonia, in which, well being or flourishing depends on much
more than states of pleasure or displeasure. John Stuart Mill argues this quite
clearly, "By happiness are intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by

unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure." The hedonism of classical

utilitarianism, then, understands the human good in terms of qualitative states of
pleasure and pain. But hedonism makes another important claim, which defines
it. It says that happiness is the only intrinsic good.


Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism that says an action is right as it

conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good, or that "the rightness or
wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of
which it is an instance. For rule utilitarians, the correctness of a rule is
determined by the amount of good it brings about when followed.

Rule utilitarians argue that following rules that tend to lead to the greatest good
will have better consequences overall than allowing exceptions to be made in
individual instances, even if better consequences can be demonstrated in those


Act utilitarianism is a utilitarian theory of ethics which states that a person's act
is morally right if and only if it produces at least as much happiness as any other
act that the person could perform at that time. Classical utilitarians, including
Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick, define happiness as
pleasure and the absence of pain. To understand how act utilitarianism works,
compare the consequences of your watching television all day tomorrow to the
consequences of your doing charity work tomorrow. You could produce more

overall happiness in the world by doing charity work tomorrow than by

watching television all day tomorrow. According to act utilitarianism, then, the
right thing for you to do tomorrow is to go out and do charities work; it is
wrong for you to stay home and watch television all day.


Preference utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism in contemporary philosophy.

[citation needed] Unlike classical utilitarianism, which defines right actions as
those that maximize pleasure and minimize pain, preference utilitarianism
promotes actions that fulfil the interests (preferences) of those beings involved.
[citation needed] The beings may be rational, that is to say, their interests may
be carefully selected based on future projections, but this is not compulsory;
here, the definition of "party" extends to all sentient beings, even those living
solely in the present (that is, those without the intellectual capacity to
contemplate long-term needs or consequences). Since what is good and right
depends solely on individual preferences, there can be nothing that is in itself
good or bad: for preference utilitarians, the source of both morality and ethics in
general is subjective preference. Preference utilitarianism therefore can be
distinguished by its acknowledgement that every person's experience of
satisfaction is unique.

Preference utilitarianism judges actions to be morally good or bad on the degree

to which they help achieve the preferences of a group of people.


In the case of ideal utilitarianism, actions are judged to be morally good or bad
on the basis of the extent to which they help further the development of certain
ideals that are considered to be intrinsically good (e.g. justice, compassion,
etc.). Ideal utilitarianism, recognizes beauty and friendship, as well as
pleasure, as intrinsic goods that ones actions should aim to maximize.

G. E. Moore strongly disagreed with the hedonistic value theory adopted by the
Classical Utilitarians. Moore agreed that we ought to promote the good, but
believed that the good included far more than what could be reduced to
pleasure. He was a pluralist, rather than a monist, regarding intrinsic value. For
example, he believed that beauty was an intrinsic good. A beautiful object had
value independent of any pleasure it might generate in a viewer. Thus, Moore
differed from Sidgwick who regarded the good as consisting in some
consciousness. Some objective states in the world are intrinsically good, and on
Moore's view, beauty is just such a state. He used one of his more notorious
thought experiments to make this point: he asked the reader to compare two
worlds; one was entirely beautiful, full of things which complimented each
other; the other was a hideous, ugly world, filled with everything that is most
disgusting to us. Further, there are not human beings, one imagines, around to
appreciate or be disgusted by the worlds. The question then is which of these
worlds is better, which one's existence would be better than the other's? Of
course, Moore believed it was clear that the beautiful world was better, even
though no one was around to appreciate its beauty.



If we want to know which thing gives the maximum happiness we must be able
to measure the utility. What applies to individual morals, applies with equal
force to State craft.

The action of the State is good which increases the pleasure of the largest
number. Everything has to be judged from this point of view. The principle of
utility is held to be the rationale guide both to private morals and public policy.
The end of any legislation should be for the happiness of man. The making of
laws by a state must be in accordance with the one that gives the greater good to
the people, similarly the people must follow the laws based on that which gives
the greater good and are obligated to follow these rules. If they fail to do so then
they can draw a punishment from the authority in power. One cannot disobey a
rule just because he or she found it uncomfortable to obey when it has been
made for a greater idea that is in place.


Utilitarianism has been in place for a very long period of time and it has been
widely accepted as a good concept too. There are a few reasons accorded to
Utilitarianism that makes the concept nice in its purest sense. Some of the
positives of Utilitarianism are:

1. The morality of an action is particular to cases

2. It fits with the idea that the consequences of our actions matter

3. It fits with the idea that it is right to contribute to happiness rather than

4. People tend to act with happiness, not necessarily their own, in mind.

5. It gives a simple methodology for deciding moral questions

6. It gives a guide when there is no time to assess the pros and cons of a

7. It treats everyone as equal, there are no special considerations

8. At times utilitarianism advocates self-sacrifice, honesty and justice - all

things that we value in moral terms.

9. It is straightforward and based on the single principle of minimising pain and

maximising pleasure and happiness. A system which aims to create a happier
life for individuals and groups is attractive

10. Given a common desire to benefit the majority of people, and a common
sense of what is to their benefit, it yields results that are in line with common

11. It is easy to demonstrate the Utilitarianism is fair, since its basic principles
are widely accepted.

12. It does not appear to require the acceptance of any prior beliefs about the
nature of the world or religion, and its moral discussions can therefore be
appreciated across different religions and cultures.

13. Utilitarianism is the moral side of democracy.

14. It relates to actions which can be observed in the real world (e.g. Giving to
charity promotes happiness for poor people and is seen to be good whereas an
act of cruelty is condemned as bad)

15. Utilitarianisms acceptance of the universal principle is essential for any

ethical system. It is important to go beyond your own personal point of view.

It is an objective theory it affords you a method for calculating how you

should act regardless of personal confusion or momentary perplexity. The
theory is also better than many other theories when it comes to dealing with
challenging moral dilemmas cases in which it seems that, no matter how you
choose to act, you risk failing to perform a basic human duty you have.
Utilitarianism is also consistent with many ethical intuitive insights human
beings have about what it takes to be human and what is required in performing
moral deeds toward ones fellow human beings. Unlike most other ethical
theories, utilitarianism has the apparent advantage that it includes in its compass
not only rational i.e. human beings, but all sentient beings, which can
experience pain and pleasure. So, animals are not left out by utilitarian ethicists
and cruelty toward animals can be consistently condemned by utilitarian theory.
Utilitarianism is quite straightforward to apply excepting vagueness as to
calculation methods and ways of counting intensity and permanence of
pleasures, the method is not difficult to understand. The method of utilitarianism
is surprisingly consistent with ethical insights from other moral traditions

including, for instance, Christianity, which also appeals to human beings to love
and benefit and avoid to harm others, and promises recompense of happiness in
the form of a good feeling in this life and heaves rewards in the afterlife.
Utilitarianism also satisfies another intuition we have about what is needed for
an ethical theory: it treats people equally, provided they are equally situated.
Conveniently, utilitarianism finds one common denominator pleasure or
happiness to which consequences of actions are reduced. This allows for a
calculation to be performed, and ones moral duty to be determined, regardless
of how complex and challenging the actual case is.


Just like any other concept, Utilitarianism also as a concept has a number of
negatives accorded to it. There are a number of disadvantages and criticisms
that form a part of this concept of utilitarianism. Some of them are:

1. It only counts happiness

2. It equates happiness with pleasure

3. Calculation problems

4. It treats people as means to an end.

5. It makes both supererogatory acts and trivial acts compulsory.

6. It makes people do the right things for the wrong reasons.

7. It doesn't matter who does something as long as the consequences occur.

8. It assumes we have a common human nature with common desires. It leaves

no room for individual tastes, or for some people to value highly something that
others might think is of no account at all.

9. Utilitarian arguments depend on predicting the results of an action but one

can never know all the consequences of your actions

10. If morality is determined by results alone, wrong motives can still lead to
right results (e.g. selfishness may motivate a system that yields positive results
for a majority; is it therefore morally right?)

11. Utilitarianism is argued to be too impersonal and does not consider rights of
an individual in its attempt to look for greater good

12. The basic question of what should I do is seldom presented in a utilitarian

way. If it were there would be no problem- one would automatically go for that
which obviously brought about the maximum good. Moral dilemmas only come
about because either quality or quantity of the good is in doubt.

13. Utilitarianism can also advocate injustice, e.g. the innocent man framed for
rape in order to calm riots.

14. People may suffer second or third hand even the immediate consequences of
an action fulfilled the conditions of the principle.


Utilitarianism like any other concept has its positives and negatives. Beyond all
that, it is considered to be one of the innovate concepts that were introduced in
this world. It can be considered to be the most simple and basic of concepts that
we may adhere to. It basically goes along the line of what is pleasurable and
what is painful which is why it is usually referred to as the pleasure/pain theory.
Any action of a person is determined to be good or bad on the basis of the fact
whether it gives a happy or sad effect to the individual and the society. The
concept has undergone a lot of changes over time with a lot of new thinkers
coming in, however the basis of it all remains the same and it still remains one
of the most important political and philosophical concepts that were invented
over a period of time.

Utilitarianism, By John Stuart Mill A summary in Sparknotes