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One objection to act-utilitarianism is that it seems to be too permissive, capable of justifying any crime, and even making it morally obligatory, if only the value of the particular consequences of the particular act is great enough. Another objection is that act-utilitarianism seems better in theory than in practice, since we hardly ever have the time and the knowledge to predict the consequences of an act, assess their value, and make comparisons with possible alternative acts.
Modern act-utilitarians think that these objections can be met. Others have developed alternatives to act-utilitarianism, e.g. rule-utilitarianism, and other forms of indirect utilitarianism.
CONSEQUENTIALISM -- The term was first used for (1) a theory concerning responsibility, but is now commonly used for (2) a theory concerning right and wrong.
(1) the view that an agent is equally responsible for the intended consequences of an act and its unintended but foreseen consequences. Elizabeth Anscombe created the new term consequentialism for this view in her article "Modern Moral Philosophy" (Philosophy 33 (1958), and often reprinted) and criticised Sidgwick and later utilitarians for holding it. The view differs, according to her, from the versions of utilitarianism proposed before Sidgwick. These had not rejected the distinction between foreseen and intended consequences as far as responsibility is concerned. Her objection to consequentialism is that since it looks at consequences only, the character of the act itself is left out of account, and this has the unacceptable consequence that an agent is equally responsible for the foreseen but unintended consequences of an act, no matter whether the act is courageous or cowardly.
(2) the view that an action is right if and only if its total outcome is the best possible. This is the basic form of consequentialism; there are, however, many varieties, a few of which will be noted below. What they all have in common is that consequences alone should be taken into account when making judgements about right and wrong.
This is how the term has been used since the late 1960s. Previously, "utilitarianism" was the term commonly used for consequentialism, and that use remains; but many writers now use the term "utilitarianism" to designate a kind of consequentialism. Some of them reserve the term "utilitarianism" for the view that combines consequentialism with the hedonistic assumption that pleasure alone has intrinsic value. Others reserve the term for the view that combines consequentialism with the eudaimonistic assumption that happiness (welfare, well-being) alone has intrinsic value. These two views are not always clearly distinguished. Others again use "utilitarianism" for the kind of consequentialism that takes preference-satisfaction alone to have intrinsic value.
Another way of making a terminological distinction between utilitarianism and other kinds of consequentialism is by reserving the label "utilitarianism" for those consequentialist theories that include the maximising assumption: that only the best is good enough.
A survey (no doubt incomplete) of some of the varieties of consequentialism can be obtained by starting with Bentham's principle of utility: an act is right if and only if it tends to maximise the net overbalancing sum total of pleasure over pain for all parties concerned (superscript letters refer to paragraphs below).
(a) Bentham's principle can be understood in two distinct ways: as a guide for decision as to what action to take, or as a guide for the evaluation of an action (one's own or someone else's). If the principle is taken as a guide to decision-making, it invites the objection that there is not enough time to consider all the consequences and perform, for each set of possible consequences, all the necessary calculations of their value. If the principle is taken as a guide for evaluation, there may be less time-pressure. (Even so, evaluating all the possible consequences will take a very long time.)
(b) Some versions of consequentialism evaluate things other than acts - attitudes, for instance, or rules.
(c) Some formulations do not use "right" but introduce other words: "ought", "obligation" or "duty".
(d) Act-consequentialism considers the consequences of the act. Other theories consider the consequences of adopting a rule under which the act falls, or adopting an attitude that will result in acting in a certain way. Again, does the rightness of my keeping a promise depend on the fact that my adoption of the rule of promise-keeping tends to promote the good, or on the fact that the adoption by people generally does?
(e) There is a diversity of consequentialist theories as the actual, or the probably, or the foreseen consequences are held to be the relevant ones. Moreover, the very notion of a consequence varies. Some authors even include the very performance of an action among its consequences and hold that one of the consequences of performing an act of loyalty is the fact that an act of loyalty has occurred.
(f) Maximising implies comparison with all relevant alternatives. Some criterion is needed to tell which alternatives are relevant; different criteria can be devised. Moreover, some versions of consequentialism reject maximising and settle for less. They hold the view that not only the best is good enough and favour satisficing. See also SATISFICE.
(g) In what way, and to what extent, can one individual's goods be compared with one another? If they can be compared, can they be added together, like financial assets and liabilities? Answers to these questions differ. Again, to what extent are interpersonal comparisons or summations possible? Can B's loss be outbalanced by A's gain? In so far as we deny this we are insisting on the distinctness or separateness of persons. Distributive principles can also vary. Consider a situation in which ten persons are all quite happy. Five of them enjoy 20 units of the good, and the other five enjoy 60 units of the good. Compare this with a situation in which, again, they are all quite happy, all ten enjoying 40 units of the good. Is one of these situations preferable to the other? There are a variety of answers to this, and to a vast number of similar questions of distribution.
(h) The value to be maximised was, in Bentham's hedonistic utilitarianism, pleasure and the absence of pain. Moore's ideal utilitarianism takes experiences of beauty and relations of friendship to have intrinsic value. The most common present-day variety is preference-utilitarianism: the good consists in the satisfaction of preferences, i.e. in people having what they want. In other formulations welfare is said to be the good.
(i) Consequentialist theories also differ in yet another respect. On the "total view", an increase of the total number of people is an improvement (other things being equal), as long as the additional individuals have a positive welfare or happiness score, however marginal. On the "average view", the important thing is to seek to increase average pleasure, happiness, welfare, or the like. A situation in which there are a larger number of people would not be better (other things being equal) if the average welfare remained the same.
EUDAIMONISM -- (Gr. hedone pleasure) "The view that happiness is the highest good. Some writers take this to designate the view that pleasure is the highest good, but that view is more properly called hedonism. Happiness and pleasure are distinct notions."
Kant was an important opponent of eudaimonism. He rejected the view that happiness is the highest good, and insisted that happiness can be an ingredient of the highest good only if it is deserved.
JEREMY BENTHAM -- English utilitarian philosopher and social reformer. He first attained attention as a critic of the leading legal theorist in eighteenth century England, Sir William Blackstone. Bentham's campaign for social and political reforms in all areas, most notably the criminal law, had its theoretical basis in his utilitarianism, expounded in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, a work written in 1780 but not published until 1789. In it he formulated the principle of utility, which approves of an action in so far as an action has an overall tendency to promote the greatest amount of happiness. Happiness is identified with pleasure and the absence of pain. To work out the overall tendency of an action, Bentham sketched a felicific ("happiness-making") calculus, which takes into account the intensity, duration, likelihood, extent, etc of pleasures and pains.
In Bentham's theory, an action conforming to the principle of utility is right or at least not wrong; it ought to be done, or at least it is not the case that it ought not be done. But Bentham does not use the word 'duty' here. For Bentham, rights and duties are legal notions, linked with the notions of command and sanction. What we call moral duties and rights would require a moral legislator (a divine being presumably) but theological notions are outside the scope of his theory. To talk of natural rights and duties suggests, as it were, a law without a legislator, and is nonsensical in the same way as talk of a son without a parent. Apart from theoretical considerations, Bentham also condemned the belief in natural rights on the grounds that it inspired violence and bloodshed, as seen in the excesses of the French Revolution.
Bentham at first believed that enlightened and public-spirited statesmen would overcome conservative stupidity and institute progressive reforms to promote public happiness. When disillusionment set in, he developed greater sympathy for democratic reform and an extension of the franchise. He believed that with the gradual improvement in the level of education in society, people would be more likely to decide and vote on the basis of rational calculation of what would be for their own long-term benefit, and individual rational decision-making would therefore, in aggregate, increasingly tend to promote the greater general happiness.
Bentham had first-hand knowledge of the legal profession and criticised it vehemently. He also wrote a highly entertaining Handbook of Political Fallacies 1824, which deals with the logic and rhetoric of political debate.
Bentham figured prominently among the small number of men who became known as philosophical radicals, but his utilitarianism was not much discussed until the latter half of the nineteenth century. His prolific writings were published in part by devoted disciples, but some were published for the first time in the 1940s and after, and the publication of his complete works is still in progress. Among these writings is an analysis of the logic of deontic concepts, and On Laws in General contains a carefully elaborated theory of jurisprudence.
JOHN STUART MILL -- Born in London in 1806, son of James Mill, philosopher, economist and senior official in the East India Company. Mill gave a vivid and moving account of his life, and especially of his extraordinary education, in the Autobiography 1873 that he wrote towards the end of his life. Mill led an active career as an administrator in the East India Company from which he retired only when the Company's administrative functions in India were taken over by the British government following the Mutiny of 1857. In addition, he was a Liberal MP for Westminster 1865-8, and as a young man in the 1830s edited the London and Westminster Review, a radical quarterly journal. He died at Aix-En-Provence in 1873.
Mill was educated by his father, with the advice and assistance of Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. He learned Greek at three, Latin a little later; by the age of 12, he was a competent logician and by 16 a well-trained economist. At 20 he suffered a nervous breakdown that persuaded him that more was needed in life than devotion to the public good and an analytically sharp intellect. Having grown up a utilitarian, he now turned to Coleridge, Wordsworth and Goethe to cultivate his aesthetic sensibilities. From 1830 to his death, he tried to persuade the British public of the necessity of a scientific approach to understanding social, political and economic change while not neglecting the insights of poets and other imaginative writers.
His System of Logic 1843 was an ambitious attempt to give an account not only of logic, as the title suggests, but of the methods of science and their applicability to social as well as purely natural phenomena. Mill's conception of logic was not entirely that of modern logicians; besides formal logic, what he called "the logic of consistency", he thought that there was a logic of proof, that is, a logic that would show how evidence proved or tended to prove the conclusions we draw from the evidence. That led him to the analysis of causation, and to an account of inductive reasoning that remains the starting point of most modern discussions. Mill's account of explanation in science was broadly that explanation seeks the causes of events where it is events in which we are interested; or seeks more general laws where we are concerned to explain less general laws as special cases of those laws. Mill's discussion of the possibility of finding a scientific explanation of social events has worn equally well; Mill was as unwilling to suppose that the social sciences would become omniscient about human behaviour as to suppose that there was no prospect of explaining social affairs at any deeper level than that of common sense. Throughout the System of Logic Mill attacked the "intuitionist" philosophy of William Whewell and Sir William Hamilton. This was the view that explanations rested on intuitively compelling principles rather than on general, causal laws, and that ultimately the search for such intuitively compelling principles rested on understanding the universe as a divine creation governed by principles that a rational deity must choose. Mill thought that intuitionism was bad philosophy, and a comfort to political conservatism into the bargain. His Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy 1865 carried the war into the enemy camp with a vengeance; it provoked vigorous controversy for some twenty years or so, but is now the least readable of Mill's works.
To the public at large, Mill was better known as the author of Principles of Political Economy 1848, a work that tried to show that economics was not the "dismal science" that its radical and literary critics had supposed. Its philosophical interest lay in Mill's reflections on the difference between what economics measured and what human beings really valued: leading Mill to argue that we should sacrifice economic growth for the sake of the environment, and should limit population as much to give ourselves breathing space as in order to fend off the risk of starvation for the overburdened poor. Mill also allowed that conventional economic analysis could not show that socialism was unworkable, and suggested as his own ideal an economy of worker-owned cooperatives. Commentators have argued inconclusively over whether this is a form of socialism or merely "workers' capitalism". Mill remains most nearly our contemporary in the area of moral and political philosophy, however. His Utilitarianism 1861 remains the classic defence of the view that we ought to aim at maximizing the welfare of all sentient creatures, and that welfare consists of their happiness. Mill's defence of the view that we ought to pursue happiness because we do pursue happiness, has been the object of savage attack by, among others, F. H. Bradley in his Ethical Studies 1874 and G. E. Moore in Principia Ethica 1903. But others have argued that on this particular point, Mill was misinterpreted by his critics. His insistence that happiness was to be assessed not merely by quantity but by quality - the doctrine that a dissatisfied Socrates is not only better than a satisfied fool, but somehow happier, too - has puzzled generations of commentators. And his attempt to show that justice can be accounted for in utilitarian terms is still important as a riposte to such writers as John Rawls (A Theory of Justice 1971).
During his lifetime, it was his essay On Liberty 1859 that aroused the greatest controversy, and the most violent expressions of approval and disapproval. The essay was sparked by the feeling that Mill and his wife, Harriet Taylor, constantly expressed in their letters to one another: that they lived in a society where bold and adventurous individuals were becoming all too rare. Critics have sometimes thought that Mill was frightened by the prospect of a mass democracy in which working-class opinion would be oppressive and perhaps violent. The truth is that Mill was frightened by middle-class conformism much more than by anything to be looked for from an enfranchised working class. It was a fear he had picked up from reading Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America 1836, 1840; America was a prosperous middle-class society, and Mill feared that it was also a society that cared nothing for individual liberty.
Mill lays down "one very simple principle" to govern the use of coercion in society - and by coercion he means both legal penalties and the operation of public opinion; it is that we may only coerce others in self-defence - either to defend ourselves, or to defend others from harm. Crucially, this rules out paternalistic interventions to save people from themselves, and ideal interventions to make people behave "better". It has long exercised critics to explain how a utilitarian can subscribe to such a principle of self-restraint. In essence, Mill argues that only by adopting the self-restraint principle can we seek out the truth, experience the truth as "our own", and fully develop individual selves.
Of Mill's shorter works, two others deserve mention. The Subjection of Women 1869 was thought to be excessively radical in Mill's time but is now seen as a classic statement of liberal feminism. Its essential case is that if freedom is a good for men, it is for women, and that every argument against this view drawn from the supposedly different "nature" of men and women has been superstitious special pleading. If women have different natures, the only way to discover what they are is by experiment, and that requires that women should have access to everything to which men have access. Only after as many centuries of freedom as there have been centuries of oppression will we really know what our natures are. Mill published The Subjection of Women late in life to avoid controversies that would lessen the impact of his other work. He chose not to have his Three Essays on Religion 1874 published until after his death. They argued, among other things, that it is impossible that the universe is governed by an omnipotent and loving God, but not unlikely that a less omnipotent benign force is at work in the world. They thus tended to disappoint those of Mill's admirers who looked for a tougher and more abrasive agnosticism, while doing nothing to appease critics who deplored the fact that he was any kind of agnostic. But they remain models of the calm discussion of contentious topics, and highly readable to this day.
FELICIFIC/HEDONIC CALCULUS -- (Gr. hedone pleasure) a method of working out the sum total of pleasure and pain produced by an act, and thus the total value of its consequences; also called the felicific calculus; sketched by Bentham in chapter 4 of his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation 1789. When determining what action is right in a given situation, we should consider the pleasures and pains resulting from it, in respect of their intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity (the chance that a pleasure is followed by other ones, a pain by further pains), purity (the chance that pleasure is followed by pains and vice versa), and extent (the number of persons affected). We should next consider the alternative courses of action: ideally, this method will determine which act has the best tendency, and therefore is right. Bentham envisaged the calculus could be used for criminal law reform: given a crime of a certain kind it would be possible to work out the minimum penalty necessary for its prevention.
HEDONISM -- (Gr. hedone pleasure) The thesis that pleasure is the highest good: that only pleasure has value in itself. Among philosophers held to have advocated this view are Aristippus, Epicurus, and Bentham. It is sometimes called ethical hedonism, to distinguish it from psychological hedonism. Pleasure is not the same as happiness, so hedonism is not the same as eudaimonism, the thesis that happiness is the highest good.
HEDONISTIC UTILITARIANISM -- A utilitarian theory which assumes that the rightness of an action depends entirely on the amount of pleasure it tends to produce and the amount of pain it tends to prevent. Bentham's utilitarianism is hedonistic. Although he describes the good not only as pleasure, but also as happiness, benefit, advantage, etc., he treats these concepts as more or less synonymous, and seems to think of them as reducible to pleasure. John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism, also described as hedonistic, differs importantly from Bentham's in taking some pleasures to be higher than other ones, so that when considering the values of the consequences of an action, not only the quantity but also the quality of pleasure has to be considered. This complicates the summing up, or may even make it impossible.
HENRY SIDGWICK -- Sidgwick, Henry (1838-1900) a fellow of Trinity College, and from 1883 professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge. Driven by the problem of how to find a foundation for a morality independently of religion, he presented, in his Methods of Ethics 1874 (7th rev. edn 1907), incisive analyses of basic principles that can be adopted in our moral thinking: egoism, intuitionism and utilitarianism. The upshot of his careful discussion is that we are committed to accepting conflicting basic principles. For instance, moral universalism, implied by utilitarianism, may require unreasonable self-sacrifice, contrary to egoism, here understood as a natural concern for one's own welfare. We can only hope that they will not ultimately clash in practice, but there can be no guarantee. Sidgwick's treatment of utilitarianism is the starting point for the present-day discussions of this moral theory.
Sidgwick was interested in scientific inquiry into paranormal phenomena, and was a founding member of the Society for Psychical Research.
IDEAL UTILITARIANISM -- A utilitarian theory which denies that the sole object of moral concern is the maximising of pleasure or happiness. In G.E. Moore's version of ideal utilitarianism in Principia Ethica 1903, it is aesthetic experiences and relations of friendship that have intrinsic value, and therefore ought to be sought and promoted, while consciousness of pain, hatred or contempt of what is good or beautiful, and the love admiration or enjoyment of what is evil or ugly are the three things that have intrinsic disvalue and should therefore be shunned and prevented.
It was Hastings Rashdall (1858-1924) in The Theory of Good and Evil 1907 who first used 'ideal utilitarianism' for non-hedonistic utilitarianism of this kind.
INDIRECT UTILITARIANISM -- A kind of utilitarianism which recognizes that an agent is more likely to act rightly by developing the right attitudes, habits and principles, and acting on them, than by trying to calculate the value of the consequences before deciding to act. This indirect utilitarianism is so called because it bears on actions only indirectly. See also restrictive utilitarianism.
NEGATIVE UTILITARIANISM -- Positive utilitarianism recommends the promotion or maximising of intrinsic value, negative utilitarianism recommends the reduction or minimising of intrinsic disvalue. At first sight, the negative kind may seem reasonable and more modest in what it recommends. But one way of ending human misery is by putting all human beings out of their misery. This course of action is usually considered unacceptable. This has led to a search for reformulations of negative utilitarianism, or to its rejection.
PARADOX OF HEDONISM -- The impulse towards pleasure can be self-defeating. We fail to attain pleasures if we deliberately seek them. This is what Sidgwick (The Methods of Ethics) called the paradox of hedonism.
There is a similar paradox concerning happiness. In order to be happy, an agent must aim at things other than his own happiness. Some writers use the same label for this paradox, somewhat inaccurately, since pleasure is not the same as happiness.
PLEASURE PRINCIPLE -- The tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. In Freud's theory, this principle rules the Id, but is at least partly repressed by the 'reality principle'. The origin of this expression can be traced to G Th. Fechner (1801-87), who used the German equivalent Lustprinzip in the defined sense in an article published in 1848. The theory that all action is determined by the prospect of pleasure is called psychological hedonism.
POSITIVE UTILITARIANISM -- Positive utilitarianism recommends the promotion or maximising of intrinsic value, negative utilitarianism recommends the reduction or minimising of intrinsic disvalue. At first sight, the negative kind may seem reasonable and more modest in what it recommends. But one way of ending human misery is by putting all human beings out of their misery. This course of action is usually considered unacceptable. This has led to a search for reformulations of negative utilitarianism, or to its rejection.
PRECEDENT UTILITARIANISM -- Precedent Utilitarians believe that when a person compares possible actions in a specific situation, the comparative merit of each action is most accurately approximated by estimating the net probable gain in utility for all concerned from the consequences of the action, taking into account both the precedent set by the action, and the risk or uncertainty due to imperfect information.
PREFERENCE -- According to preference utilitarianism, satisfaction of preferences is intrinsically good, and should be maximized. But do all kinds of preferences deserve equally to be taken into account?
In Taking Rights Seriously 1977 (2nd rev. edn 1978), Ronald Dworkin distinguishes personal preferences from external preferences. A personal preference is a preference about what I do or get; an external preference is a preference about what other people do or get. Dworkin argues that the right of individuals to equal consideration and respect concerning the assignment of goods and opportunities means that their personal preferences are to be respected, but not their external ones. External preferences should be ignored, in order to avoid 'double counting': in a utilitarian calculation in which everyone is to count for one, my wish to be rich should be weighed in, and so should another person's wish to be rich. But my wish that the other person be poor should not be weighed in. In the debate, critics have voiced doubts about finding a clear line of demarcation between the two kinds of preference.
PREFERENCE UTILITARIANISM -- Moral theory according to which the good consists in the satisfaction of people's preferences, and the rightness of an action depends directly or indirectly on its being productive of such satisfaction. Like other kinds of consequentialism, the theory has satisficing and maximising variants. The latter are the more common ones: the more people get what they want, the better. (Syn. preference consequentialism.)
PSYCHOLOGICAL HEDONISM -- The theory that all action aims at attaining pleasure for the agent. In a formulation of John Stuart Mill: all actions are determined by pleasure and pain in prospect, pains and pleasures to which we look forward as the consequences of our acts. Mill held that this, as a universal truth, can in no way be maintained.) The classical objections are those of Butler.
RESTRICTIVE UTILITARIANISM -- Restrictive utilitarianism is the view that the right action is the one which maximises objectively probable value. So when evaluating an agent's decision, this is the criterion of rightness that should be applied. But it does not follow that, when deliberating, the agent should engage in a calculation in order to work out how to maximise objectively probable value; that may indeed be counterproductive. The right decision may be reached by not properly aiming at it. Instead, an agent in whom certain attitudes and character traits have been developed (for instance, an immediate bent towards honesty and fairness), and who acts in character, may be more likely to take the right decision than an agent who engages in casuistic deliberation.
RULE UTILITARIANISM -- Instead of looking at the consequences of a particular act, rule-utilitarianism determines the rightness of an act by a different method. First, the best rule of conduct is found. This is done by finding the value of the consequences of following a particular rule. The rule the following of which has the best overall consequences is the best rule. Among early proponents were John Austin (The Province of Jurisprudence 1832) and John Stuart Mill (Utilitarianism 1861).
One problem with rule-utilitarianism is this: it invites us to consider the consequences of the general following of a particular rule. Suppose the consequences of the general following of rule R are optimal. We can say that rule R is the best rule, and that everyone ought to follow that rule. But how ought one to act if people are not generally likely to follow that rule? To illustrate: suppose that for every country, the best traffic rule is to keep to the right. According to rule-utilitarianism, I ought to keep to the right. Suppose I am in Britain and know that people will generally keep to the left...Ought I really to keep to the right?
Another problem is that the best rules would not be simple. The best rule for promise-keeping would be of the form: 'Always keep your promises except...'(where the list of exceptions would be very long). This led the American philosopher David Lyons to argue, in Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism 1965, that a plausible formulation of rule-utilitarianism would make it recommend the same actions as act-utilitarianism, so the two kinds are 'extensionally equivalent' and there is no practical difference between the two. Currently, rule-utilitarian formulations seem to be ought of favour, but there are attempts to rehabilitate them.
SATISFICE -- verb To obtain an outcome that is good enough. Satisficing action can be contrasted with maximising action, which seeks the biggest, or with optimising action, which seeks the best.
In recent decades doubts have arise about the view that in all rational decision-making the agent seeks the best result. Instead, it is argued, it is often rational to seek to satisfice i.e. to get a good result that is good enough although not necessarily the best.
The term was introduced by Herbert A. Simon in his Models of Man 1957.
THEOLOGICAL UTILITARIANISM -- Theological and non-theological varieties of utilitarianism agree on the account of the rightness of an action: the rightness depends entirely on the value of the consequences. But there is a difference in respect of the notion of moral duty.
Although our knowledge of God is very limited, we know that he is perfectly benevolent, so there can be no doubt that he desires the maximum happiness for his creatures. We can safely assume that he desires us always to act to promote this end. For us, His desire is a command, and the actions commanded by God are our duties. In this way, theological utilitarians (Paley, Austin) can explain why doing the right thing is a duty. In their view that there can be no duty without a command, they agree with Bentham and many earlier writers on theology and jurisprudence. Bentham's own utilitarianism is non-theological and therefore has no place for the notion of moral duty, but only for the notions of right, wrong, ought, not, and others of that kind.
UTILITY -- "By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing); or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the community in general, then the happiness of the community: if a particular individual, then the happiness of that individual." -- Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789).
UTILITARIANISM -- A moral theory according to which an action is right if and only if it conforms to the principle of utility. Bentham formulated the principle of utility as part of such a theory in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1789. An action conforms to the principle of utility if and only if its performance will be more productive of pleasure or happiness, or more preventive of pain or unhappiness, than any alternative. Instead of 'pleasure' and 'happiness' the word 'welfare' is also apt: the value of the consequences of an action is determined solely by the welfare of individuals.
A characteristic feature of Bentham's theory is the idea that the rightness of an action entirely depends on the value of its consequences. This is why the theory is also described as consequentialist. Bentham's theory differs from certain other varieties of utilitarianism (or consequentialism) by its distinctive assumption that the standard of value is pleasure and the absence of pain; by being an act-utilitarian; and by its maximising assumption that an action is not right unless it tends towards the optimal outcome.
The view that utilitarianism is unable to accommodate any values except the crass, gross or materialistic ones is mistaken.
Since the 1960s, many writers have used consequentialism instead of utilitarianism for the view that the rightness of an action entirely depends on the value of its consequences. Many writers now restrict the word utilitarianism to denote certain kinds of consequentialism, especially Bentham's and Mill's. Currently there is terminological diversity, and the varieties of utilitarianism mentioned elsewhere are varieties of consequentialism.