Microeconomics is the branch of economics that analyzes market behavior of individuals and firms in order to understand their decision-making processes. Though not fully articulated until the 19 th century, proto-utilitarian positions can be discerned throughout the history of ethical theory.. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Utilitarianism – Definition. Utilitarian happiness is the biggest happiness which (supposetly) every human being looks for. The word total is important here: if you act ethically according to utilitarianism, you’re not maximizing yourhappiness, but the total happiness of the whole human race. In a series of essays, Goodin argues that utilitarianism is the best philosophy for public decision-making even if it fails as an ethic for personal aspects of life. So, although utilitarianism is surely a reason-based approach to determining right and wrong, it has obvious limitations. Utilitarianism holds that what’s ethical (or moral) is whatever maximizes total happiness while minimizing total pain. Utility, after which the doctrine is named, is a measure in economics of the relative satisfaction from, or desirability of, the consumption of goods. 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. Therefore, the name of the doctrine is utilitarianism, based on the principle of utility. Derek Parfit. (Philosophy) the theory that the criterion of virtue is utility The theory asserts that there are two types of utilitarian ethics practiced in the business world, "rule" utilitarianism and "act" utilitarianism. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Utilitarianism also differs from ethical theories that make the rightness or wrongness of an action 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. Pleasure, or happiness, is the only thing that has intrinsic value. 1. It is, then, the total utility of individuals which is important here, the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Antecedents of utilitarianism among the ancients, Growth of classical English utilitarianism, Utilitarianism since the late 19th century, Effects of utilitarianism in other fields, https://www.britannica.com/topic/utilitarianism-philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - The History of Utilitarianism. At work, you display utilitarianism when you take actions to ensure that the office is a positive environment for your co-workers to be in, and then make it so for yourself. "The greatest good for the greatest number" is a maxim of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy that an action is right if it promotes happiness for the majority of people. This practice produces the highest good for the greatest number of people. But the utilitarian readily answers that the widespread practice of such acts would result in a loss of trustworthiness and security. Where there are disadvantaged groups who suffer income inequality or other negative consequences because of a utilitarian-based policy or action, most politicians would try to find a remedy. Learn more. Utilitarianism holds that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce sadness, or the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the actor but that of everyone affected by it. Much of the defense of utilitarian ethics has consisted in answering these objections, either by showing that utilitarianism does not have the implications that its opponents claim it has or by arguing against the opponents’ moral intuitions. What is Utilitarianism. By using Investopedia, you accept our. And the airline benefits, too. How is happiness defined? (Philosophy) the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens 2. Limited government is a political system in which legalized force is restricted through delegated and enumerated powers, such as The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. In the workplace, though, utilitarian ethics are difficult to achieve. The more expensive upper-class seats help to ease the financial burden that the airline created by making room for economy-class seats. It is the only moral … Today, having a formalized code of business ethics is more important than ever. This would arguably produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Utilitarianism is mainly characterized by two elements: happiness and consequentialism. Some utilitarians, however, have sought to modify the utilitarian theory to accommodate the objections. English philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham's preserved skeleton in his own clothes and surmounted by a wax head, at University College London. Most companies have a formal or informal code of ethics, which is shaped by their corporate culture, values, and regional laws. Mill has sometimes been interpreted as a “rule” utilitarian, whereas Bentham and Sidgwick were “act” utilitarians. Utilitarianism is a theory of morality, which advocates actions that foster happiness or pleasure and opposes actions that cause unhappiness or harm. Therefore, the name of the doctrine is utilitarianism, based on the principle of utility. Utilitarianism is like hedonism in that it has the importance of … For a business to grow, it not only needs to increase its bottom line, but it also must create a reputation for being socially responsible. In utilitarianism everything useful to happiness is good. Brian Duignan is a senior editor at Encyclopædia Britannica. Utilitarianism definition is - a doctrine that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically : a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number.