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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.

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy


  • Utilitarian Glossary
  • Utilitarian Philosophers
  • (Nigel Phillips)
  • Ethics Updates
  • John Stuart Mill (biographical details)
  • J.S.Mill (Internet Encyclopedia)
  • Utilitarianism (Catholic Encyclopedia)
  • Utilitarianism (Encyclopaedia Britannica) (Swedish forum) (Wikipedia) (Bob Zunjic) (online utilitarian community) (2007, Gothenburg) (Greg Egan)
  • Hedonism Hotels
  • Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Felicifia
  • Happiness Conference
  • Reasons To Be Cheerful
  • Jeremy Bentham Returns
  • Jeremy Bentham Links (Peter Singer, French tr.)
  • Jeremy Bentham's Greatest Happiness Principle (pdf)
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Henry Sidgwick Links
  • Peter Singer
  • Peter Singer links
  • Famine, Richesse et Moralite
  • John Stuart Mill Links
  • Pablo Stafforini
  • Utilitarianism (J.S.Mill)
  • The Principle of Utility (J.S.Mill)
  • On Liberty ( J.S. Mill)
  • Questions on JS Mill
  • Mill (Harry Gensler)
  • Utilitarianism Primer (R. N. Johnson)
  • [Swedish] (Seth Baum) (Bill Haines) (Mark Stein) (Socrethics) (Toby Ord)
  • Charity International
  • Felicifia
  • Essays on John Stuart Mill
  • JS Mill Bicentennial Conference 1806-2006
  • Utilitas
  • Pleasure
  • Hedonism
  • Epicurus
  • Aristippus
  • Cyrenaic Philosophy
  • The Cyrenaics and the Origins of Hedonism
  • Consequentialism
  • Consequentialism
  • The Pushpin Pundit
  • Utilitarian Essays
  • Hostility and the Minimization of Suffering
  • Consequentialism and decision procedures
  • International Society for Utilitarian Studies
  • Nozick's Experience Machine (Eduardo Rivera-López)
  • Principles of Morals and Legislation (Jeremy Bentham)
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Jeremy Bentham: life
  • The Bentham Project
  • Jeremy's Labyrinth
  • Google Utilitarianism Directory
  • A Critique of Elie Halévy (Francisco Vergara)
  • The Utilitarian Foundations Of Collectivism (Axel Davies on Bentham)
  • God and the English Utilitarians (Ron Roizen) (Richard Chappell) (Carmen Chase) (Douglas Reay)
  • Classical Utilitarianism
  • Indirect Utilitarianism
  • Rincón de ética y moral
  • Precedent Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism FAQ (ed. Nigel Phillips)
  • Edmund Gurney (Derek Greatrex) (Prof. Yew-Kwang Ng & Siang Ng) (Clark Wolf) (Nick Bostrom) (G. Matheny and K. Chan; pdf)
  • Panetics
  • World Database of Happiness
  • Money, Happiness and the Hedonic Treadmill
  • The Road to Happiness
  • Human News
  • Utilitarianism and Population Policy
  • Infinite Ethics
  • Letter from Utopia
  • Human Diets and Animal Welfare
  • Journal of Happiness Studies
  • Happiness Quotations
  • Utilitarians (History of Economic Thought)
  • Utilitarianism (Gareth McCaughan)
  • Utilitarianismus [German]
  • The Singer Solution to World Poverty
  • Methods of Ethics (Henry Sidgwick) (online discussion)
  • Negative Utilitarianism
  • Negative Utilitarianism - A Manifesto (Dan Geinster) (Socrethics) (Koenigs et al; PDF) (Paul Hibberd) (H.L. Mencken) (Richard Layard) (Mark Walker) [Polish] (Jon Martin) (Katherine Power)
  • Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence
  • Negative Utilitarian Justice
  • 'Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements'
  • To what extent is Utilitarianism compatible with Christian theology?
  • Utopian Brain Stimulation?
  • Riley-Day syndrome
  • R.N. Smart's reply to Popper
  • Portrait of an Ideal World
  • Operationalising Gross National Happiness
  • Economics and Happiness
  • Happiness
  • In Praise of Bio-Happiness
  • Internetowy Serwis Filozoficzny: Utylitaryzm
  • The Pleasure Seekers
  • Precursors of Utilitarianism
  • Happiness Becomes You
  • The End of Suffering
  • The Reproductive Revolution
  • Quantum Ethics?
  • Reprogramming Predators
  • Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion
  • Buddhism and Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarian Bioethics
  • Velpeau's Chimera: Utopian Surgery?
  • Superhappiness?
  • MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
  • Wirehead Hedonism
  • Paradise-Engineering
  • The Good Drug Guide
  • The Hedonistic Imperative
  • The Post-Darwinian Transition
  • Critique of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
  • The Abolitionist Project
  • Negative Utilitarianism and the Pinprick Argument