Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy that focuses on the interests of others rather than self-interest. The philosophy was created by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century, who wanted a moral system that didn’t rely on religious authority. It has roots in violence and social rejection – people wanted to avoid certain actions because they were considered immoral at the time.
Utilitarianism is a theory of morality, which advocates actions that foster happiness or pleasure and rejects actions that cause unhappiness or harm. The term “utilitarian” was coined in the 18th century by Jeremy Bentham to refer to someone who tried to maximize utility: the happiness of others.
The utilitarianism movement began with Jeremy Bentham’s book “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation” published in 1789, which he argued should replace all existing systems of ethics as they were too biased against those who were poor or disadvantaged. His ideas were based on his belief that humans are inherently selfish beings and any decision made by society must reflect this fact so as not to diminish human freedom (or liberty).
Utilitarianism was a response to the social atmosphere at the time – people wanted a moral system that didn’t rely on religious authority. Utilitarian’s believed in the good of all people and sought to promote happiness through their actions, regardless of whether those actions were punitive or compassionate.
The utilitarian theory emphasizes that actions should be judged based on how much pleasure they bring in comparison with pain (or unhappiness). If an action causes more harm than it does good, then it should not be pursued; however if an action causes less harm than it does good, then pursuing it is justified.
John Stuart Mill’s father, James Mill, was a utilitarian. He established a school for children with disabilities in which students were deliberately rejected from families. The school was called “The London Orphan Asylum” and it was founded by James Mill to provide an education for children who had been rejected by their families due to poverty or other reasons.
James believed that human nature is basically good but can be corrupted by society’s standards and morals; therefore we must take care of those who are different from us so they do not fall into bad habits or become criminals because they have no one else but themselves left to rely on when going through hard times (Shapiro).
John Stuart Mill created utilitarianism to undo the ideas of his father, and instead focus on the interests and happiness of others rather than self-interest. His father, James Mill, was a utilitarian who believed in the “greatest happiness principle.”
According to this principle, it is morally right to do whatever will maximize pleasure for all individuals involved. This can be seen as an extension of Jeremy Bentham’s Principle of Utility (PUR), which states that an action is morally right if there exists some benefit or harm ratio between those who benefit from it and those who suffer from its consequences.
In other words: if we can find a way to make everyone happy by doing something immoral—like stealing money from poor people so you could buy yourself some nice shoes—then it would be morally acceptable for us as long as we were able to make sure no one else suffers (and even better if we could give some extra money back).
The utilitarian philosophy was a response to the social climate of the time. In this social climate, people were struggling with violence and rejection. Utilitarianism seeks to solve these problems by focusing on individual happiness as well as collective benefit, which can be achieved through moral behavior.
Utilitarianism has been a major influence on the way that people live their lives today. It’s a theory that emphasizes treating others well, whether they’re strangers or family members, and it aims to maximize happiness for all involved. On one level, this philosophy makes sense – our actions should benefit someone else, not just ourselves.
Weiner, B., Graham, S. & Reyna, C. An attributional examination of retributive versus utilitarian philosophies of punishment. Soc Just Res 10, 431–452 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02683293
Renouard, C. Corporate Social Responsibility, Utilitarianism, and the Capabilities Approach. J Bus Ethics 98, 85–97 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-010-0536-8
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