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An idea due to Englishman Jeremy Bentham. Utility is that which "serves to increase human happiness," based on maximum pleasure and minimum pain overall - "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

Legislators, therefore, should concern themselves with laws that achieve increased pleasures or avoidance of pains.

Bentham even defined a calculus for utility. It's generally held to be silly.

John Stuart Mill later expanded on these ideas.

A good action is that which provides the absolute most utility. Intentions are irrelevant.

What do you apply this principle to?

  • Your Actions: If you're making an action, base it on what will produce the most utility. Problem: hard to calculate for each action. (How far into the future must I consider? What about the butterfly effect?)
  • Rules: Select rules that will maximize utility. (example: don't lie) Problem: Degrades into Act Utilitarianism (more specific rules work better. 'Don't lie except to save a life'. 'a life other than Anthrax bacteria'. Eventually you get one for every action.)
  • Practices: A practice is more encompassing than a rule. A practice such as stamp collecting has a set of rules (don't burn valuable stamps, don't eat too much glue, etc.) John Rawls, I believe, supports this, except I don't think he's a utilitarian. Hmmm...

What's this "utility" thing?

Who does this apply to?

Hmmm.
Hedons from making this writeup better: 20.
Dolars from staying up for another half-hour to do so: 25.
Negative utility detected. Time for bed!

I just realised, I forgot to mention that this is used in the Utilitarian Theory of ethics. You know about Utilitarianism, don't you?

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