Standard Article


  1. Henry R. West

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee178

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

West, H. R. 2013. Utilitarianism. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Utilitarianism is a tradition in modern philosophy that an act, moral rule, public policy, law, or institution is ultimately to be evaluated by its utility and only by its utility. By utility is meant the intrinsic value (see Intrinsic Value) of the act and its consequences. The “classical” utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832; see Bentham, Jeremy), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873; see Mill, John Stuart), and Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900; see Sidgwick, Henry), interpreted utility in terms of the greatest happiness principle (see Greatest Happiness Principle). Mill (1861: 210) formulated utilitarianism as follows: “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”


  • Bentham, Jeremy;
  • ethics;
  • Mill, John Stuart;
  • pleasure;
  • value