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Greatest Happiness Principle

  1. Jonathan Riley

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee762

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Riley, J. 2013. Greatest Happiness Principle. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


The greatest happiness principle is the ultimate standard of morality set up by classical utilitarianism (see Utilitarianism). That classical creed conceives of good as happiness (see Happiness) and holds that right actions are those which maximize the total happiness of the members of the community. As John Stuart Mill (see Mill, John Stuart) explains in Utilitarianism (1861), “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” (1969: 210). Moreover, happiness is understood in hedonistic terms, “By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure” (see Hedonism; Pleasure).


  • Bentham, Jeremy;
  • ethics in economics;
  • history of philosophy;
  • Mill, John Stuart;
  • normative ethics;
  • Rawls, John;
  • Sidgwick, Henry;
  • Williams, Bernard;
  • justice;
  • pleasure