from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The utilitarianism ( lat. Utilitas , benefit , advantage) is a form of purpose-oriented (teleological) Ethics ( Nutzethik ) that occurs in different variants. Reduced to a classic basic formula, it says that an action is morally correct if and only if it reflects the aggregated overall benefit, i.e. H. the sum of the well-being of all concerned, maximized. In addition to ethics , utilitarianism is also important in social philosophy and economics .

There are various forms of utilitarianism that depend on further philosophical assumptions. The hedonistic utilitarianism about is human welfare the feeling of pleasure and joy, and the absence of pain and suffering the same, while other forms of utilitarianism fulfill individual preferences request. Action utilitarianism judges actions individually according to their tendency to produce good results, while rule utilitarianism focuses on following rules. However, all forms of utilitarianism have in common that they represent the only criterion for possible consequences and real effects of moral judgment; accordingly, utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethic. Furthermore, it is an altruistic and universalistic moral theory, because utilitarianism propagates an increase in the common good . In doing so, he politically represents the vision of a paternalistic welfare state led by technocrats , whose laws guarantee "the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number".

The utilitarian approach was systematically developed by Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) and applied to specific questions. Bentham explains the central concept of utility in the first chapter of his "Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation" (first published in 1789 ) as follows:

“The principle of use means that principle that approves or disapproves of any action according to its tendency to increase or decrease the happiness of the group whose interests are at stake [...]“ Use ”is the property of an object meant, whereby it tends to create welfare, advantage, joy, good or happiness. "

"Benefit" ( benefit ) is therefore not "utility" ( utility ) equate. Furthermore, modern utilitarian theories often do not operate with the concept of utility, but with the broader concept of human well-being.

History of utilitarian theory

Predecessor forms

A first form of utilitarianism can be found with the Chinese philosopher Mozi (479–381 BC). He founded the school of Mohism in ancient China and advocated a utilitarian ethic some 2,200 years before it was formulated as a justifiable principle in Europe. Even the ancient hedonism , of the of Aristippus of Cyrene founded philosophical school of Cyrenaics decline can be interpreted in the broadest sense as a predecessor of classical utilitarianism.

The beginnings of utilitarian thinking in modern Europe can be found with Thomas Hobbes ( Leviathan ), whose basic ethical statement is that "right" behavior is that which promotes our own well-being. Next: The justification of the social moral code depends on whether it favors the well-being of those who follow it. For Francis Hutcheson , the criterion for morally good behavior was whether it promotes the welfare of humanity. His successor, David Hume came to the conclusion that virtue and personal merit in those rest of our properties that for us - like (- and for other useful are).

Jeremy Bentham

Classic period

Jeremy Bentham was the first in Europe to advocate a utilitarian ethic in the form of an elaborate system. In his book An introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Bentham expressed that there are only two basic anthropological constants for him: the pursuit of pleasure ( pleasure ) and the avoidance of pain ( pain ). According to Bentham, suffering and joy determine the ethical criteria for human action and the causality of our actions. It is nature that shows people the way in suffering and joy. Bentham saw the decisive motives of human action in suffering and joy and thus represented a psychological hedonism :

“Nature has placed mankind under the rule of two sovereign masters - suffering and joy. It is up to them alone to show what we should do as well as to determine what we will do. Both the standard for right and wrong and the chain of causes and effects are tied to her throne. They rule us in everything we do, what we say, what we think. "

According to Bentham, a person always strives for an object that he expects to bring joy. Based on this, Bentham formulated the principle of utility, which says that all that is good is what produces “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. Bentham later realized that the simultaneous maximization of two sizes does not provide a clear solution, which is why he later only spoke of the "principle of greatest happiness" ( Maximum Happiness Principle ). Bentham's work focused on applying this principle to the shaping of social order. In his writings he develops less an individual ethic than a rational doctrine of legislation. For Bentham, the only decisive factor was the quantity of happiness, which he demonstrated with the drastic formulation " Pushpin is of equal value [...] as poetry" ("Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. "). In contrast, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) in his book "Utilitarianism" from 1863 advocated the thesis that cultural, intellectual and spiritual satisfaction also has a qualitative value compared to physical satisfaction. A person who has experienced both prefers mental satisfaction to physical satisfaction. This is what Mill states in his famous saying:

“It is better to be a dissatisfied person than a satisfied pig; better a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied fool. "

The calculative mapping of qualitatively preferable activities, however, remains unclear. In addition, Mill's distinction seems to be more conventional and based on a certain concept of the high culture of the time.

In the book "On Freedom", too, John Stuart Mill set different accents than his father's friend and teacher, Bentham. While freedom cannot represent a value in itself in a pure utility calculation, Mill attaches a fundamental value to freedom and, in particular, freedom of expression. In order to discover the truth, all relevant arguments must be examined. However, this is impossible when opinions and arguments are politically suppressed. The correct determination of the greatest happiness therefore presupposes the freedom of expression (freedom of the press, freedom of science, etc.).

This liberal version of utilitarianism can also be found in the political philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1872–1970).

Later forms

The classic utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill influenced many other philosophers and led to the development of a broader concept of consequentialism . Bentham and Mill's hedonistic utilitarianism, although best known, is now represented by a minority. Further variants of utilitarianism that were improved against criticism were developed by William Godwin (1756-1836), a contemporary of Bentham with anarchist tendencies, and Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900). More recently, Richard Mervyn Hare (1919–2002), Richard Brandt (1910–1997), who coined the term “ rule utilitarianism ”, John Jamieson Carswell Smart and Peter Singer , who is considered a representative of preferential utilitarianism , should be mentioned in particular . Ludwig von Mises used utilitarian arguments for liberalism. Conversely, some philosophers advocated ethical socialism on a utilitarian basis .

As the examples show, utilitarianism is mainly widespread in English-speaking countries. One of the few German representatives to be mentioned is the Düsseldorf philosopher Dieter Birnbacher , who also emerged as the translator John Stuart Mills.

Theoretical content

Basic principles

Utilitarianism rests on several core principles that set it apart from other normative theories. Leaving the core principles aside, there are a number of assumptions that are shared by many, but not all, utilitarians. In the 20th century in particular, a number of sub-currents in utilitarianism have emerged which reject the assumptions of classical utilitarianism. That is why many modern philosophers prefer the collective term “ consequentialism ” for their conception.

Three basic principles characterize utilitarianism:

  • Value objectivity and neutrality: The yardstick for assessing the consequences is their objective value, in utilitarianism in particular their benefit. It does not depend on the use for any goals, purposes or values ​​- utilitarianism is not value-nihilistic - but rather on the use for the absolutely good . Almost all utilitarians also assume that the value of consequences can be assessed independently of observers and agents: If different agents and observers are fully rationally and morally informed, they should treat the same consequences equally. Utilitarists are also monists of values: they believe that all morally interesting values ​​can be reduced or converted to one value, benefit or happiness.
  • Eudaemonism : The only good of utilitarianism is happiness or, more generally speaking, human well-being. There are different opinions about what exactly should be understood by human well-being. The classic utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill were hedonists. According to hedonism, human well-being consists in the feeling of pleasure and pleasure, and the absence of suffering and pain. But modern utilitarians are not necessarily hedonists, and a wide range of beliefs exist. Preferential utilitarianism is based on economic ideas for benefit, according to which human well-being is understood as the fulfillment of preferences. Both views have in common that they have a subjective understanding of well-being; in fact, utilitarianism is also compatible with an objective concept of well-being, according to which well-being is the experience of objectively valuable experiences.
  • Universalism : Utilitarianism is universalistic because the well-being of every individual has the same weight in his or her considerations. It is not only a question of the happiness of the acting person, also not of the happiness of a group, society or culture, but of the happiness of all those affected by an action. Thus utilitarianism is not an egoistic, but rather an altruistic ethic: the collective good is superior to the individual good. Universalism contradicts intuitive judgments, according to which, for example, the life of loved ones is more important than the life of strangers. Utilitarianism is also universal in that its ethics apply equally to all individuals. Hypothetically, but not necessarily practically, there are no notions of specific responsibilities here.

If these three basic principles are put together, the result is the utilitarian basic formula: An action is morally correct then and precisely when its consequences for the well-being of all those affected by the action are optimal.

General characteristics

In addition to the three basic principles mentioned, there are a number of characteristics that almost all utilitarians share, but are rejected by a few utilitarians. These characteristics are therefore not inevitable characteristics of a utilitarian ethic, even if they are often presented as such.

  • Consequentialism : In utilitarianism as a teleological ethics, the correctness of an action does not arise from itself or its properties, but from its consequences. In order to morally evaluate an action, one must determine and evaluate the consequences of the action. The correctness of an action then results from the value of its consequences. Other questions, such as whether an action is carried out out of good will or not, are of subordinate or no interest here. The principle of consequence also implies an empirical approach.
  • Maximization . All classical utilitarians, and nearly all modern utilitarians, assume that an action is right precisely when it maximizes well-being . However, this assumption leads to some counter-intuitive results. Many everyday actions - such as going to the cinema - do not maximize the well-being of others and should therefore be judged as morally wrong according to the basic utilitarian formula. Some utilitarians have therefore modified the position so that an action is correct when it leads to sufficiently good , rather than maximally good, results.
  • Aggregation . Another assumption that is increasingly being rejected by modern utilitarians is that the distribution of benefits between individuals does not matter. In classical utilitarianism, benefits are simply aggregated, so that no distinction is made between a distribution in which a certain individual receives 100 benefits and 99 individuals have none, and a distribution in which one hundred individuals perceive a “benefit point”. However, some utilitarians reject this assumption. According to moral prioritarianism, the marginal utility to well-off individuals has a lower moral value than the marginal utility to less well-off individuals. (This position should not be confused with the assumption of decreasing marginal utility.) Such a position rejects the assumption of simple aggregation.
  • Action focus. Most utilitarian ethics focus on the correctness of individual actions, but other alternatives are possible. The best-known alternative, sometimes attributed to Mill, is what is known as rule utilitarianism , according to which an action is right if it conforms to a rule whose general observance will maximize utility. Recent research has questioned whether utilitarians should opt for a "focal point" at all - utilitarians should prefer the actions, rules, character forms, etc. that maximize utility. This “focusless” position is usually referred to as global utilitarianism .
  • Binary action evaluation. Standard forms of utilitarianism indicate when an action - or rule, etc. - is right. These forms of utilitarianism thus accept the classic assessment system of normative ethics, according to which actions are divided into “right” and “wrong”, or “permitted” and “prohibited”. So-called scalar utilitarianism rejects this assumption.

Shapes and directions

Utilitarian theorists have moved away from the designs of Bentham and Mill, which are now considered classic . By making variations on the many basic assumptions of classical utilitarianism, many different directions have emerged. In order to distance themselves from the often criticized basic forms, some today call themselves consequentialists .

Action utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism

A common distinction between different forms of utilitarianism is that between act or action utilitarianism on the one hand and rule utilitarianism on the other.

In act utilitarianism , the utilitarian “principle of greatest utility” is related to the individual action . For this purpose, the respective consequences are determined for the alternative courses of action available and - taking into account the probability of their occurrence - assessed.

In contrast, rule utilitarianism relates the utilitarian criterion to rules of action such as “one should keep a promise”. A two-stage procedure is used for this purpose. In a first step, the question is asked what consequences the observance of the available rules of action would have and how these consequences should be assessed. The rule to be chosen is that which has the greatest general benefit. In a second step, the individual actions are then evaluated on the basis of the rules that have been adopted; however, the utilitarian principle is not applied to every single act.

Types of benefit

One can differentiate utilitarian directions according to which conception of utility and happiness they are based on. The classic utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill is viewed as hedonistic, since it defines the good as the happiness people seek.

In contrast, for preferential utilitarianism, the good is the fulfillment of people's preferences. That is to be maximized. In this regard, the consequences can include things other than pleasure, such as reputation or education. Today he is particularly preferred by Peter Singer , who was influenced by Richard Mervyn Hare .

There have now been various attempts to establish utilitarianism independently of the thesis of psychological hedonism. One example is the ethics of Richard Mervyn Hare, who outlines a utilitarianism based on language analysis. The hedonistic element can be removed from utilitarianism without major problems and replaced by a decision-making concept of utility. Bentham and Mill already suggest a broader, non-hedonistic interpretation of the concept of utility if, instead of the terms "happiness" or "pleasure", other, non-hedonistic terms such as "advantage" are used. , “Benefit” or “good”.

Negative utilitarianism

Most utilitarians are concerned with maximizing the amount of happiness for the individuals. Conversely, negative utilitarianism focuses on minimizing the suffering of individuals. Happiness is not valued, or at least minimizing suffering is seen as a priority over maximizing happiness. In the practical implementation of this idea, one can differentiate between the following variants:

1. Some philosophers argue that the goal of negative utilitarianism is the quickest and most painless annihilation of all sentient being, as this would ultimately minimize suffering.

2. The negative preference- utilitarianism avoids the problem of killing for moral reasons, but still requires justification for creating new life.

3. Finally, there are theorists who view negative utilitarianism as a variant of classical utilitarianism which gives more weight to avoiding suffering than to promoting happiness. The moral weight of the alleviation of suffering can be increased by an appropriate metric, so that the same effect is achieved as in Prioritarianism .

Optimistic and non-violent supporters of negative utilitarianism can be found in the environment of bioethical abolitionism and paradise engineering .
There are pessimistic followers of negative utilitarianism in the context of Buddhism .

Other species

Since the ultimate foundation of utilitarianism is sentience, many utilitarianists have included non-human beings in moral considerations from the outset. Jeremy Bentham wrote the following words in The Principles of Morals and Legislation, which are widely quoted in animal rights literature:

“The day may come when the rest of the living creation will acquire those rights that only the hand of tyranny could withhold from them. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason to abandon a human being helplessly to the whim of a tormentor. Perhaps one day it will be recognized that the number of legs, the hairiness of the skin or the end of the sacrum are just as little reasons to leave a sentient being to this fate. What else should make up the impassable line? Is it the faculty of the mind or perhaps the faculty of speech? But a fully grown horse or dog is incomparably more sensible and communicative than a day or week old, or even a month old. But even if it were different, what would that matter? The question is not: can you think intelligently? or: can you speak? but: can you suffer? "

The well-known (preference) utilitarian Peter Singer is currently working extensively on this topic. He is also considered the father of the modern animal rights debate .

Dealing with other ethics

In addition to rejecting some ethical systems, utilitarians have also tried to explicitly link their ethics to others.

In order to overcome the identified shortcomings in both systems, attempts were made to combine utilitarianism with Kant's categorical imperative . For example, James Cornman puts forward the normative thesis that in any given situation as few individuals as possible should be used as means and as many individuals as possible should be treated as ends, which he calls the "utilitarian Kantian principle".

Other consequentialists see happiness as an important good, but also give some value to other goods such as justice or equality, which makes utilitarianism more compatible with general morals.

The John Rawls ethic of utilitarianism differs in that in Rawls' ethics the happiness of the most unfortunate person should be maximized, while in utilitarianism average happiness should be maximized. In other words: In Rawls' ethics the maximum suffering is minimized, while in utilitarianism the average suffering is minimized.

Utilitarian utility calculation

A basic principle of utilitarianism is known as the utility calculus - also known as the hedonistic calculus at Bentham  . It is very characteristic of utilitarian considerations and value judgments and is also the main trigger of many criticisms and intuitive aversion.

John Stuart Mill

If an individual is faced with several alternative courses of action, he should, according to utilitarianism, choose the act which, as a consequence, is most likely to bring the greatest possible happiness. To do this, all individual consequences and their effects on the happiness and suffering of the individual must be taken into account. Ultimately, one must calculate all the happiness and suffering that arise in the individual through the possible practice of an alternative action to a total, whereby one can see to what extent an action generally increases happiness or creates suffering.

Bentham originally listed the duration, intensity and probability of happiness or suffering as criteria for calculating the overall benefit of an action.

Bentham was the first to describe such a procedure. Although a more detailed and concrete elaboration does not exist, the utility calculation is recognized as a principally useful guideline by utilitarians.

The best way to understand utilitarian utility calculation is to compare it to the smart decision-making behavior of an individual .

Let us assume that a student is faced with the choice between the alternatives “Continue studying as before”, “Change subject” and “Quit studying completely”. If he wants to find out the best of these three alternatives, he thinks about what consequences are associated with the alternative courses of action available and what advantages and disadvantages this entails for him.

He can make the necessary considerations clear by summarizing the consequences under certain points of view, such as "financial effects", "effects on personal relationships", "effects on the probability of a successful final examination" etc. He can adjust these aspects according to their different Weight meaning for yourself.

In doing so, he will wisely not only consider whether a consequence is more advantageous or more disadvantageous for him, but he will also try to assess the comparative size of the advantages and disadvantages and incorporate them into the decision.

He reaches a decision by weighing the advantages and disadvantages associated with the alternatives against each other and combining them into a single value. Then he chooses the alternative that has the greatest positive value for him.

What is referred to here as an “advantage” or “disadvantage” is referred to by decision theorists as a “utility”. This term is not exactly chosen, the term “value” would be more appropriate here. But the term “value” was already used in economic theory to denote the average price of a good.

“Use” in the sense shown is not a psychological object that could be measured empirically, as the utilitarians of the 18th and 19th centuries still believed. It is merely a terminology with which one can  describe what a subject wants in a very differentiated and precise manner - for example through a utility function .

The difference between the rational (benefit-maximizing) decision just outlined by a single subject and the utilitarian calculation of the greatest benefit consists solely in the fact that not only the advantages and disadvantages of one subject have to be taken into account, but the advantages and disadvantages of all subjects, that are affected by the decision. The utilitarian calculus of utility is, so to speak, the determination of the best alternative for the community under the condition that the valuations of all individuals are given equal weight.

Interpersonal comparison of benefits

To carry out the utilitarian utility calculation, it is necessary in the vast majority of cases to weigh the happiness or advantage of one person against the suffering or disadvantage of another person. For this purpose, the benefit variables of the individual persons must be measured or at least estimated in a comparable way across staff. Whether and how this is possible remains controversial.

The early utilitarians believed that the happiness of individuals was a psychological quantity that could be measured empirically . Bentham's efforts were in the direction of such a "moral science". However, empirically, this path has not proven to be feasible, as no “scientific” standard for the interpersonal comparison of happiness could be found. As a result, the idea of ​​interpersonal utility measurement was dropped in economics. Economic theory also got along with purely subjective orders of preference , that is, with the observation of voluntary exchange relationships between bundles of goods. What remained was the welfare economics (English welfare economics ), but is not based on a psychologically understood "well-being", but to (barter) criteria. Pareto optimality is central here . This criterion excludes intersubjective comparisons of advantages and disadvantages.

Critics point out that the happiness of different individuals is incommensurable and that therefore calculating utility is not only practically but also theoretically impossible.

This is countered by the fact that in everyday decisions the advantages and disadvantages for different people are constantly compared in terms of size. Terms such as consideration, sacrifice, reasonableness or disadvantage require a reference to the comparable well-being of different people.

Triage seems to be an example of a real (emergency) situation where utilitarianism is consistently applied.

The argument that the benefit calculation is not feasible in purely practical terms is countered by the fact that, for example, one can estimate the comparable size of the sum of the individual benefits of a theater performance for different people by checking how much time, money or work the individual sacrifices for the theater visit ready. Statements can thus be made about the benefits of the further development of the culture through this presentation, about alternative costs for benefits lost through other activities of the visitors, etc.

In addition, one can basically measure the suffering and happiness of others by putting oneself in the position of the other individual. Significant barriers are imposed on this process, of course, because no one can guess which cognitive processes the other individual has at his disposal and how the structure and medium-term temporal development of his suffering and happiness structure will take place. Every exploration already means influencing.

Criticism of utilitarianism

Since its formulation by Bentham and Mill, utilitarianism has faced numerous criticisms. Mill already defended himself in “Utilitarianism” against the accusation that utilitarianism was a doctrine “only worthy of a swine”, since it was based on a concept of pleasure.

Misleading use of the word "benefit"

Already John Stuart Mill saw that the expression “utilitarianism” and its derivation from the English term “utility” could easily give the impression that utilitarianism is in itself cold-hearted and materialistic. In order to avoid such misunderstandings, people today mostly speak of "happiness" or "individual well-being".

Utilitarianism and a general understanding of morality

From the standpoint of utilitarianism, happiness is the greatest and only good. Other ethical goods such as equality , justice , freedom or virtue and intuitive moral concepts have no value in themselves from a utilitarian point of view. However, this can lead to situations in which a utilitarian ethic advises an action which other ethics would judge as absolutely immoral. Most of the rejections of utilitarianism are based on this conflict. For example, one could argue in favor of torturing or killing an individual if it could save lives.

Utilitarians react differently to such allegations. Some argue that in such situations only the maximization of happiness counts and other moral judgments should be rejected. Others, on the other hand, point out that in an imaginary dilemma situation, utilitarianism would only superficially advise an apparently wrong decision, while considering all direct and indirect consequences a different picture would emerge. Long-term consequences, such as the loss of confidence in fundamental rights guaranteed by the state, must also be considered. Utilitarians like Smart emphasize here that many intuitive or traditional moral concepts are indeed utilitarian, since their observance leads to a benefit maximization in general and in the long term. Smart used the term “rule of thumb”.

human dignity

Another point of criticism is that while utilitarianism recognizes human dignity, in practice its principles can contradict human dignity. This can be explained using an example: Suppose a saleswoman lets an old, visually impaired woman look for change for a long time while a long queue forms behind her. According to utilitarianism, which has the common good as the highest goal, the saleswoman should give the old woman a discount in the amount of the hard-to-find coins, because then she could serve the other customers more quickly. But then anyone could imitate the old woman's behavior and thus gain an unjustified advantage. The conclusion that the cashier should put the old woman at the end of the queue shows that the principles of utilitarianism can easily be criticized.

However, if you look at the above example in a utilitarian way, you can also come to a different conclusion. The common good consists of the good of all individuals. However, this does not mean that the interests of a single person cannot outweigh the conflicting interests of several other persons in certain cases.

In Germany the ambulance one in the interests of a single fatal injured person - that is - in line with utilitarian arguments privilege granted even though hundreds of motorists have to stop and therefore lose time.

This also applies to the example with the visually impaired woman: a disabled person's interest in leading an independent life can outweigh the interest of several supermarket customers in speedy processing.

A thought experiment that is also frequently discussed in connection with utilitarianism deals with a fully occupied passenger plane which has been hijacked and is to be steered as a weapon against a target whose destruction, in addition to the dead and injured passengers, would endanger numerous other human lives, for example a full high-rise or nuclear power plant. Strictly utilitarian arguments would result in a greater overall benefit if the aircraft were shot down.

In Germany, this guiding principle was originally included in the Aviation Security Act of 2005.

With the argument of human dignity, however, the Federal Constitutional Court declared Section 14 (3) of the Aviation Security Act to be unconstitutional and null and void in a ruling in 2006 on the following grounds:

The authorization of the armed forces, in accordance with Section 14 (3) of the Aviation Security Act, to shoot down an aircraft that is to be used against the lives of people by direct action with armed force is linked to the right to life under Article 2 (2) sentence 1 of the Basic Law not compatible with the guarantee of human dignity in Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law, insofar as it affects people who are not involved in the act on board the aircraft.

The reasoning for the judgment also stated with reference to the complainants:

The state should not protect a majority of its citizens by deliberately killing a minority - here the crew and passengers of an airplane. Balancing life against life according to the standard of how many people might be affected on the one hand and how many on the other is not permitted. The state should not kill people because it is less than it hopes to save by killing them.

Questions of justification

The criticism of utilitarianism is that its logic and science do not yet prove a correct ethical system.

The thesis that individuals are obliged to strive for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the best possible world, is arbitrarily postulated by utilitarians. From a purely logical point of view, there is no reason why one should not also strive for the greatest calamity of the greatest number or the worst possible world.

Early utilitarians derived the maximum happiness maxim from a psychological hedonism . But even if one accepts the thesis of psychological hedonism as correct, it by no means follows from this that happiness is the only thing desirable. Many people (e.g. sadists) de facto actively work on the unhappiness of others; but one cannot infer from this that one should aim for the misfortune of anyone or as many people as possible. Something that is really wanted does not have to be desirable in the normative or moral sense. This would be both a naturalistic fallacy and a violation of Hume's Law .

Mill argued that the justification problem existed for all ethics, but that it was more of an argument for amoralism . Insofar as utilitarians refuse a final justification of morality with the problem of infinite recourse , they declare, according to the doctrine of the Munchhausen Trilemma , that they set their moral principle axiomatically. Some utilitarians such as Georg Meggle no longer give any justification at all, but simply start from the empirical thesis that people, among other things, have the preference to make the world a better place. Morality is only an arbitrarily chosen, ultimately non-binding end, which some pursue, but others do not.

In response to the criticism, some utilitarians argue that any political argument for a particular form of society uses, at least implicitly, a utilitarian principle when it claims that a particular society is most useful to people. In doing so, however, the problem of free-riding, for example, is disregarded and thus no obligation of the highest utilitarian maxim for individuals is established.

Incoherence with psychological egoism

The psychological egoism states that each individual only his own seeking happiness and can aspire.

However, some utilitarians assume a psychological egoism. Some critics (e.g. amoralists and ethical egoists ) pointed out that many utilitarians would mistakenly ignore the transfer of the pursuit of happiness from the individual to society by intuitively transferring the idea of ​​the individual urge to maximize their own utility to society as a whole, although there would be no reason to do so.

A possible justification for this transference can be found in a philosophical criticism of the nature of the individual as a fundamental unit of existence (e.g. Ernst Mach : “The I cannot be saved”). Under such a criticism, people's intuition that they are individual carriers of a coherent, delimitable, atomic and temporally stable inner world can be rejected as a perspective illusion. If one accepts this philosophical premise, then the psychological egoism is based on an evolutionary-psychologically explainable false assumption, and overcoming it justifies the transfer of egoistic principles to utilitarian ones.

Critique of Value Monism

One point of criticism of utilitarianism is that the imputed value monism is untenable. According to this argument, we live in a value-pluralistic society - values ​​such as happiness, justice, freedom, dignity, and social security cannot, however, be combined into one value.

Criticism of the normative evaluation of consequences

It remains unclear what consequences of an action for utilitarianism should be considered. Are they those intended for the agent, the foreseen, the objectively foreseeable, the factual or the probable?

Moral overstrain

The objection of excessive demands is often raised against utilitarianism . The objection is that it is asking too much to always act impartially in such a way that the well-being of all is maximized. Because this would demand enormous sacrifices and force us to give up our own projects and lifestyle.

Utilitarianism in Practice

Most of the earlier utilitarians saw their moral philosophy primarily as a program for scientifically founded ethics and for rational legislation. In terms of social philosophy, Bentham and Mill contributed to the development of classical liberalism. Conversely, theorists of classical economics such as David Ricardo embraced utilitarian principles.

Utilitarianism remained closely linked to the economy until modern times and had an impact on liberal and neo-liberal economic and social theories, among other things . One of the main exponents of liberal thought in the 20th century, Friedrich von Hayek , rejected utilitarianism as a special form of constructivism, as it is in stark contrast to Hayek's preference for spontaneous order . Nevertheless, the utilitarian approach worked into the neo-liberal politics of Ludwig Erhard and Margaret Thatcher .

Utilitarianism in Art

Utilitarian echoes in the context of pop culture can be found in the fictional Star Trek universe. The character Spock sometimes expresses the value judgment "The well-being of the many outweighs the well-being of the few or the individual" ("The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few; or the one").

In the novel Rise and Fall of the People's Republic of Antarctica by John Calvin Batchelor , utilitarianism as a failed state model is discussed in detail.


Web links

Wiktionary: utilitarianism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations





  1. By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: […] Utility, what: Utility is 'that property in an object whereby it tends to product benefit, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness.
  2. Translation note on "pleasure": A translation with pleasure alone, as it often occurs, leads to a shortening of the meaning, since " Lust " in German only suggests a sensual sensation. The term pleasure in English, however, has a much wider horizon of meaning: In addition to pleasure, pleasure can also be translated as joy or satisfaction - in general, it denotes a feeling of being happy or satisfied .

Individual evidence

  1. Jeremy Bentham : An introduction in the Principles of Morals and Legislation , quoted from: Rudolf Bensch and Werner Trutwin : Philosophisches Kolleg 3. Ethik. Working materials for philosophy lessons. Secondary level II . Patmos Verlagsgruppe , Düsseldorf 1984, p. 96 .
  2. ^ Jeremy Bentham : The Rationale of Reward . Ed .: Robert Heward. London 1830, p. 206 ( Google Books ).
  3. John Stuart Mill : Utilitarianism . Reclam-Verlag , Stuttgart 1991, p. 13/14 .
  4. In recent research, forms of consequentialism have also been advocated that abandon these assumptions. Please refer
    • Amartya Sen : Evaluator Relativity and Consequential Evaluation . In: Philosophy and Public Affairs . tape 12 , no. 2 , 1983, p. 113-132 .
    • Douglas Portmore: Combining Teleological Ethics with Evaluator Relativism: A Promising Result . In: Pacific Philosophical Quarterly . tape 86 , no. 1 , 2005, p. 95-113 .
    • Mark Schroeder: Not so Promising after All: Evaluator-Relative Teleology and Common-Sense Morality . In: Pacific Philosophical Quarterly . tape 87 , no. 3 , 2006, p. 348-356 .
  5. a b Bernward song : A defense of utilitarianism . Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 2003, p. 19 .
  6. ^ Derek Parfit : Reasons and Persons . Clarendon Press , Oxford 1984. Shelly Kagan : Well-being as Enjoying the Good . In: Philosophical Perspectives . tape
     23 , no. 1 , 2009, p. 253-72 .
  7. ^ Michael Slote, Philip Pettit : Satisficing Consequentialism . In: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes . tape 58 , 1984, pp. 139-76 . Tim Mulgan: Slote's Satisficing Consequentialism . In: Ratio . tape
     6 , no. 2 , 1993, p. 121-34 , doi : 10.1111 / j.1467-9329.1993.tb00142.x . Ben Bradley: Against Satisficing Consequentialism . In: Utilitas . tape
     18 , no. 2 , 2006, p. 97-108 . Jason Rogers: In Defense of a Version of Satisficing Consequentialism . In: Utilitas . tape 22 , no. 2 , 2010, p. 198-221 .
  8. ^ Derek Parfit: Equality and Priority . In: Ratio . tape 10 , no. 3 , 1997, p. 202-221 . Nils Holtug: Prioritarianism . In: Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Eds.): Egalitarianism: New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality . 2007, p.
     125-156 . Derek Parfit: Another Defense of the Priority View . In: Utilitas . tape
     24 , no. 3 . Clarendon Press , Oxford 2012, pp. 399-440 , doi : 10.1017 / S095382081200009X .
  9. ^ JO Urmson: The Interpretation of the Moral Philosophy of JS Mill . In: The Philosophical Quarterly . tape 3 , no. 10 , 1953, pp. 33-39 , doi : 10.2307 / 2216697 .
  10. For modern forms, see Brad Hooker: Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of Morality . Oxford University Press , Oxford 2000.
  11. ^ Philip Pettit, Michael Smith: Global Consequentialism . In: Elinor Mason, Brad Hooker, and Dale E. Miller (Eds.): Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader . Rowman & Littlefield , Lanham 2000, pp. 121-33 . Shelly Kagan : Evaluative Focal Points . In: Elinor Mason, Brad Hooker, and Dale E. Miller (Eds.): Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader . Rowman & Littlefield , Lanham 2000 ( Google Books ).
  12. ^ Alastair Norcross: The Scalar Approach to Utilitarianism . In: The Blackwell Guide to Mill's Utilitarianism . Blackwell, Oxford 2006. Rob Lawlor: The Rejection of Scalar Consequentialism . In: Utilitas . tape
     21 , no. 1 , 2009, p. 100-116 .
  13. Critical: Michael Quante : Introduction to General Ethics . 4th edition. Scientific Book Society , Darmstadt 2011, ISBN 978-3-534-24595-6 , pp. 135 : "Fake alternative"
  14. The pinprick argument , utilitarianism.com
  15. Fabian Fricke: Different versions of negative utilitarianism . In: Criterion . tape 15 , no. 1 , 2002, p. 20–22 ( online [PDF]).
  16. Fabian Fricke: Different versions of negative utilitarianism . In: Criterion . tape 15 , no. 1 , 2002, p. 14 ( online [PDF]).
  17. John Broome : Weighing Goods . Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1991, p. 222 .
  18. ^ Open Directory - Negative Utilitarianism ( Memento of March 8, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Paradise Engineering.
  19. Bruno Contestabile: Negative Utilitarianism and Buddhist Intuition . In: Contemporary Buddhism . tape 15 , no. 2 . London 2014, p. 298-311 .
  20. Ursula Wolf , Jens Tuider: Animal ethical positions. Federal Agency for Civic Education, January 14, 2014, accessed on October 13, 2015 .
  21. Simon Baar: Investigation of utilitarianism from the point of view of the theory of justice by John Rawls . 2011, ISBN 978-3-640-95963-1 , pp. 12 f .
  22. Otfried Höffe : Introduction to utilitarian ethics . classical and contemporary texts. 2nd Edition. Francke Verlag, Tübingen 1992, ISBN 978-3-7720-1690-5 .
  23. Alexander Steinforth: Ethics in the event of a disaster. Retrieved July 18, 2016 .
  24. Principles on the judgment of the First Senate of February 15, 2006. Accessed on July 18, 2016 .
  25. ^ Julia Driver: The History of Utilitarianism. In: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition). Edward N. Zalta, accessed March 11, 2016 .
  26. ^ Jens Petersen: Freedom under the law: Friedrich August von Hayeks legal thought . Mohr Siebeck Verlag , 2014, ISBN 978-3-16-153042-5 ( google.de [accessed on September 23, 2017]).
  27. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. IMDb , accessed March 10, 2020 .