What is utilitarianism?

Where does the term utilitarianism come from? In this sense, we must make it clear that it is a word that has its etymological origin in Latin. Thus, we can see that it is composed of two Latin parts: the word utilitas, which can be translated as “useful quality”, and the suffix -ismo, which is equivalent to “doctrine”.

Utilitarianism is a philosophical doctrine that places utility as a principle of morality. It is a teleological ethical system that determines the moral conception from the final result. One of the most important philosophical ethics of the 19th century was utilitarianism, which, we can make clear, has among its fundamental principles what is known as social welfare. All this without forgetting another of its most important maxims or objectives, such as the promotion of all freedoms.

Results, therefore, are the basis of utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) was one of the pioneers in the development of this philosophy, when he built his ethical system around the notion of pleasure and avoidance of physical pain. Bentham’s utilitarianism seems related to hedonism, as he considers moral actions to be those that maximize pleasure and minimize pain. It is interesting to note that the break that Bentham established in relation to the classicism of previous societies was perfectly expressed in works such as the one entitled “Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation”. In this type and in others of a similar cut, he made it clear that the good will be anything that gives pleasure to a greater number of people, without in any case taking into account their social status. An assertion that he was also content with the creation and development of what he called the calculation of pleasures, a series of rules that helped him to have clarity, from these criteria, of what was good and what was bad. John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) advanced with the development of this philosophy, although moving away from hedonism. For Mill, general pleasure or happiness must be calculated from the greatest good for the greatest number of people, although he recognizes that certain pleasures have a “superior quality” to others. Among the contributions that Mill gave to utilitarianism, the fact that he considers that society to have moral quality must be educated and informed stands out. It is important to remember that utilitarianism represented a rupture in the way of thinking. Whereas religious morality was based on divine rules and revelations, utilitarianism put results first. In this way reason replaced faith in the determination of morality.

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Utilitarianism has always stood out for its relative simplicity. To think about whether an action is moral, you only need to assess its positive and negative consequences. When good outweighs evil, it can be considered a moral action. Beyond the philosophical system, the notion of utilitarianism has a critical meaning to name the attitude that values ​​utility in an exaggerated way and that places its accomplishment before anything else.

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