Tag Archives: utilitarianism

J. L. Mackie

A prescriptively universalizing (and therefore utilitarian) critical thinker would encourage the adoption and development of firm principles and dispositions of the ordinary moral sort, rather than the direct use of utilitarian calculation as a practical working morality. There are at least six reasons why this is so. Shortage of time and energy will in general preclude such calculations. Even if time and energy are available, the relevant information commonly is not. An agent’s judgment on particular issues is liable to be distorted by his own interests and special affections. Even if he were intellectually able to determine the right choice, weakness of will would be likely to impair his putting of it into effect. Even decisions that are right in themselves and actions based on them are liable to be misused as precedents, so that they will encourage and seem to legitimate wrong actions that are superficially similar to them. And, human nature being what it is, a practical working morality must not be too demanding: it is worse than useless to set standards so high that there is no real chance that actions will even approximate to them. Considerations of these sorts entail that a reasonable utilitarian critical thinker would recommend the adoption of fairly strict principles and the development of fairly firm dispositions in favor of honesty, veracity, agreement-keeping, justice, fairness, respect for various rights of individuals, gratitude to benefactors, special concern for some individuals connected in certain ways with the agent, and so on, as being more likely in general to produce behavior approximating to that which would be required by the utilitarian ideal than any other humanly viable working morality.

Mackie, J. L. (1984) ‘Rights, utility, and universalization’, in R. G. Frey (ed.) Utility and Rights, Minneapolis, pp. 91

Barbara Fried

I would like to acknowledge a significant intellectual debt to Joe Bankman and our sons, Sam and Gabe. When Sam was about fourteen, he emerged from his bedroom one evening and said to me, seemingly out of the blue, “What kind of person dismisses an argument they disagree with by labelling it ‘the Repugnant Conclusion’?” Clearly, things were not as I, in my impoverished imagination, had assumed them to be in our household. Restless minds were at work making sense of the world around them without any help from me. In the years since, both Sam and Gabe have become take-no-prisoners utilitarians, joining their father in that hardy band. I am not (yet?) a card-carrying member myself, but in countless discussions around the kitchen table, literally and figuratively, about the subject of this book, they have taught me at least as much as I have taught them. More importantly, they have shown me by example the nobility of the ethical principle at the heart of utilitarianism: a commitment to the wellbeing of all people, and to counting each person—alive now or in the future, halfway around the world or next door, known or unknown to us—as one.

Barbara Fried, Facing Up to Scarcity: The Logic and Limits of Nonconsequentialist Thought, Oxford, 2020, p. xv

John Stuart Mill

In his views of life he partook of the character of the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Cynic. In his personal character the Stoic predominated: his standard of morals was Epicurean, in so far as that it was utilitarian, taking as the sole test of right and wrong, the tendency of actions to produce pleasure or pain. But he had (and this was the Cynic element) scarcely any belief in pleasure: at least in his later years, of which alone on this subject I can speak confidently. He deemed very few pleasures worth the price which at all events in the present state of society, must be paid for them. The greatest miscarriages in life he considered attributable to the overvaluing of pleasures. Accordingly, temperance in the large sense intended by the Greek philosophers—stopping short at the point of moderation in all indulgences—was with him as with them, almost the cardinal point of moral precept.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 1, p. 48

Kevin Dutton

The psychopath, it’s been said, gets the words, but not the music, of emotion. […]

Joe was twenty-eight, better looking than Brad Pitt, and had an IQ of 160. Why he’d felt the need to beat that girl senseless in the parking lot, drive her to the darkness on the age of that northern town, rape her repeatedly at knifepoint, and then slit her throat and toss her facedown in that Dumpster in a deserted industrial park is beyond comprehension. Parts of her anatomy were later found in his glove compartment.

In a soulless, airless interview suite smelling faintly of antiseptic, I sat across a table from Joe—a million miles, and five years, on from his municipal, blue-collar killing field. I was interested in the way he made decision, the stochastic settings on his brain’s moral compass—and I had a secret weapon, a fiendish psychological trick up my sleep, to find out. I posed him the following dilemma:

A brilliant transplant surgeon has five patients. Each of the patients is in need of a different organ, and each of them will die without that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs currently available to perform any of the transplants. A healthy young traveler, just passing through, comes into the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. While performing the checkup, the doctor discovers that the young man’s organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose, further, that were the young man to disappear, no one would suspect the doctor. Would the doctor be right to kill the young man to save his five patients? […]

“I can see where the problem lies,” he commented matter-of-factly when I put it to him. “If all you’re doing is simply playing the numbers game, it’s a fucking no-brainer, isn’t it? You kill the guy, and save the other five. It’s utilitarianism on crack… […] If I was the doctor, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. It’s five for the price of one, isn’t it?”

Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, New York, 2012, pp. 48-49

John Maynard Keynes

The [Essay] can claim a place amongst those which have had great influence on the progress of thought. It is profoundly in the English tradition of humane science—in that tradition of Scotch and English thought, in which there has been, I think, an extraordinary continuity of feeling, if I may so express it, from the eighteenth century to the present time—the tradition which is suggested by the names of Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Paley, Bentham, Darwin, and Mill, a tradition marked by a love of truth and a most noble lucidity, by a prosaic sanity free from sentiment or metaphysic, and by an immense disinterestedness and public spirit.

John Maynard Keynes, ‘Robert Malthus: The First of the Cambridge Economists’, in Essays in Biography, London, 1933, p. 120

Torbjörn Tännsjö

Is there anything we can do about animal suffering in wildlife? There was a time when many said that nothing should be done to obviate human suffering, since attempts to establish a welfare state would either be in vain, jeopardise what kind of welfare there happens to exist, or produce perverse (even worse) results. We rarely meet with that reaction any more. However, many seem to be ready to argue that wildlife constitutes such a complex system of ecological balances that any attempt to interfere must produce no good results, put into jeopardy whatever ecological ‘balances’ there happen to exist, or perversely make the situation even worse. This is not the place to settle whether they are right or not, but, certainly, there must exist some measures we could take, if we bothered to do so, rendering wildlife at least slightly less terrible. If this were so, we should do so, according to utilitarianism.

Torbjörn Tännsjö, Taking Life: Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing, Oxford, 2015, pp. 260-261

John Broome

Total and average utilitarianism are very different theories, and where they differ most is over extinction. If global warming extinguishes humanity, according to total utilitarianism, that would be an inconceivably bad disaster. The loss would be all the future wellbeing of all the people who would otherwise have lived. On the other hand, according to at least some versions of average utilitarianism, extinction might not be a very bad thing at all; it might not much affect the average wellbeing of the people who do live. So the difference between these theories makes a vast difference to the attitude we should take to global warming. According to total utilitarianism, although the chance of extinction is slight, the harm extinction would do is so enormous that it may well be the dominant consideration when we think about global warming. According to average utilitarianism, the chance of extinction may well be negligible.

John Broome, Counting the Cost of Global Warming, Cambridge, 1992, p. 121

Nick Cooney

Working on issues that affect us, that our friends work on, or that captivate our attention form good starting points for realizing the importance of working to create social change. It is to effective activism what recycling is to an environmentally sustainable lifestyle: it’s the place that pretty much everyone starts out at. But it shouldn’t be an end- point. Once we’ve developed the spirit of social concern, once we’ve seen the value in working to create a better world, we need to move forward in becoming more thoughtful about how we spend the limited amount of time and energy we have. We need to begin choosing our activist work from a utilitarian perspective: How can I do the most good? How can I reduce the most suffering and destruction of life? Slogans like “practice random acts of kindness” feel good and are easy to put into practice. But if we don’t take our activism more seriously than that, our motive is probably a desire to feel good about ourselves, to help ourselves or those close to us, or to act out our self-identity. The endpoint of authentic compassion is a desire to do the most good that one can, to be as effective as possible in creating a world with less suffering and destruction and more joy. Figuring out how we can do the most good takes careful thought over a long period of time, and it means moving into new and possibly uncomfortable areas of advocacy. But the importance of taking our activism seriously and approaching it from this utilitarian perspective cannot be overstated. It will mean a difference between life and death, between happiness and suffering, for thousands of people, for thousands of acres of the ecosystem, and for tens of thousands of animals.

Nick Cooney, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us about Creating Social Change, New York, 2011, pp. 22.23

Michael Lockwood

Any sane moral theory is bound, it seems to me, to incorporate a welfarist element: other things being equal, it should be regarded as morally preferable to confer greater aggregate benefit than less.

Michael Lockwood, ‘Quality of Life and Resource Allocation’, Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series, vol. 23 (March, 1988), p. 41

John Broome

[D]espite what our intuition tells us, changes in the world’s population are not generally neutral. They are either a good thing or a bad thing. But it is uncertain even what form a correct theory of the value of population would take. In the area of population, we are radically uncertain. We do not know what value to set on changes in the world’s population. If the population shrinks as a result of climate change, we do not know how to evaluate that change. Yet we have reason to think that changes in population may be one of the most morally significant effects of climate change. The small chance of catastrophe may be a major component in the expected value of harm caused by climate change, and the loss of population may be a major component of the badness of catastrophe.

How should we cope with this new, radical sort of uncertainty? Uncertainty was the subject of chapter 7. That chapter came up with a definitive answer: we should apply expected value theory. Is that not the right answer now? Sadly it is not, because our new sort of uncertainty is particularly intractable. In most cases of uncertainty about value, expected value theory simply cannot be applied.

When an event leads to uncertain results, expected value theory requires us first to assign a value to each of the possible results it may lead to. Then it requires us to calculate the weighted average value of the results, weighted by their probabilities. This gives us the event’s expected value, which we should use in our decision-making.

Now we are uncertain about how to value the results of an event, rather than about what the results will be. To keep things simple, let us set aside the ordinary sort of uncertainty by assuming that we know for sure what the results of the event will be. For instance, suppose we know that a catastrophe will have the effect of halving the world’s population. Our problem is that various different moral theories of value evaluate this effect differently. How might we try to apply expected value theory to this catastrophe?

We can start by evaluating the effect according to each of the different theories of value separately; there is no difficulty in principle there. We next need to assign probabilities to each of the theories; no doubt that will be difficult, but let us assume we can do it somehow. We then encounter the fundamental difficulty. Each different theory will value the change in population according to its own units of value, and those units may be incomparable with one another. Consequently, we cannot form a weighted average of them.

For example, one theory of value is total utilitarianism. This theory values the collapse of population as the loss of the total well-being that will result from it. Its unit of value is well-being. Another theory is average utilitarianism. It values the collapse of population as the change of average well-being that will result from it. Its unit of value is well-being per person. We cannot take a sensible average of some amount of well-being and some amount of well-being per person. It would be like trying to take an average of a distance, whose unit is kilometers, and a speed, whose unit is kilometers per hour. Most theories of value will be incomparable in this way. Expected value theory is therefore rarely able to help with uncertainty about value.

So we face a particularly intractable problem of uncertainty, which prevents us from working out what we should do. Yet we have to act; climate change will not wait while we sort ourselves out. What should we do, then, seeing as we do not know what we should do? This too is a question for moral philosophy.

Even the question is paradoxical: it is asking for an answer while at the same time acknowledging that no one knows the answer. How to pose the question correctly but unparadoxically is itself a problem for moral philosophy.

John Broome, Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, New York, 2012

John Stuart Mill

The “principle of utility,” understood as Bentham understood it, and applied in the manner in which he applied it through these three volumes, fell exactly into its place as the keystone which held together the detached and fragmentary component parts of my knowledge and beliefs. It gave unity to my conceptions of things. I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy: in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 1, p. 69

Jeremy Bentham

Dr. Priestley published his Essay on Government in 1768. He there introduced, in italics, as the only reasonable and proper object of government, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number.’ It was a great improvement upon the word utility. It represented the principal end, the capital, the characteristic ingredient. It took possession, by a single phrase, of every thing that had hitherto been done. It went, in fact, beyond all notions that had preceded it. It exhibited not only happiness, but it made that happiness diffusive; it associated it with the majority, with the many. Dr. Priestley’s pamphlet was written, as most of his productions, currente calamo, hastily and earnestly.

Somehow or other, shortly after its publication, a copy of this pamphlet found its way into the little circulating library belonging to a little coffee-house, called Harper’s coffee-house, attached, as it were, to Queen’s College, Oxford, and deriving, from the popularity of that college, the whole of its subsistence. It was a corner house, having one front towards the High Street, another towards a narrow lane, which on that side skirts Queen’s College, and loses itself in a lane issuing from one of the gates of New College. To this library the subscription was a shilling a quarter, or, in the University phrase, a shilling a term. Of this subscription the produce was composed of two or three newspapers, with magazines one or two, and now and then a newly-published pamphlet; a moderate sized octavo was a rare, if ever exemplified spectacle: composed partly of pamphlets, partly of magazines, half-bound together, a few dozen volumes made up this library, which formed so curious a contrast with the Bodleian Library, and those of Christ’s Church and All Souls.

The year 1768 was the latest of the years in which I ever made at Oxford a residence of more than a day or two. The motive of that visit was the giving my vote, in the quality of Master of Arts, for the University of Oxford, on the occasion of a parliamentary election; and not being at that time arrived at the age of twenty-one, this deficiency in the article of age might have given occasion to an election contest in the House of Commons, had not the majority been put out of doubt by a sufficient number of votes not exposed to contestation. This year, 1768, was the latest of all the years in which this pamphlet could have come into my hands. Be this as it may, it was by that pamphlet, and this phrase in it, that my principles on the subject of morality, public and private together, were determined. It was from that pamphlet and that page of it, that I drew the phrase, the words and import of which have been so widely diffused over the civilized world. At the sight of it, I cried out, as it were, in an inward ecstasy, like Archimedes on the discovery of the fundamental principle of hydrostatics, eureka!

Jeremy Bentham, “Deontology, or the Science of Morality”, The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, and Ecclesiastical Record, vol. 16, no. 32 (October, 1834), pp. 279-280

James MacKaye

All writers who have any practical and permanent contribution to make to the guidance of human conduct, perceive and proclaim some aspect or other of the philosophy of utility.  They may not explicitly recognize happiness as the end of life,–indeed they may explicitly repudiate it,–but their instinct enables them to identify means, even if the end eludes them.

James MacKaye, Thoreau: Philosopher of Freedom, New York, 1930, p. ix

James MacKaye

Quantities of pain or pleasure may be regarded as magnitudes having the same definiteness as tons of pig iron, barrels of sugar, bushels of wheat, yards of cotton, or pounds of wool; and as political economy seeks to ascertain the conditions under which these commodities may be produced with the greatest efficiency–so the economy of happiness seeks to ascertain the conditions under which happiness, regarded as a commodity, may be produced with the greatest efficiency.

James MacKaye, The Economy of Happiness, Boston, 1906, p. 183-184

C. D. Broad

[T]he Utilitarian cannot confine himself to a single mind; he has to consider what he calls “the total happiness of a collection of minds”. Now this is an extremely odd notion. It is plain that a collection cannot literally be happy or unhappy. The oddity is clearly illustrated if we […] use the analogy of greyness. Suppose that a number of different areas, which are not adjoined to each other, all go through successive phases of greyness. What could we possibly mean by “the total whiteness of this collection of areas”?

C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory, London, 1930, pp. 248-249

Yew-Kwang Ng

One way to see the unacceptability of welfare-independent rights is to ask the question ‘why Right X?’ to a very ultimate level. If the answer is ‘Right X because Y’, then one should ask ‘Why Y?’ For example, if the answer to ‘why free speech?’ is that people enjoy free speech, it is already not welfare-independent. If the answer is free speech deters dictatorship’, then we should ask, ‘Why is it desirable to deter dictatorship?’ If one presses hard enough with such questions, most people will eventually come up with a welfare-related answer.

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Welfarism and Utilitarianism: A Rehabilitation’, Utilitas, vol. 2, no. 2 (November, 1990), p. 180

Roger Crisp

Utilitarianism is almost certainly much more demanding than Mill allows. It is tempting to think, in fact, that Mill is deliberately being disingenuous here. He was quite aware of how much further there was to go before customary morality became ideal, and that the route to that ideal would seem demanding to many. The rhetoric to encourage people on that road comes in chapter 3 of Utilitarianism, especially in the closing paragraphs. Here, he may be more concerned to allay doubts. Better to persuade a reader to become a feeble utilitarian than put them off entirely by stressing the demandingness of utilitarian morality.

Roger Crisp, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism, London, 1997, p. 115

James Seth

We are far too apt to think of Mill as a technically philosophical writer, because we cannot help thinking of him as the author of the Logic, and to forget that he, no less than Bentham and the other utilitarians, is primarily dominated by the practical interest of the social reformer. He is really far more interested in the question of how, “once the general happiness is recognized as the ethical standard,” this ideal is to be practically realized, than in the question of the ethical criterion and its proof.

James Seth, ‘The Alleged Fallacies in Mill’s “Utilitarianism”‘, The Philosophical Review, vol. 17, no. 5, p. 478

Alastair Norcross

Since, according to maximizing utilitarianism, any act that fails to maximize is wrong, there appears to be no place for actions that are morally admirable but not required, and agents will often be required to perform acts of great self-sacrifice. This gives rise to the common charge that maximizing utilitarianism is too demanding. […] How should a utilitarian respond to this line of criticism? One perfectly respectable response is simply to deny the claims at the heart of it. We might insist that morality really is very demanding, in precisely the way utilitarianism says it is. But doesn’t this fly in the face of common sense? Well, perhaps it does, but so what? Until relatively recently, moral “common sense” viewed women as having an inferior moral status to men, and some racs as having an inferior status to others. These judgments were not restricted to the philosophically unsophisticated. Such illustrious philosophers as Aristotle and Hume accepted positions of this nature. Many utilitarians (myself included) believe that the interests of sentient non-human animals should be given equal consideration in moral decisions with the interests of humans. This claims certainly conflicts with the “common sense” of many (probably most) humans, and many (perhaps most) philosophers. It should not, on that account alone, be rejected.

Alastair Norcross, ‘The Scalar Approach to Utilitarianism’, in Henry R. West (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism, Malden, Massachusetts, 2006, p. 218

Samuel Scheffler

I believe that utilitarianism refuses to fade from the scene in large part because, as the most familiar consequentialist theory, it is the major recognized normative theory incorporating the deeply plausible-sounding feature that one may always do what would lead to the best available outcome overall.

Samuel Scheffler, The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions, rev. ed., Oxford, 1994, p. 4

C. D. Broad

Among the things which we can to some extent influence by our actions is the number of minds which shall exist, or, to be more cautious, which shall be embodied at a given time. It would be possible to increase the total amount of happiness in a community by increasing the numbers of that community even though one thereby reduced the total happiness of each member of it. If Utilitarianism be true it would be one’s duty to try to increase the numbers of a community, even though one reduced the average total happiness of the members, so long as the total happiness in the community would be in the least increased. It seems perfectly plain to me that this kind of action, so far from being a duty, would quite certainly be wrong.

C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory, London, 1930, pp. 249-250

Julian Savulescu

The critical question for utilitarians is not ‘Is this natural or is this appropriate for humans?’ but rather ‘Will this make people’s lives go better?’ […] Objectors to utilitarianism often refer scathingly to the ‘utilitarian calculus’. However utilitarians are in one sense humane: they care ultimate about people’s well-being and not about feelings, or intuitions or attachment to symbols. Utilitarianism is a theory that shows concern for people through concern for their well-being.

Julian Savulescu, ‘Bioethics: Utilitarianism’, in Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, 2006, p. 7

Jeremy Bentham

Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religions, the interests of the rest of the animal creation seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not, universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. If the being eaten were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to eat such of them as we like to eat: we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have. The death they suffer in our ands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature. If the being killed were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to kill such as molest us; we should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead. But is there any reason why we should be suffered to torment them? Not any that I can see. Are there any why we should not be suffered to torment them? Yes, several. See B. I. tit (Cruelty to animals.) The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholen from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversible animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?

Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, London, 1789, chap. 17, sect. 4, n. 1

C. L. Ten

In some real-life situations, the results of a truly neutral utilitarian calculation may be very indecisive as between liberal and illiberal solutions, with everything depending on the intensity of feelings and the way the numbers swing. No one, who is concerned with the freedom of minorities in the face of a hostile and prejudiced majority, can be happy with this situation. The fact that many utilitarians are convinced that the calculation will easily support a policy of toleration is a tribute to their latent liberalism rather than to their professed utilitarianism[.]

C. L. Ten, Mill on Liberty, Oxford, 1980, pp. 53-54

Henry Sidgwick

We have next to consider who the “all” are, whose happiness is to be taken into account. Are we to extend our concern to all the beings capable of pleasure and pain whose feelings are affected by our conduct? or are we to confine our view to human happiness? The former view is the one adopted by Bentham and Mill, and (I believe) by the Utilitarian school generally: and is obviously most in accordance with the universality that is characteristic of their principle. It is the Good Universal, interpreted and defined as ‘happiness’ or ‘pleasure,’ at which a Utilitarian considers it his duty to aim: and it seems arbitrary and unreasonable to exclude from the end, as so conceived, any pleasure of any sentient being.

Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed., London, 1907, bk. 4, chap. 1, sect. 1

R. M. Hare

It is indeed rather mysterious that critics of utilitarianism, some of whom lay great weight on the ‘right to equal concern and respect’ which all people have, should object when utilitarians show this equal concern by giving equal weight to the equal interests of everybody, a precept which leads straight to Bentham’s formula and to utilitarianism itself.

R. M. Hare, ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization: Reply to J. L. Mackie’, in R. G. Frey (ed.) Utility and Rights, Oxford, 1985, p. 107

Robin Hanson

When large regions of one’s data are suspect and for that reason given less credence, even complex curves will tend to look simpler as they are interpolated across such suspect regions. In general, the more error one expects in one’s intuitions (one’s data, in the curve-fitting context), the more one prefers simpler moral principles (one’s curves) that are less context-dependent. This might, but need not, tip the balance of reflective equilibrium so much that we adopt very simple and general moral principles, such as utilitarianism. This might not be appealing, but if we really distrust some broad set of our moral intuitions, this may be the best that we can do.

Robin Hanson, ‘Why Health is not Special: Errors in Evolved Bioethics Intuitions’, Social Philosophy & Policy, vol. 19, no. 2 (Summer, 2002), p. 179

Carlos Santiago Nino

[T]he rejection of the aggregative approach which characterizes utilitarianism does not mean that it is completely displaced from the moral arena. It remains in reserve to be resorted to when arguments on the basis of rights are not sufficient to reach a conclusion: when reasons about what is correct do not indicate one course of action, because all of them are equally correct or equally incorrect, we must resort to reasons about the maximization of some social goods.

Carlos Santiago Nino, ‘Liberty, Equality and Causality’, Rechtstheorie, vol. 15, no. 1 (1984), p. 31

  H. L. A. Hart

Some, I know, find the political and moral insight of the Utilitarians a very simple one, but we should not mistake this simplicity for superficiality nor forget how favorably their simplicities compare with the profoundities of other thinkers.

H. L. A. Hart, ‘Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals’, Harvard Law Review, vol. 71, no. 4 (February, 1958), p. 596

John Broome

Until the 1970s, utilitarianism held a dominant position in the practical moral philosophy of the English-speaking world. Since that time, it has had a serious rival in contractualism, a, ethical theory that was relaunched into modern thinking in 1971 by John Rawls’s Theory of Justice. There were even reports of utilitarianism’s imminent death. But utilitarianism is now in a vigorous and healthy state. It is responding to familiar objections. It is facing up to new problems such as the ethics of population. It has revitalized its foundation with new arguments. It has radically changed its conception of human wellbeing. It remains a credible moral theory.

John Broome, ‘Modern Utilitarianism’, in Peter Newman (ed.), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law, London, 1998, p. 656

J. J. C. Smart

I regard Peter as one of the great moralists, because I suspect that more than anyone he has helped to change the attitudes of very many people to the sufferings of animals. Peter is a utilitarian in normative ethics, and a humane attitude to animals is a natural corollary of utilitarianism. Utilitarian concern for animals goes back to Bentham, who, presumably alluding to the Kantians, said that the question was not whether animals can reason, but whether they can suffer.

J. J. C. Smart, ‘Reply to Singer’, in Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and Jean Norman (eds.), Metaphysics and Morality: Essays in Honour of J. J. C. Smart, Oxford, 1987, p. 192

Robert Wright

It is surprising to see such a warm, mushy idea—brotherly love—grow out of a word as cold and clinical as “utilitarianism.” But it shouldn’t be. Brotherly love is implicit in the standard formulations of utilitarianism—maximum total happiness, the greatest good for the greatest number. In other words: everyone’s happiness counts equally; you are not priviledged, and you shouldn’t act as if you are.

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, New York, 1994, p. 336