Theory that takes as its primary aim the attainment of maximum possible happiness of a society as a whole. This goal is to be achieved in such a way that one first checks what makes every particular individual in a society happy, then sums up all these various wants and preferences, and finally finds out how to satisfy the greatest number of them. A policy which makes happy the greatest number of persons, or the one which frustrates satisfaction of desires of the least number of them, is the only one which is right to chose. Utilitarianism shows interest in distribution of goods only if this has some impact on maximisation of overall happiness. Authors that defend this line of thinking generally claim that approximately equal distribution of resources has the best effect. This is so, they believe, because a certain good is of less value to someone who already has a lot of it, than to someone who possesses a very short supply of the good (e.g. one extra dollar means much less to a millionaire than to a beggar). If this is so, it follows that the loss of happiness of the rich is much smaller than the gain of happiness of the poor, if some reasonable amount of goods is taken from the former and given to the latter. Therefore, a redistribution of resources increases general happiness of a society. However, utilitarians do not advocate strict equality because it would have an adverse influence on the working motivation of the able individuals, and thereby on the overall wealth of the society. The main task is to find a balance between factors that point towards equality and those ones that go against it.

The leading representatives of this doctrine are:
Jeremy Bentham, Henry Sidgwick, J.S. Mill, Richard B. Brandt, R.M. Hare, John Harsanyi, J.J. Smart

  John Rawls
  Ronald Dworkin
  Right Libertarianism
Left Libertarianism
  Strict Egalitarianism
  Bibliography >