To my understanding, Utilitarianism is just the principle of maximizing utility, where utility is apparently defined as the ability to beget happiness. However, the name itself does not seem to specify that this utility is happiness. Can the title be applied to other objectives? And if so, would it still be referred to as Utilitarianism?

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    I'm having some difficulty deciphering your sentences, which makes me hesitate to answer, but utilitarianism is sometimes used synonymously with the broader category consequentialism which refers to all views where the task of ethics is seen as trying to maximize or minimize something (e.g. "minimize suffering" / "maximize number of people" / "minimize number of angry lepruchans" ).
    – virmaior
    Sep 29, 2016 at 3:39
  • You are not alone here, there are definitely variants of Utilitarianism where the goal is not happiness. The first recorded widespread example of the idea of greatest good for the greatest number arises in Mohism -- focused on the factors that predict the success of a state. The SEP entry on Moh Zi seems equally torn about this -- it still refers to its ethics as 'utilitarian', but dismisses the capital letter.
    – user9166
    Sep 29, 2016 at 21:11
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1 Answer 1


Not necessarily; there is an "historical" link between the two points of view.

Compare Utilitarianism :

Though there are many varieties of the view discussed, utilitarianism is generally held to be the view that the morally right action is the action that produces the most good. There are many ways to spell out this general claim. One thing to note is that the theory is a form of consequentialism: the right action is understood entirely in terms of consequences produced. What distinguishes utilitarianism from egoism has to do with the scope of the relevant consequences. On the utilitarian view one ought to maximize the overall good — that is, consider the good of others as well as one's own good.

The Classical Utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, identified the good with pleasure, so, like Epicurus, were hedonists about value.

with Hedonism :

Ethical or evaluative hedonism claims that only pleasure has worth or value and only pain or displeasure has disvalue or the opposite of worth. Jeremy Bentham asserted both psychological and ethical hedonism with the first two sentences of his book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1823): “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do”.

  • Also see preference utilitarianism, in which "utility" is defined in terms of satisfaction of preferences, not necessarily happiness. I think one could argue that John Stuart Mill's comment "is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied" might fit into this view, since part of his argument was that among those who could comprehend both types of experiences, they would generally prefer the former to the latter in each pair.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 1, 2020 at 23:30
  • -1: This isn't what Mills wrote as far as I recall from reading his essays. He was also much more sympathetic towards socialism than what one might think from reading people who write about him; strangely, they never mention this aspect of his thinking .... wonder why. Mar 2, 2020 at 14:02
  • ... I guess that would take an essay in itself. Mar 2, 2020 at 14:07

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