As far as I understand, if we accept utilitarianism ethics, then the right thing to do is to maximize the happiness of everyone, including all sentient beings. But this does not leave any space for any personal project that does not contribute the common good.

For example, assume that I am very interested in writing poetry, but am not interested in publishing or unable to publish anything. Then my time spent on poetry does not help anyone other giving me some satisfaction. According to utilitarianism, I should throw away my notebooks and do something like volunteering for a charity.

But this seems to be really difficult even for the noblest of us. So for utilitarians, the justification allowing some personal project seems to be that it is impossible for humans to get rid of self-interest.

Are there any better answers to this question?

2 Answers 2


Under utilitarianism, that people are unable to get rid of self-interest merely means that they act wrongly.

This is known as the demandingness objection, namely that most people regard many actions as optional that utilitarianism would require as mandatory. For instance, maximizing contribution to charity rather spending money on yourself.

Thomas Nagel argued against it on the grounds of "agent-relative" interests rather than "agent-neutral" (something you want but not that anyone would want) but those would require you to follow your interests rather than having the option to choose to sacrifice them.


you have to think globally with utilitarianism. if writing poetry is necessary for your well being, then it's utilitarian to write poetry.....Because if you didnt, you'd be too miserable anyways to help others.

That's why it's ok to take care of yourself with utilitarianism, because your happiness counts and because you can't help others if you are miserable. You just have to optimize how you split other people's interests and yours.

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