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Utilitarianism is an ethical doctrine that holds that right conduct consists in doing whatever will maximize the well-being of everyone affected by an action. It is often summed up by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham's slogan, “the greatest good for the greatest number.” While relatively few philosophers today defend a pure version of utilitarianism, it has had substantial impact on the practice of conventional environmental management and is an important reference point for other ethical theories.

There is controversy among utilitarians about precisely what constitutes “well-being”—often termed “utility”—and how it is to be maximized. Utilitarians agree that what constitutes an individual's well-being should be defined by the individual herself, not by any external or objective standard of the proper way to live. The earliest explicit formulation of ...

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