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Utilitarianism is the ethical doctrine that holds that right action consists in promoting the greatest overall or average happiness. It is a particular species of the broader genus of consequentialist ethical theory. Alongside Kantian ethics and virtue ethics, utilitarianism is one of three major ethical theories that continue to dominate contemporary Western philosophy. Usually these different ethical perspectives are understood as being founded on substantively different human values and to have divergent implications for moral judgment and practice. Nevertheless, some contemporary philosophers (e.g., R. M. Hare) claim that utilitarian ethics converges with Kantian principles of equal respect for persons, while others have developed consequentialist versions of virtue ethics. Nevertheless, this entry highlights those features of utilitarianism that distinguish it from alternative moral perspectives and points ...

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