Utilitarianism represents an old and distinguished tradition in moral philosophy, the influence of which extends to law, economics, public policy, and other realms and is evident in much of everyday moral thinking. Two fundamental ideas underlie utilitarianism: first, that the results of people’s actions are the key to their moral evaluation and, second, that one should assess and compare those results in terms of the happiness or unhappiness they cause (or, more broadly, in terms of their impact on people’s well-being). Both these ideas have been around for a long time; one can glimpse hints of them in philosophical and religious writings going back thousands of years. However, as an explicitly and self-consciously formulated ethical theory, utilitarianism is just over 200 years old.

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