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Utility, Principle of

The principle of utility, also known as the greatest happiness principle, is associated with Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), the first of the great 19th-century utilitarians. As Bentham, and later John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), expounded, the principle approves or disapproves of actions based on whether they increase or decrease the happiness of everyone affected by the action. The principle of utility constitutes the standard of right and wrong, in terms of which human conduct is to be assessed.

Bentham identified happiness and unhappiness with pleasure and pain, affirming the hedonistic doctrine that pleasure is the only thing that is good in itself. He cataloged different pleasures and pains and described their various sources and the factors influencing humans’ experience of them. The value of any given pleasure or ...

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