Politics in Minutes (2016)

Utilitarianism

One of the natural rights recognized by the US constitution, the right to ‘pursuit of happiness’, sounds a little curious to modern ears. But it reflects the concern of classical Greek philosophers with the pursuit of ‘the good life’, and moreover a contemporary notion that morality can be judged by the amount of happiness or harm caused by an action: its ‘utility’. Utilitarianism was pioneered by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who believed happiness is measurable, using a ‘calculus of felicity’. The best course of action can be determined by the one that gives the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. The concept of ‘the greatest good’ was further developed by John Stuart Mill, who more than Bentham saw its implications in terms of governments enabling citizens to pursue happiness. Mill also developed the idea of measuring happiness against harm, advocating laws that allow not only the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but also that cause least unhappiness, either by actual harm or restriction of liberty.

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