Bentham's Theory of Utilitarianism

Discipline: Political Science

Originally developed by English political philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), Bentham's theory of utilitarianism asserts that actions and institutions should be judged by their contribution to utility, which is measured by calculating the relative contribution to happiness or pleasure, as opposed to pain. The aim of government should thus be 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.

It has been pointed out that not only is pleasure difficult to measure, but that utilitarianism provides neither any guarantee of individual rights against majority interests, nor any means of weighing high levels of pleasure for a few against lower levels of pleasure for greater numbers.

David Miller, ed., The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought (Oxford, 1987)


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