negative utilitarianism

Discipline: Philosophy

Version of utilitarianism which replaces the maximization of good by the minimization of evil.

Supporters of the theory, who include Karl Raimund Popper (1902-1994), say that by aiming at removing evils rather than achieving positive goods we shall avoid the disadvantages of utopianism usually incurred by those who try to plan for a perfect world.

To take an extreme example, it is alleged that one might well increase either the total happiness or the average happiness by simply killing off the unfit and others.

H B Acton and J W N Watkins, 'Negative Utilitarianism', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume (1963);
K R Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)


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