Ethics Updates



MultiMedia Resources on Utilitarianism

Lawrence M. Hinman

Online Surveys

Classic Sources in Utilitarinianism

A Survey of Internet Resources on Utilitarianism

A Bibliographical Survey of Utilitarian Ethics Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory

Biliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, 3rd Edition [Wadsworth, 2002] © 2002

Classic Texts

The classic texts for utilitarianism are those of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick. Among Bentham's works, see, in particular, Bentham's A Fragment on Government, edited by J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (London: Athline Press, 1977) and his The Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, edited by J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (London: Athline Press, 1970). (These are also available in other, less expensive editions.) For excellent introductions to Bentham's moral and political thought, see John Dinwiddy, Bentham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) and Ross Harrison, Bentham (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984). Also see David Lyons, In the Interest of the Governed (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973) and H. L. A. Hart, Essays on Bentham: Jurisprudence and Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982). Ross Harisson's "Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick," The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, edited by Nicholas Bunnin and E. P. Tsui-James (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996), pp. 627-42.

John Stuart Mill

Many of John Stuart Mill's works are relevant, especially his Utilitarianism and On Liberty. These are available on the World Wide Web ( and in various bound editions, including several that also contain critical essays. See John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism: Text with Critical Essays, edited by Samuel Gorovitz (Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971); Mill's Utilitarianism: Text and Criticism, edited by James M. Smith and Ernest Sosa (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1969); and On Liberty: Annotated Text, Sources and Background, edited by David Spitz (New York: Norton, 1975). For an excellent selection of Mill's writings on ethics, see Mill's Ethical Writings, edited by J. B. Schneewind (New York: Collier, 1965). Among the best books on Mill's philosophy is Fred Berger's Happiness, Justice, and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). For a brief but comprehensive overview of Mill's thought, see Henry West, "Mill, John Stuart," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), II, pp. 809-16.

Henry Sidgwick

Book IV of Henry Sidgwick's The Methods of Ethics, 7th edition (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1981) is also a classic source of utilitarian thought. For a fine introduction to Sidgwick's thought and times, see J. B. Schneewind, Sidgwick's Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977). For a brief introduction to Sidgwick's thought, see Marcus G. Singer, "Sidgwick," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. II, pp. 1149-52.

Critical Essays

Several of the editions of Mill's Utilitarianism and On Liberty contain excellent collections of critical essays. In addition to these anthologies, see The Limits of Utilitarianism, edited by Harlan B. Miller and William H. Williams (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982) as well as the collection of essays in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, supplementary volume 5 (1979). One of the more recent books that often provides a good starting-point for studying utilitarianism is Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), which contains an explication and defense of act utilitarianism by J.J.C. Smart and an interesting critique by Bernard Williams. The essay by Williams has been one of the most influential in raising the issue of moral alienation. One of the most nuanced and powerful replies to Williams and others on this issue is Peter Railton's "Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Spring, 1984), pp. 134-71. This essay, along with a number of other important pieces, has been reprinted in an excellent anthology edited by Samuel Scheffler, Consequentialism and Its Critics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); also see David O. Brink, "Utilitarian Morality and the Personal Point of View," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 83 (1986), pp. 417-38. The anthology that Bernard Williams and Amartya Sen edited, Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) contains a number of perceptive articles. For a helpful anthology of essays on the place of rights in utilitarian moral theory, see Utility and Rights, edited by R. G. Frey (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984); Richard B. Brandt, Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992); and Rationality, Rules, and Utility: New Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Richard B. Brandt, edited by Brad Hooker (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993).

Overviews of Utilitarian Thought

For a very reliable, brief overviews of utilitarian thought, see David Lyons, "Utilitarianism," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. II, pp. 1261-68; Philip Pettit, "Consequentialism," A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991) pp. 230-240. Anthony Quinton's Utilitarian Ethics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973) provides a helpful overview of classical utilitarian thought. Also see David Lyons, Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965) and D. H. Hodgson's Consequences of Utilitarianism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967). Russell Hardin's Ethics within the Limits of Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) develops a defense of utilitarianism that relies heavily on game theory. Robert E. Goodin provides a strong defense of a utilitarian approach to public policy issues in Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). For a very perceptive discussion of well-being in relationship to utilitarianism, see James Griffin, Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement and Moral Importance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986).

The Distinction Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Richard Brandt introduced the distinction between act and rule utilitarianism in his Ethical Theory (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1959). On this distinction, also see A. C. Ewing, "What Would Happen if Everyone Acted Like Me?", Philosophy, Vol. 28 (1953), pp. 16-29 and A. K. Stout's "But Suppose Everybody Did the Same?", Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 32, pp. 1-29. On the tendencies toward rule utilitarianism in Mill's work, see J. O. Urmson, "The Interpretation of the Philosophy of J. S. Mill," Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 3 (1953), pp. 33-39 and Henry West, "Mill's Moral Conservatism," Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 1 (1976), pp. 71-80.

The discussion of utilitarianism often takes place within the context of a contrast with Kantian and other deontological accounts of morality. John Rawls' "Two Concepts of Rules," Philosophical Review, Vol. 64 (1955), pp. 3-22 is an important attempt to reconcile partially these two traditions. Samuel Scheffler's The Rejection of Consequentialism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982) provides a provocative rethinking of some of these issues, as does Michael Slote's Common-Sense Morality and Consequentialism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), which contains an extended discussion of satisficing consequentialism.