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[yoo-til-i-tair-ee-uh-niz-uh m] /yuˌtɪl ɪˈtɛər i əˌnɪz əm/
the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.
Origin of utilitarianism
1820-30; utilitarian + -ism
Related forms
antiutilitarianism, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for utilitarianism
  • One is utilitarianism, the other is categorical morality.
  • OF the obstacles reformers confront, the toughest may be our mad utilitarianism.
  • Both advocates and opponents of animal rights also invoke utilitarianism in support of their points of view.
  • Thus, the doctrine of sanctions fails to establish the thesis of utilitarianism that general happiness is the rule of right.
  • He therefore rejects both legal positivism and utilitarianism.
  • The first would accept his utilitarianism, but deny that it leads to his conclusions.
  • Both dictators treated captured enemies with deadly utilitarianism.
  • utilitarianism, in its various forms, attempts to do so.
  • Cobbled together out of scraps of scientism and utilitarianism, it barely deserves the name of a philosophy.
  • Between them, they came up with the ethical theory known as utilitarianism.
British Dictionary definitions for utilitarianism


noun (ethics)
the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens
the theory that the criterion of virtue is utility
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for utilitarianism

1827, from utilitarian + -ism.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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utilitarianism in Culture

utilitarianism definition

A system of ethics according to which the rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged by its consequences. The goal of utilitarian ethics is to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, was the founder of utilitarianism; John Stuart Mill was its best-known defender.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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