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Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism Utilitarianism, for all the unfortunate connotations of the word (which conjures up images of factories, high-rise buildings and all things ugly-but-functional), is an ethical system of great elegance and beauty. It is also a system of great importance: I would guess that the large majority of people in our society are more or less utilitarians, and that they are such without having given the matter a moment’s thought. It arouses strong feelings. Most proponents of utilitarianism would probably say that it’s not only right, but obviously right; that those who are not utilitarians are living in the Dark Ages. Many of its opponents consider it a thoroughly evil thing, tending to lead to the erosion of vital moral principles.

I think both sides exaggerate. The issue is a particularly interesting one for the Christian: utilitarianism has much in common, in practice, with Christian ethics, but little or nothing in common with Christian philosophy. This essay will attempt to analyse the idea of utilitarianism (which is more complicated, and richer, than it may seem at first glance), and to explain what I think is wrong with it and what I think is right with it. At the end, there are some rather disorganised comments about what a really adequate system of ethics would have to look like. Psychology.

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