Main content

Utilitarianism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss utilitarianism, a moral theory that assesses acts by their tendency to increase pleasure in the world and decrease the amount of pain.

A moral theory that emphasises ends over means, Utilitarianism holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and has antecedents in ancient philosophy. According to Bentham, happiness is the means for assessing the utility of an act, declaring "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." Mill and others went on to refine and challenge Bentham's views and to defend them from critics such as Thomas Carlyle, who termed Utilitarianism a "doctrine worthy only of swine."

With

Melissa Lane
The Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University

Janet Radcliffe Richards
Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford

and

Brad Hooker
A Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 11 Jun 2015 21:30

LINKS AND FURTHER READING

Melissa Lane at Princeton University

Janet Radcliffe Richards at the University of Oxford

Brad Hooker at the University of Reading

The History of Utilitarianism - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Utilitarianism - Wikipedia

 

READING LIST:

Marcia Baron, Philip Pettit, and Michael Slote, Three Methods of Ethics: A Debate (Blackwell, 2001)

Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (first published 1789; Dover Publications, 2007)

Roger Crisp, Mill on Utilitarianism (Routledge, 1997)

Julia Driver, Consequentialism (Routledge, 2011)

Ben Eggleston and Dale E. Miller (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Robert E. Goodin, Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer, The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2014)

John Stuart Mill (ed. George Sher), Utilitarianism (first published 1861; Hackett Publishing Co, 2002)

Samuel Scheffler (ed.), Consequentialism and Its Critics (Oxford University Press, 1988)

Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (first published 1874; TheClassics.us, 2013)

Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress (Princeton University Press, 2011)

J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge University Press, 1973)

 

Credits

Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Producer Simon Tillotson
Interviewed Guest Melissa Lane
Interviewed Guest Janet Radcliffe Richards
Interviewed Guest Brad Hooker

Broadcasts

Featured in...

The In Our Time Quiz of the Year

How much do you remember from our programmes of 2018?

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.

Podcast