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Cover Contemporary Political Philosophy

2. Utilitarianism  

This chapter examines the practical implications of utilitarianism as a political morality. It first considers two features of utilitarianism that make it an attractive theory of political morality. First, the goal being promoted by utilitarians does not depend on the existence of God, or a soul, or any other dubious metaphysical entity. The second attraction is utilitarianism’s ‘consequentialism’. The chapter proceeds by breaking utilitarianism into two parts: an account of human welfare, or ‘utility’, and an instruction to maximize utility, giving equal weight to each person’s utility. It also discusses the two main arguments for viewing utility maximization as the standard of moral rightness: equal consideration of interests, and teleological utilitarianism. Finally, it evaluates utilitarians’ claim that every source of happiness, or every kind of preference, should be given the same weight, if it yields equal utility. The chapter argues that utilitarianism is inadequate as an account of equal consideration.