act utilitarianism

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Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832) philosopher, jurist, and reformer



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Version of utilitarianism associated especially with Bentham, according to which the measure of the value of an act is the amount by which it increases general utility or happiness. An act is to be preferred to its alternatives according to the extent of the increase it achieves, compared to the extent the alternatives would achieve. An action is thus good or bad in proportion to the amount it increases (or diminishes) general happiness, compared to the amount that could have been achieved by acting differently. Act utilitarianism is distinctive not only in the stress on utility, but in the fact that each individual action is the primary object of ethical evaluation. This contrasts it with varieties of indirect utilitarianism, as well as with ethical systems that accord priority to duty or personal virtue.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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