Essay by tinobruno01University, Master'sA+, July 2014

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Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that says an action is morally right if it benefits the greatest number of beings with the greatest good. You determine what is right by calculating the amount of pleasure or suffering you think your actions may cause,

People may use utilitarianism equally to justify or condemn actions for animal rights.then the right action will be the one that gives most pleasure or least suffering to the majority concerned. Say some of your dinner guests are vegetarians and you wonder whether to serve roast pig. As a strict utilitarian you poll your guests beforehand. Five guests say no to pig and twenty-five guests say yes. Therefore you serve pig and bring pleasure to the majority of guests, hard luck for the pig and the six veggies.

Utilitarianism is not concerned with what you may think is your duty (deontology) or with how a virtuous person might act (virtue theory).

Utilitarianism is concerned only with the consequences of actions and therefore is a consequentialist theory. (See the table 'Comparison of Consequentialism, Deontology & Virtue Ethics' in Chapter 2: Animal Ethics.)

Utilitarianism evolved in the 18th century and is most closely associated with British philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) and John Stuart Mill (1808 - 1873). It is still a powerful theory widely applied in daily life. A utilitarian would argue that sacrificing the lives of a few is right if it can save the lives of many. Dropping the atomic bombs on Japan killed many people but the justification at the time was that it would save many more lives by ending the war quickly.

One of the strengths of Utilitarianism is its seeming objectivity. Utilitarianism ostensibly depends on objective criteria, not on metaphysical entities like God or possession of a soul telling you what...