UTILITARIANISM: “The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number”. All Politicians Claim It, But Most Are “Lip Service” Liars! Capitalism Engenders The Greatest Good For The Least Number. Likewise Democracy, Religion, Privatized Healthcare/Higher Education, Outsourcing, Eminent Domain, War, Think Tanks, Etc. Etc! Utilitarianism Has Been Replaced With Sophistry, Hoax & Deception.


Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number


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Written by Kerby Anderson



You have probably heard a politician say he or she passed a piece of legislation because it did the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens. Perhaps you have heard someone justify their actions because it was for the greater good.


In this article, we are going to talk about the philosophy behind such actions. The philosophy is known as utilitarianism. Although it is a long word, it is in common usage every day. It is the belief that the sole standard of morality is determined by its usefulness.


Philosophers refer to it as a “teleological” system. The Greek word “telos” means end or goal. This means that this ethical system determines morality by the end result. Whereas Christian ethics are based on rules, utilitarianism is based on results.


Utilitarianism began with the philosophies of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Utilitarianism gets its name from Bentham’s test question, “What is the use of it?” He conceived of the idea when he ran across the words “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” in Joseph Priestly’s Treatise of Government.


Jeremy Bentham developed his ethical system around the idea of pleasure. He built it on ancient hedonism, which pursued physical pleasure and avoided physical pain. According to Bentham, the most moral acts are those, which maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This has sometimes been called the “utilitarian calculus.” An act would be moral if it brings the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain.


John Stuart Mill modified this philosophy and developed it apart from Bentham’s hedonistic foundation. Mill used the same utilitarian calculus but instead focused on maximizing the general happiness by calculating the greatest good for the greatest number. While Bentham used the calculus in a quantitative sense, Mill used this calculus in a qualitative sense. He believed, for example, that some pleasures were of higher quality than others.


Utilitarianism has been embraced by so many simply because it seems to make a good deal of sense and seems relatively simple to apply. However, when it was first proposed, utilitarianism was a radical philosophy. It attempted to set forth a moral system apart from divine revelation and biblical morality. Utilitarianism focused on results rather than rules. Ultimately the focus on the results demolished the rules.


In other words, utilitarianism provided for a way for people to live moral lives apart from the Bible and its prescriptions. There was no need for an appeal to divine revelation. Reason rather than revelation was sufficient to determine morality.


Founders of Utilitarianism


Jeremy Bentham was a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law and one of the founders of utilitarianism. He developed this idea of a utility and a utilitarian calculus in the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1781).


In the beginning of that work Bentham wrote: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it.”{1}


Bentham believed that pain and pleasure not only explain our actions but also help us define what is good and moral. He believed that this foundation could provide a basis for social, legal, and moral reform in society.


Key to his ethical system is the principle of utility. That is, what is the greatest good for the greatest number?


Bentham wrote: “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness.” {2}


John Stuart Mill was a brilliant scholar who was subjected to a rigid system of intellectual discipline and shielded from boys his own age. When Mill was a teenager, he read Bentham. Mill said the feeling rushed upon him “that all previous moralists were superseded.” He believed that the principle of utility “gave unity to my conception of things. I now had opinions: a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of what could be made the principle outward purpose of a life.”{3}


Mill modified Bentham’s utilitarianism. Whereas Bentham established an act(utilitarianism), Mill established a rule (utilitarianism). According to Mill, one calculates what is right by comparing the consequences of all relevant agents of alternative rules for a particular circumstance. This is done by comparing all relevant similar circumstances or settings at any time.


Analysis of Utilitarianism


Why did utilitarianism become popular? There are a number of reasons for its appeal.


First, it is a relatively simple ethical system to apply. To determine whether an action is moral you merely have to calculate the good and bad consequences that will result from a particular action. If the good outweighs the bad, then the action is moral.


Second, utilitarianism avoids the need to appeal to divine revelation. Many adherents to this ethical system are looking for a way to live a moral life apart from the Bible and a belief in God. The system replaces revelation with reason. Logic rather than an adherence to biblical principles guides the ethical decision-making of a utilitarian.


Third, most people already use a form of utilitarianism in their daily decisions. We make lots of non-moral decisions every day based upon consequences. At the checkout line, we try to find the shortest line so we can get out the door more quickly. We make most of our financial decisions (writing checks, buying merchandise, etc.) on a utilitarian calculus of cost and benefits. So making moral decisions using utilitarianism seems like a natural extension of our daily decision-making procedures.


There are also a number of problems with utilitarianism. One problem with utilitarianism is that it leads to an “end justifies the means” mentality. If any worthwhile end can justify the means to attain it, a true ethical foundation is lost. But we all know that the end does not justify the means. If that were so, then Hitler could justify the Holocaust because the end was to purify the human race. Stalin could justify his slaughter of millions because he was trying to achieve a communist utopia.


The end never justifies the means. The means must justify themselves. A particular act cannot be judged as good simply because it may lead to a good consequence. The means must be judged by some objective and consistent standard of morality.


TABACCO: Slave owners never worried about the “ethics of the means: Slavery”!


Second, utilitarianism cannot protect the rights of minorities if the goal is the greatest good for the greatest number. Americans in the eighteenth century could justify slavery on the basis that it provided a good consequence for a majority of Americans. Certainly the majority benefited from cheap slave labor even though the lives of black slaves were much worse.


TABACCO: Utilitarianism, with the following DISCLAIMER, would be much superior to anything else, including “Lip-Service”, democracy, capitalism and the “2-party system”:


DISCLAIMER: Provided the “Greater Good” does NOT trample on the Rights of the MINORITY!


Americans are amenable always to changing a better alternative to a worse alternative rather than amending the imperfections in the better!


A third problem with utilitarianism is predicting the consequences. If morality is based on results, then we would have to have omniscience in order to accurately predict the consequence of any action. But at best we can only guess at the future, and often these educated guesses are wrong.


TABACCO: Nobody ever knows the actual outcome of any new venture regardless of the system, the era or the people. The problem with American politicians is they generally predict those eventualities that suit their purposes rather than their “educated opinion”. “If we leave now, Iraq will have Civil War!” – Source: Lloyd George, British PM, 1920, and parroted by the Bush administration circa 2005.


That was nothing more than an unsubstantiated assertion when Lloyd George said it in 1920, nor had it changed when Bushites claimed it as their own in 2005. Politicians are always making unproven, unsubstantiated assertions without so much as an attempt at presenting a logical series of events to vindicate those assertions. The world has come a long way from Lloyd George to Tabacco!


A fourth problem with utilitarianism is that consequences themselves must be judged. When results occur, we must still ask whether they are good or bad results. Utilitarianism provides no objective and consistent foundation to judge results because results are the mechanism used to judge the action itself.


TABACCO: The “fourth problem” like the “second problem” requires the same thought processes as above:


DISCLAIMER: Amend Utilitarianism to improve it rather than discard it for a “lesser good”!


Situation Ethics


A popular form of utilitarianism is situation ethics first proposed by Joseph Fletcher in his book by the same name.{4} Fletcher acknowledges that situation ethics is essentially utilitarianism, but modifies the pleasure principle and calls it the agape (love) principle.


Fletcher developed his ethical system as an alternative to two extremes: legalism and antinomianism. The legalist is like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus who had all sorts of laws and regulations but no heart. They emphasized the law over love. Antinomians are like the libertines in Paul’s day, who promoted their lawlessness.


The foundation of situation ethics is what Fletcher calls the law of love. Love replaces the law. Fletcher says, “We follow law, if at all, for love’s sake.”{5}


Fletcher even quotes certain biblical passages to make his case. For example, he quotes Romans 13:8 which says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.”


TABACCO: Obviously neither Fletcher nor Romans 13:8 scribe ever encountered an American Capitalist!


Another passage Fletcher quotes is Matthew 22:37-40. “Christ said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


TABACCO: American Capitalists have added a single word to amend Matthew 22:37-40 to read: “Christ said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your rich neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


Proponents of situation ethics would argue that these summary verses require only one absolute (the law of love). No other universal laws can be derived from this commandment to love. Even the Ten Commandments are subject to exceptions based upon the law of love.


Situation ethics also accepts the view that the end justifies the means. Only the ends can justify the means; the means cannot justify themselves. Fletcher believes that “no act apart from its foreseeable consequences has any ethical meaning whatsoever.”{6}


TABACCO: “Situation Ethics, like all other perversions of Ethics, leave a great deal to be desired! With the Amendments stipulated above, I still prefer Utilitarianism!


Joseph Fletcher tells the story of Lenin, who had become weary of being told that he had no ethics. After all, he used a very pragmatic and utilitarian philosophy to force communism on the people. So some of those around him accused him of believing that the end justifies the means. Finally, Lenin shot back, “If the end does not justify the means, then in the name of sanity and justice, what does?”{7}


TABACCO: “Some of those around him” were NOT completely right; and Lenin was NOT completely wrong! When faced with the ubiquity of Capitalism and its Prime Directive of PREVENTION OF SOCIALISM EVERYWHERE, the Castros in Cuba threw off the “trappings” of democracy because U.S. Capitalists do any and everything to disrupt Socialism and turn Cuba into a Capitalist Den of Thieves once again!


This brings into question the concept that any “Law” or “Precept” is valid for all things and for all times!


Like utilitarianism, situation ethics attempts to define morality with an “end justifies the means” philosophy. According to Fletcher, the law of love requires the greatest love for the greatest number of people in the long run. But as we will see in the next section, we do not always know how to define love, and we do not always know what will happen in the long run.


Analysis of Situation Ethics


Perhaps the biggest problem with situation ethics is that the law of love is too general. People are going to have different definitions of what love is. What some may believe is a loving act, others might feel is an unloving act.


TABACCO: I could not say it better! The PRIME EXAMPLE of this is Religious Persons, who think everybody must obey their own religious principles and pass laws codifying those principles. It isn’t a “loving act” to those victimized by their “love”!


Moreover, the context of love varies from situation to situation and certainly varies from culture to culture. So it is even difficult to derive moral principles that can be known and applied universally. In other words, it is impossible to say that to follow the law of love is to do such and such in every circumstance. Situations and circumstances change, and so the moral response may change as well.


TABACCO: See why I chose this Post to expound on Utilitarianism! It covers a host of concepts and ideas! I could live in this Post for weeks! (smile)


The admonition to do the loving thing is even less specific than to do what is the greatest good for the greatest number. It has about as much moral force as to say to do the “good thing” or the “right thing.” Without a specific definition, it is nothing more than a moral platitude.


Second, situation ethics suffers from the same problem of utilitarianism in predicting consequences. In order to judge the morality of an action, we have to know the results of the action we are about to take. Often we cannot know the consequences.


Joseph Fletcher acknowledges that when he says, “We can’t always guess the future, even though we are always being forced to try.”{8} But according to his ethical system, we have to know the results in order to make a moral choice. In fact, we should be relatively certain of the consequences, otherwise our action would by definition be immoral.


Situation ethics also assumes that the situation will determine the meaning of love. Yet love is not determined by the particulars of our circumstance but merely conditioned by them. The situation does not determine what is right or wrong. The situation instead helps us determine which biblical command applies in that particular situation.


TABACCO: This is where those, who solve every problem with a Biblical quotation, get into deep do-do and have their love rejected!


From the biblical perspective, the problem with utilitarianism and situation ethics is that they ultimately provide no consistent moral framework. Situation ethics also permits us to do evil to achieve good. This is totally contrary to the Bible.


TABACCO: Would someone please forward a copy of this Post to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, and Crawford, Texas! Can you say, “WAR!”


For example, Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” The road to destruction is paved with good intentions. This is a fundamental flaw with an “ends justifies the means” ethical system.


In Romans 6:1 Paul asks, “Are we to continue sinning so that grace may increase?” His response is “May it never be!”


Utilitarianism attempts to provide a moral system apart from God’s revelation in the Bible, but in the end, it does not succeed.


TABACCO: It can succeed if we adapt, redefine and disclaim per my comments above.


Would that this author could reread his Post with my notations! This author has presented us with a plethora of relevant and momentous topics, but he has failed to offer any SOLUTIONS! He analyzes the errors of philosophies unerringly, but without offering any solutions to solve the problem, where is the “good” in his rhetoric? In my blogging, I attempt to avoid that TRAP:





1. Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, printed in 1781 and published in 1789 (Batoche Books: Kitchener, ON Canada, 2000), 14.
2. Ibid.
3. John Stuart Mill, “Last Stage of Education and First of Self-Education,” Autobiography, 1873 (New York: P.F. Collier & Sons, 1909-14).
4. Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966).
5. Ibid., 70.
6. Ibid., 120.
7. Ibid., 121.
8. Ibid., 136.

© 2004 Probe Ministries

About the Author

Kerby Anderson is National Director of Probe Ministries International. He holds masters degrees from Yale University (science) and from Georgetown University (government). He is the author of several books, including Christian Ethics in Plain Language, Genetic Engineering, Origin Science, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope and Making the Most of Your Money in Tough Times. His new series with Harvest House Publishers includes: A Biblical Point of View on Islam, A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality, A Biblical Point of View on Intelligent Design and A Biblical Point of View on Spiritual Warfare. He is the host of “Point of View” (USA Radio Network) heard on 290 radio outlets nationwide as well as on the Internet (www.pointofview.net) and shortwave. He is also a regular guest on “Prime Time America” (Moody Broadcasting Network) and “Fire Away” (American Family Radio). He produces a daily syndicated radio commentary and writes editorials that have appeared in papers such as the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury, and the Houston Post.


What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.


Further information about Probe’s materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:


Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565
Copyright information





Tabacco: I consider myself both a funnel and a filter. I funnel information, not readily available on the Mass Media, which is ignored and/or suppressed. I filter out the irrelevancies and trivialities to save both the time and effort of my Readers and bring consternation to the enemies of Truth & Fairness! When you read Tabacco, if you don’t learn something NEW, I’ve wasted your time.


Tabacco is not a blogger, who thinks; I am a Thinker, who blogs. Speaking Truth to Power!


In 1981′s ‘Body Heat’, Kathleen Turner said, “Knowledge is power”.

T.A.B.A.C.C.O.  (Truth About Business And Congressional Crimes Organization) – Think Tank For Other 95% Of World: WTP = We The People




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3 Responses to UTILITARIANISM: “The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number”. All Politicians Claim It, But Most Are “Lip Service” Liars! Capitalism Engenders The Greatest Good For The Least Number. Likewise Democracy, Religion, Privatized Healthcare/Higher Education, Outsourcing, Eminent Domain, War, Think Tanks, Etc. Etc! Utilitarianism Has Been Replaced With Sophistry, Hoax & Deception.

  1. admin says:

    REPUBLICAN ILLOGIC! Just One More Example:

    Gov. Mitt Romney perpetually promotes himself as a BUSINESSMAN, who can steer our Economy back on track. Romney is NOT the first GOPer to make that claim, and he won’t be the last. But, let’s analyze that claim rather than the individual:

    1 – The Federal Government is NOT a Corporation or part of the Private Sector, although some times it’s hard to tell. In order to govern as President, you need Congress to sign on. If you have 60 Senators and a Majority in the House, a spotted dog could govern and get what he wants. Without those pluralities, NO PRESIDENT can have his own way. The President does NOT need to be a “Businessman” because he or she has a PLETHORA of Advisers, Department Secretaries etc. If everybody in the room is wearing a watch, the President will have no problem finding out what time it is.

    2 – BIG BUSINESS rules America now. So why would we want to install a BUSINESSMAN in the White House to enhance that ABOMINATION! The last thing America needs EVER is a President, who was a successful, Corporate CEO!

    Did you really need me to tell you that? If you did, you now know how much of a disadvantage the Mainstream Media is to AVERAGE AMERICANS!

    Quick now, tell me which Privately owned TV Network, which Privately owned Radio Network, which Privately owned Magazine Chain, which Privately owned Newspaper Chain is owned and operated by a MIDDLE CLASS Group or Individual! From William Randolph Hurst and Charley Kane to Rupert Murdoch, MAJOR MEDIA has always been controlled by the HAVES & HAVE-MORES!



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  3. admin says:

    Now that Capitalists have done away with Utilitarianism, their next Goal is to JETTISON RULES LIMITING CORPORATIONS, PUBLIC EDUCATION that teaches & HIGHER EDUCATION for the Masses, and THE MIDDLE CLASS!

    I wonder if Donald Trump and Bill Gates will like living in India or the NEW AMERICA!


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