DEFINITION of 'Utilitarianism'
A philosophy that bases the moral worth of an action upon the number of people it gives happiness or pleasure to. A utilitarian philosophy is used when making social, economic or political decisions for the "betterment of society". In utilitarianism, an action is considered to have utility only to the extent that it contributes to the overall good.
The philosophy of utilitarianism was first proposed and discussed by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham in the mid-1800s.
BREAKING DOWN 'Utilitarianism'
Taken to economic extremes, utilitarianism can allow for some to suffer so that the masses can benefit. However, problems occur because it is nearly impossible to objectively measure the benefit of an action from one person to another, or on a large group of people. In a broad sense, most government policies aim for the betterment of a large group of people, if not the overall population.