This website serves as a textbook introduction to utilitarianism at the undergraduate level. It provides a concise, accessible and engaging introduction to modern utilitarianism. The content of this website aims to be understandable to a broad audience, avoiding philosophical jargon where possible and providing definitions where necessary.
Who We Are
This website was written in collaboration by Richard Yetter Chappell, Darius Meissner, and William MacAskill.
- Richard is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Miami. He is the author of Parfit’s Ethics, and received his PhD from Princeton University in 2012. Richard also writes Good Thoughts, a newsletter about consequentialism in theory and practice, which you can follow to receive updates about utilitarianism.net (and related topics).
- Darius holds a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford and currently studies for a graduate degree at Georgetown University.
- William is an Associate Professor in Philosophy and Senior Research Fellow at the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference and What We Owe The Future.
Thanks to Boris Yakubchik—and previously, James Aung—for website design and management.
This website has benefited from review and suggestions from too many people to list, but we are grateful to them all. Special mention to Bella Forristal, Tomi Francis, Georgiana Gilgallon, Lucy Hampton, Stefan Schubert, and Pablo Stafforini, for their many detailed comments.
You can get in touch with us at contact[at]utilitarianism.net
“I’ll certainly be referring my students to this very useful resource. Enthusiasm for utilitarianism among moral philosophers has ebbed and flowed since the modern version of it was laid out in the nineteenth-century; but the importance of the utilitarian tradition in providing elaborate, well-developed, general theories for thinking about how we ought to behave has been clear all along. This site provides lucid introductions to the major contributions of and challenges to utilitarian thinking, today.”
“Utilitarianism.net is the online face of utilitarianism and a portal into a realm of world-changing ideas. Utilitarian thought has advanced human progress for centuries, and yet this philosophy is widely misunderstood. Utilitarianism.net is not only the most inviting and illuminating resource on utilitarianism for students. Its updated historical entries, rigorous dialectical explanations, and applications to real-world problems make it a fantastic resource for seasoned scholars as well.”
“Gaining knowledge has never been as easy as in the era of widespread internet access. Utilitarianism.net is the result of the work and commitment of many great philosophers from around the world. It is a project that helps you to understand one of the most important and interesting ethical theories in an accessible yet not oversimplified way.”
“This is the perfect introduction to utilitarianism: comprehensive, critical and accessible as a basis for classroom discussion or public debate.”
“Utilitarianism.net is the place to go for clear, full and fair accounts of what utilitarianism is, the arguments for it, the main objections to it, special issues like population ethics, and what living as a utilitarian involves. You will also discover thinkers you never knew about, like the early utilitarian Susanna Newcome. I recommend it to all my students interested in normative ethics.”
This website was launched from Queen’s Lane Coffee House in Oxford, where Jeremy Bentham first discovered utilitarianism:
“Dr. Priestley published his Essay on Government in 1768. He there introduced as the only reasonable and proper object of government, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number.’ (…) Somehow or other, shortly after its publication, a copy of this pamphlet found its way into the little circulating library belonging to a little coffee-house attached to Queen’s College, Oxford. It was a corner house, having one front towards the High Street, another towards a narrow lane, which on that side skirts Queen’s College, and loses itself in a lane issuing from one of the gates of New College. (…)
It was by that pamphlet, and this phrase in it, that my principles on the subject of morality, public and private together, were determined. It was from that pamphlet and that page of it, that I drew the phrase, the words and import of which have been so widely diffused over the civilized world. At the sight of it, I cried out, as it were, in an inward ecstasy, like Archimedes on the discovery of the fundamental principle of hydrostatics, eureka!”
- Bentham, J. (1834). Deontology, or the Science of Morality. The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, and Ecclesiastical Record. 16(32): 279–280.