The ethical theory of utilitarianism states that an action is right if its results are superior to those of any other action. The principal beginning of utilitarianism is credited to an English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.
The basic idea is to generate the
greatest possible amount of happiness among the greatest number. As time passed, this idea was refined to the belief that a society should "maximize aggregate utility."
When the issue of the happiness of certain groups came up, the question arose as to whose utility was being maximized.
Bentham argued against the traditional view of answering this question with the question of "Can they reason?" Instead, he asked, "Can they suffer?"
Many environmental activists have
sought to apply utilitarianism to their cause to win public support.
Currently, some utilitarians support "animal liberation." They say that because animals can suffer, they should be taken into account when judging the morality of an action.
Other utilitarian environmentalists have become vegetarians, believing that vegetarianism maximizes utility.
Utilitarianism is a powerful force in support of many environmentalist philosophies. Rather than believe in the absolute
"rights" of animals and nature, many environmentalists instead contend that their program maximizes utility.
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