Utilitarianism: The Greater Good?

Humanities Seminars Course

Utilitarianism: The Greater Good?

Interim Department Head; Associate Professor of Philosophy Michael Gill Department of Philosophy
Past Course
THURSDAYS 1:00-3:00 p.m. October 3 until December 12, 2013
Dorothy Rubel Room



Utilitarianism is the idea that one ought to perform those actions that produce the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers, which is one of the most important views of morality ever developed. In this course we will explore Utilitarianism’s philosophical origins, its influences on politics and literature, and recent attempts to show that contemporary neuroscience and psychology validate it. We will read works of the philosophers David Hume, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill, and excerpts from the novels of Dickens and Dostoevsky. The contemporary writers we will critically examine include the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, whose controversial Utilitarian views have sparked intense and often vitriolic political and moral debate throughout the world, and the Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene, who has claimed that the fMRI results of people making moral decisions provide powerful reasons for us all to become Utilitarians.


Required Reading: 

Bentham, Jeremy. The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill. Hackett Pub. Co., 2003. ISBN: 0872206491.

MICHAEL GILL is Interim Department Head and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. His work focuses on the origins of our moral judgments from the perspectives of both history and contemporary moral psychology. He has written on the ethics of end-of-life decisions, the relationship between morality and religion, and moral pluralism. He is the author of The British Moralists on Human Nature and the Birth of Secular Ethics (2006) and Humean Moral Pluralism (forthcoming). 

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