As I learned it way back in my “ethics” class (and refreshed my memory on wikipedia), utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy in which “good” is defined as “whatever yields the greatest utility,” and one should strive to do good. I personally subscribe more to a variety of utilitarianism in which you might define “wrong” as “whatever yields the greatest displeasure,” and one should avoid doing wrong (the difference is subtle, but, I think, important).

Is there a name for my system of ethics? I can’t seem to find anything in the utilitarianism articles I can find online, so I can’t find a reference to someone whose writing I should read. I somehow doubt that nobody has written on such a system. I guess it’s possible… but I figure if anyone would know, it’d be the Dopers :slight_smile:

The moto of utilitarianism is “the ends justify the means”. According to this theory you can do something evil in the short term if this will lead to a good outcome in the long term.

I’d say your personal theory is not utilitarian at all.

My personal theory is utilitarian in that I still believe in a sort of “felicific calculus”, in which you figure out which actions are worst (based on displeasure vs. pleasure), and avoid those (so I guess it’s more of a “malicific calculus”). But the ends don’t justify the means for me; the ends can repudiate the means, and they can make certain means less wrong than other means, but they can’t justify them.

There HAS to be a name for this, doesn’t there? Or at least something close?

I know there is a name for it but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it was. Sorry.

Well, I think it’s a form of consequentialism (although I think perceived or expectable consequences are more important than actual consequences)… but I still can’t find anything that fits. All of the ethical theories I can find seem to be either defining what is “good” or “right”, or defining rules to live by (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc). My philosophy doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Sigh.

Ok, I’ll quit replying to every post for a bit now :slight_smile:

It’s Hedonism, isn’t it? I mean Hedonism in its true form, not the ideas we associate with it these days (ie: just partying, screwing and eating good stuff till you puke).

As far as I can find, hedonism seeks to maximize pleasure. Utilitarianism (at least in most forms) is a subset of hedonism.

Instead, I seek to minimize pleasure. In hedonism, “good” is “that which maximizes pleasure”; in my system, “good” is “that which isn’t wrong,” with “wrong” being “that which maximizes displeasure.” That’s a very simplified version of both hedonism and my personal philosophy, but hopefully you can see the difference.

Utilitarianism is more of form of moral reasoning than a moral theory, because this tool does not define “the good” but rather attempts to define “right” in terms of “the good.”

In other words, Util. exposes that any usage of the term “right” (morally speaking) depends on some prior definition of the good. “Right” maximizes “good.”

So, if your good is “my own pleasure”, the “right” course of action would be that which would lead to my pleasure. Of course, Util. has to different between act utililitariansim and rule utilitarianism – i.e., does one assess individual acts, or a rules and courses of action over time.

The “Good,” however, could be: “preserving human life” or “preserving human dignity” or “preserving animal life”. However you define your “good” would define what is “morally right.”

So, if your moral good is “avoiding displeasure” and you define “right” in terms of our “good” you are still a utilitarian – simply some with more modest goals in term of a good.

For a point of reference, the opposite of Util. are typically “deontologists” – those who see “right” in terms of a priori duty. Kant would be the outstanding figure here, just as Hume is perhaps the original and most notorious utilitarian.

Most of this is right, but there are a few nitpicky errors. Utilitarianism isn’t properly speaking the opposite of deontology. The opposite of deontology is consequentialism, of which utilitarianism is one variant.

Hume was not a utilitarian. The founder of utilitarianism was Jeremy Bentham, and the most famous utilitarian was John Stuart Mill. The other name commonly associated is Sidgwick.

As to the OP, I’ve heard the doctrine of minimizing pain/disutility (as opposed to maximizing utility) described as negative utilitarianism, but I don’t believe there’s any fixed name for it.

The difference is that you’re assuming utility and dysutility to be upper semicontinuous and good in your sense is defined by negative dysutility. The conditions for radically different behaviors are pretty tweaky. For one thing, you must assume that utility and dysutility are not negatives of each other, but are really describing two different things.