§ Utilitarianism is a theory in that branch of philosophy known as ethics, the theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the goodness or badness of its consequences. Or, in John Stewart Mill's words: "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."28 The founder of this theory, Jeremy Bentham, held that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the fundamental and self-evident principle of morality. Bentham's student, John Stuart Mill, used the principles of utilitarianism to advocate political and social reform, increased democracy, and the emancipation of women.
Bertrand Russell expressed his criticism of utilitarianism as follows:
"The ethic based upon the greatest happiness principle, which came to be known as utilitarianism, was, when taken seriously, somewhat opposed to orthodox moral teaching. It is true that eminent divines, such as Bishop Butler, had adopted the principle, and that until it became the watchword of the Radicals, no one found it objectionable. But any theory which judges the morality of an act by its consequences can only by a fortunate accident agree with the conventional view, according to which certain classes of acts are sinful without regard to their effects. No doubt the precept 'Thou shalt not steal' is, in general, very sound, but it is easy to imagine circumstances in which a theft might further the general happiness. In a utilitarian system, all moral rules of the ordinary kind are liable to exceptions."29