[ yoo-til-i-tair-ee-uh-niz-uh m ]
/ yuˌtɪl ɪˈtɛər i əˌnɪz əm /


the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.

Nearby words

  1. utilicare,
  2. utilidor,
  3. utilisation,
  4. utilise,
  5. utilitarian,
  6. utility,
  7. utility function,
  8. utility man,
  9. utility player,
  10. utility pole

Origin of utilitarianism

First recorded in 1820–30; utilitarian + -ism

Related formsan·ti·u·til·i·tar·i·an·ism, noun

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for utilitarianism

British Dictionary definitions for utilitarianism


/ (juːˌtɪlɪˈtɛərɪəˌnɪzəm) /

noun ethics

the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens
the theory that the criterion of virtue is utility
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for utilitarianism



1827, from utilitarian + -ism.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Culture definitions for utilitarianism


A system of ethics according to which the rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged by its consequences. The goal of utilitarian ethics is to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, was the founder of utilitarianism; John Stuart Mill was its best-known defender.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.