Utilitarianism is a view within ethics that good and bad are determined by something's utility. In other words, good and bad are determined by the usefulness of something and the happiness it produces. So, utilitarianism would say that the greatest good is that which produces the greatest happiness.
However, utilitarianism begs the question since it assumes the goal it seeks is the goal that ought to be sought; namely the happiness of people. It shifts moral obligation from the action to the goal, to the result. But, to what extent are the ends to justify the means to be used? Is it okay to destroy a few people for the greater happiness of more people? If so, why? If not, why not? Furthermore, who decides what the goals ought to be and how they should be sought?
Some of the proponents of utilitarianism are John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)1
- 1. http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/utilitarianism%20notes.htm