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date: 26 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Utilitarianism is often expressed as the moral dictum, “Do that which produces the greatest good for the greatest number.” It is seemingly an attractive candidate for psychiatric ethics for two reasons. First, in the face of such overwhelming human suffering due to mental illness, doing the greatest good seems intuitively the right approach; helping more people rather than fewer seems right and rational. Second, the “good” that utilitarianism seeks to produce is often understood to be happiness or a positive mental state. Producing the greatest mental well-being possible seems in line with the functioning of psychiatry. Utilitarian ethics seems ready-made for guiding psychiatry as it faces the challenge of improving global mental health. This chapter lays out some of the history and main tenets of utilitarianism, its three main components of consequentialism, welfarism, and sum ranking, and relate them to psychiatry. Some of the major critiques of utilitarianism follow.

Keywords: utilitarianism, psychiatry, consequentialism, welfarism, global mental health, well-being, greatest good

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