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What are the basic principles of utilitarianism and libertarianism?

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Although some people see utilitarianism and libertarianism as closely related, I would argue that they are actually rather different from one another.  Libertarianism is based on the idea that people should be free to do as they want and that society should value individual freedoms above all else.  By contrast, utilitarianism is based on the idea that society should strive to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In other words, it is based on the idea that the common good is the most important thing.

To libertarians, society should be as free as possible. The government really is not supposed to do anything outside of protecting the people so that they can be free. The government needs to provide protection from outside enemies.  It needs to protect people from criminals.  Once it has done that, however, it needs to get out of the way of the people. It needs to let them be as free as possible and accept whatever results arise from their actions.

By contrast, utilitarians think that results are what is important.  Libertarians think the rules are important—they want there to be as few rules as possible. Utilitarians do not really care about the rules. They care about bringing the greatest good to the greatest number. What this implies is that utilitarians would be willing to accept rules that trample the rights of the people if those rules were to bring a greater amount of good to a greater number of people. For example, utilitarians might think that it would be good to confiscate wealth from the rich and distribute it to the poor as that would increase the amount of good or happiness in the world. The utilitarians would not worry about whether this was just or fair to the rich.  All they would be concerned with is whether it increased the amount of happiness in the world or helped the greater good.

In these ways, the basic principles of libertarianism and utilitarianism are rather contrary to one another.

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