Oh S’all good. Doing minimum and a quick glancing over some pages, it seems like Rand was one of the first writers of utilitarianism via a concept o f objectivism. Meaning that people will do whats best for themselves (happiness mainly), while this contrasts the utilitarian thought of the greatest amount of good for the most amount of people. It almost doesn’t in that utilitarianism is a social form of objectivism. Clarifying that utilitarianism is large scale objectivism. But that’s just a once over of a few articles and the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The problem here is that Utilitarianism cannot be seen as “large scale Objectivism”. Objectivist ethics is about rational self-interest, i.e. rational egoism. The goal of Objectivist ethics is to define what is good and rational for one’s self and the long-term goals of one’s life. In essence, one’s life is the standard of Objectivist ethics and that is the only focus. What it isn’t, however, is based on pleasure versus pain like the Epicureans, Hedonists, or Utilitarians.
The Utilitarian ethics, as you pointed out, is about the greatest amount good for the most amount of people, but this applies to one’s own ethics, i.e. that one’s individual acts must be about providing the greatest amount of happiness to the most amount of people, i.e. altruism. The goal of Utilitarianism is not about your own happiness, but the happiness of others. It was an extension of Kantian ethics, in my opinion. Where Kant’s ethics were about duty, where the only morally good acts come out of complete, dutiful sacrifice; Utilitarians expanded it to the mass of society, which seems often the premise of most governments nowadays.
Objectivism would be the anti-utilitarianism. It disregards the collective as meaning anything and focuses squarely on the individual. You would have to take a rather large stretch to equate it to scaled down utilitarianism. Hedonists wouldn’t even be considered utilitarians and they are closer to it because they, too, based their standard of value for morality of pleasure versus pain.
And here’s how Ayn Rand viewed it:
“The greatest good for the greatest number” is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.
This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which it can be used to justify the most vicious actions.
What is the definition of “the good” in this slogan? None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest number.
If you consider this moral, you would have to approve of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan in practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community.
There were seventy million Germans in Germany and six hundred thousand Jews. The greatest number (the Germans) supported the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property. This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in theory.
But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve any real good for itself either? No. It didn’t. Because “the good” is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.