Evaluation and Significance
The utilitarian principle was a breath of fresh air in Victorian England, where many people were seeking a nonreligious, clear, independent approach to morality. It was left for succeeding centuries to respond critically to utilitarianism. One of the problems with utilitarianism is that it is not always possible or easy to predict the consequences of your actions. You give a homeless person $5, believing that he will use it to buy a sandwich as he says. But he may well purchase liquor with the money five minutes later. Moreover, there are actions, like war, whose long-term consequences you cannot know for sure.
A second criticism of the utilitarian doctrine is that is seems to be one where the “ends justify the means.” If the consequences of your actions are what make those actions right or wrong, then can't you justify any action by saying it is likely to produce good consequences? You might lynch an innocent man because an angry mob of one hundred demands it, reasoning that the interests of the many should take precedence over the interests of the few.
Utilitarianists could respond that you can never foretell consequences, but that no moral theory can ignore consequences all together. Regarding the lynching of an innocent man, the utilitarian philosophy doesn't need to accept the conclusion that the majority must always be appeased, for in the long-term such a practice would not benefit society.