Utilitarianism is overdue for a flag. Utilitarianism, the view that the sum total of overall happiness should be maximized, has been at the centre of ethical discussion since it was popularized in 1780. It is the gold-standard of moral theory and the view to which rival views respond. It remains among the most influential, inspiring ideas of philosophy.
Yet, for too long, utilitarianism has been symbolized by uninspiring notation such as ∑ (the symbol for summation). As a normative outlook that unites people regardless of nationality for action and social change, utilitarianism deserves better.
The utilitarian flag seeks to represent, with simple iconic symbolism, the most distinctive elements of utilitarianism: inclusiveness, impartiality, hedonism, maximization, aggregation, and indifference to distribution.
The five-pointed stars represent individuals: Everybody is a star, that is, in the sense that each individual is included and counts equally in the utilitarian calculus.
The number of stars mirrors the number of points of each star. This reflects the utilitarian ideal that the collective should be treated as if it were one and the same individual. The distinction between individuals lacks moral significance.
Yellow is the colour of happiness. The yellow background, accordingly, represents the hedonistic part of classical utilitarianism: Happiness is the only thing good in itself.
The five stars, being the maximal rating in the star classification system, represent the maximizing element of utilitarianism, that is, the duty to do the best one can.
The smile formed by the stars represents the aggregate of happiness. This is what classical utilitarianism seeks to promote. The flag does not feature the smiles of individual stars; it features the smile they form together. This represents the utilitarian tenet that it is our aggregated, collective happiness that matters, not merely the individual happiness of particular people.
Finally, in the smile, some stars are higher up than others. This represents the utilitarian indifference to distribution. Sometimes, in order to realize the greatest collective happiness, some individuals have to be better off than others. Similarly, utilitarianism sometimes favours trade-offs in which some individuals are made worse off for the greater good of the many.
The stars are pure white, and the background is NCS yellow (S 0580-Y10R), PMS 116 C (coated paper), or PMS 109 U (uncoated).
Taking the height of the flag as our unit, the flag is two units wide. Five five-pointed stars, each with one point pointing straight up, are spread out with their centres 2π / 15 radians apart along an arc consisting of the lower third of a circle with a radius of e / π units and its centre above the middle star. The stars have a radius of 1 / (5 √2) units. The arc is aligned vertically so that the distance from the centre of either of the top stars to the top of the flag is the same as the distance from the centre of the bottom star to the bottom of the flag. The arc is aligned horizontally so that the the centre of the middle star is equally far off from the left and right edges of the flag.
Is there a utilitarian in your life? Download the flag in your format of choice, and hoist the utilitarian banner today!