7

UTILITARIANISM

The previous chapter concluded that Kant's conception of the best human life as one lived in accordance with moral duty pursued for its own sake encounters serious difficulties. Three of these are specially important. First, it seems impossible to disregard the successfulness of our actions in deciding how well or badly we are spending our lives. Second, Kant's categorical imperative, by means of which we are supposed to determine what our duty actually is, is purely formal, with the result that contradictory prescriptions can be made to square with it. Third, the divorce between a morally virtuous life and a personally happy and fulfilling life, and the emphasis upon deserving to be happy rather than actually being happy, leaves us with a problem about motivation. Why should anyone aspire to live morally, if doing so has no necessary connection with living happily?

If these are indeed major problems with the 'duty for duty's sake' conception of a good life, we might suppose that a more successful conception is to be obtained by giving pride of place to happiness and our success in bringing it about. This is just what utilitarianism, the major rival to Kantian moral theory, does. In order to understand the importance of utilitarianism properly, something needs to be said about its origins. We can then consider its merits as a way of thinking about good and bad, right and wrong.


UTILITY AND THE GREATEST HAPPINESS PRINCIPLE

The term 'utilitarianism' first came to prominence in the early nineteenth century but not as the name of a philosophical doctrine. It was rather the

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Eight Theories of Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • A Note on Further Reading x
  • 1 - Ethics, Truth and Reason 1
  • 2 - Egoism 17
  • 3 - Hedonism 39
  • 4 - Naturalism and Virtue Theory 53
  • 5 - Existentialism 71
  • 6 - Kantianism 98
  • 7 - Utilitarianism 128
  • 8 - Contractualism 162
  • 9 - Ethics, Religion and the Meaning of Life 176
  • Bibliography 207
  • Index 211
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