Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill

Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill

Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill

Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill

Synopsis

This book presents a new interpretation of the principle of utility in moral and political theory based on the writings of the classical utilitarians. The writings of Adam Smith, William Paley and Jeremy Bentham are also considered.

Excerpt

This book attempts to correct a number of misleading views of classical utilitarianism common among philosophers, legal and political theorists, historians of economic thought, and intellectual historians. It does so by restating the arguments first developed by the major thinkers in this tradition, such as Hume, Smith, Helvétius, Paley, Bentham, and J.S. Mill. Although the book does not attempt a formal defence of utilitarianism, it will provide some of the ingredients for such a defence. These will be found particularly in the numerous discussions of pleasure and pain, taken initially from the Epicurean tradition, and in the account of the connections between utility, justice, and liberty, as developed by these thinkers. In addition, some commonly-held beliefs about defects in this tradition will be shown to be without foundation. It is assumed throughout the book that classical utilitarianism embodies a very rich tradition of philosophical reflection, particularly in ethics and politics, which has tended to be overlooked or simply dismissed by contemporary philosophers.

The main account of classical utilitarianism appears in Part I below. Nearly all of the chapters have been written especially for this book, and those that have been presented as seminar papers and/or articles have been revised. I am grateful to Imprint Academic for permission to use material for chapter 2, which appeared in 'Utility and Justice: Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition', Polis, 19 (2002): 93-107; and to Elsevier Science Ltd. for material for chapter 4, which appeared as 'The Idea of Utility in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments', History of European Ideas, 26 (2000): 79-103.

Part II contains four essays, exploring common criticisms of the classical utilitarian tradition, all of which have been published before, but have been revised for this book. Chapter 12 considers the criticism of utilitarianism that it allows for or even requires the punishment of the innocent, and chapter 13 takes up the theme of the sacrifice of some people to achieve the greater happiness of others or of the whole community. These appeared in Utilitas as 'Utilitarianism and the Punishment of the Innocent', 9 (1997): 23-37, and 'Individual Sacrifice and the Greatest Happiness: Bentham on Utility and Rights', 10 (1998): 129-43. My thanks to the editor and to Edinburgh University Press for permission to use this material. Chapter 14 considers the view that some forms of utilitarianism lead to

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