Henry Sidgwick & Later Utilitarian Political Philosophy

Henry Sidgwick & Later Utilitarian Political Philosophy

Henry Sidgwick & Later Utilitarian Political Philosophy

Henry Sidgwick & Later Utilitarian Political Philosophy

Excerpt

Historians of political ideas have tended to close their discussions of English utilitarianism with John Stuart Mill, who died in 1873. Some commentators even treat Mill's writings during the last twenty years of his life as a sort of addendum to utilitarianism proper, indicating that the inconsistency of Mill's later work demonstrates the untenability of the basic doctrines of utilitarianism. There is a certain plausibility in this procedure for several reasons. In the first place the practical influence of Benthamic utilitarianism was greatest and most direct before 1850, when the Philosophical Radicals (who were avowedly Benthamic in their aims and methods) constituted a parliamentary force that had to be reckoned with. Furthermore, the momentum of this movement was sufficient to effect a broad consensus on the efficacy of individualistic liberalism as the basis of public policy, at least down to the Reform Act of 1867. After 1870, however, the dominance of classical liberalism as a practical influence was increasingly challenged by legislation of a collectivistic nature, while at the same time other philosophical schools, especially positivism and idealism, rose to prominence in an intellectual sphere once heavily dominated by the utilitarians.

Even if partly justified by these developments, such a break is especially unfortunate in the history of utilitarian ideas because it . . .

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