The English Utilitarians

The English Utilitarians

The English Utilitarians

The English Utilitarians

Excerpt

There is scarcely a writer on moral and political theory who is free from every taint of utilitarianism. Since all men often seek pleasure and avoid pain, no one anxious to have an audience will preach complete indifference to either. That is why the more enthusiastic utilitarians have sometimes been tempted to assert that all men are with them even when they think otherwise. Bentham never doubted that when the nonsense is eliminated from rival theories, what remains behind is always his own. James Mill was inclined to believe that when others thought they disagreed with him they were, without knowing it, caught up in the intricacies of languages. He believed that all men are utilitarians in practice, though many of them, having illusions of which they cannot get rid, are unwilling to admit it. Whether the utilitarian theory is true or false, it is at least plausible. In one form or another, it occurs readily enough to anyone who reflects on the moral or political behaviour of mankind. There can be little purpose, then, in noticing the many traces of the doctrine to be found in a great variety of European philosophies. What is profitable is not to discover the sense in which all men are utilitarians, but to define the doctrine so narrowly that only those thinkers who are usually called utilitarians deserve the name.

The utilitarians, properly so cllled, flourished in this country for a period of over a hundred years, from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. There were also utilitarians in France and in other parts of Europe, but the doctrine is essentially . . .

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