The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism

By Elie Halévy; Mary Morris | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

WHAT ideas are aroused in the mind of a student or teacher of philosophy, by the name of the Utilitarian doctrine? He would recall the rules of Bentham's moral arithmetic and the title of an essay by Stuart Mill. He is aware that there is a fairly close connection between the morals of utility and the psychology, of the association of ideas, and that, generally speaking, the Utilitarians were associationists. But is he aware that the moral arithmetic aims much less at founding a moral theory than at founding a science of law, at providing a mathematical basis for the theory legal punishment? Is he aware, other than vaguely, that orthodox political economy, the tradition of Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, formed a part of the doctrine? Is he aware, further, that at the time when Utilitarianism was an organised philosophy and not merely a current opinion, to be a Utilitarian it was necessary to be a Radical (hence the name Philosophical Radicals), and that the supporters of the Utilitarian morality were at the same time the theorists of representative democracy and universal suffrage? But can anyone who is not aware of this really claim to be acquainted with the Utilitarian doctrine or even with the principle of Utility itself? For a proposition is set up as a principle precisely because of its logical fecundity, that is, by the number of consequences which follow from it. Properly to understand the principle of Utility, it is necessary to understand all its consequences, and all its juristic, economic and political applications. Our aim is to make the knowledge of the Utilitarian morality more exact by making it more complete. Our study is of Utilitarianism as a whole.

Now what method should be chosen in order to study the doctrine at once in its unity and in all its complexity? Would it be possible, in order to simplify the statement of it, to suppose Philosophical Radicalism already fully established and to analyse the sum of the opinions, both philosophical and social, theoretical and practical, which might be held by such a man as Stuart Mill about the year

-xvii-

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