Utilitarianism

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Those proud Islanders are never in earnest with anything that goes beyond palpable utility. All knowledge they have robbed of life and use only as dead wood to make masts and helms for their life's voyage in pursuit of gain. ~ Friedrich Schleiermacher

Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the moral action is the one that maximizes utility. Utility is defined in various ways, including as pleasure, economic well-being and the lack of suffering. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, which implies that the "end justifies the means". This view can be contrasted or combined with seeing intentions, virtues or the compliance with rules as ethically important.

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B[edit]

  • By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness.
    • Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1798.
  • By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness (all this in the present case come to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil or unhappiness to the party who whose is considered: if that party be the community in general, then the happiness of the community; if a particular individual; then the happiness of that individual.
    • Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1798.
  • Dr. Priestley published his Essay on Government in 1768. He there introduced ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number.’ It was by that pamphlet, and this phrase in it, that my principles on the subject of morality, public and private together, were determined. It was from that pamphlet and that page of it, that I drew the phrase, the words and import of which have been so widely diffused over the civilized world. At the sight of it, I cried out, as it were, in an inward ecstasy, like Archimedes on the discovery of the fundamental principle of hydrostatics, eureka!
    • Jeremy Bentham, “Deontology, or the Science of Morality”, The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, and Ecclesiastical Record, vol. 16, no. 32 (1834), pp. 279-280
  • The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholen from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversible animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?
    • Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1798.
  • The utilitarian behaves sensibly in all that is required for preservation but never takes account of the fact that he must die. He does everything reasonable to put off the day of his death—providing for defense, peace, order, health and wealth —but actively suppresses the fact that the day must come. His whole life is absorbed in avoiding death, which is inevitable, and therefore he might be thought to be the most irrational of men, if rationality has anything to do with understanding ends or comprehending the human situation as such.

H[edit]

M[edit]

  • I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I contend, authorize the subjection of individual spontaneity to external control, only in respect to those actions of each, which concern the interest of other people.
  • the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.
  • The ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable (...), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, (...) This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.
  • The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interests of mankind.
  • The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end.
  • Granted that any practice causes more pain to animals than it gives pleasure to man; is that practice moral or immoral? And if, exactly in proportion as human beings raise their heads out of the slough of selfishness, they do not with one voice answer 'immoral,' let the morality of the principle of utility be for ever condemned.
    • John Stuart Mill, Dr. Whewell on Moral Philosophy (1852), in Dissertations and Discussions: Political, Philosophical, and Historical, vol. 2, London: John W. Parker and son, 1859, p. 485.

N[edit]

  • Hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism, all those modes of thinking which measure the worth of things according to pleasure and pain, ... are plausible modes of thought and naïvetés, which every one conscious of creative powers and an artist’s conscience will look down upon with scorn. ... We regard your seriousness as more dangerous than any kind of levity. ... Well-being, as you understand it—is certainly not a goal; it seems to us ... a condition which at once renders man ludicrous and contemptible.

P[edit]

  • Perfect the Will, the Mind, Feeling, their corporeal organs and their material tools; be useful to yourselves, to your own ones, and to others; and Happiness, insofar as it exists on this earth, will come of itself.

R[edit]

  • It appeared to me obvious that the happiness of mankind should be the aim of all action, and I discovered to my surprise that there were those who thought otherwise. Belief in happiness, I found, was called Utilitarianism, and was merely one among a number of ethical theories. I adhered to it after this discovery.

S[edit]

  • This utilitarian view of the mind ... is an external view only, which marks the place and conditions of the mind in nature, but neglects its specific essence. ... If the intellect is a device produced in organic bodies to expedite their processes, these organic bodies must have interests and a chosen direction in their life; otherwise their life could not be expedited, nor could anything be useful to it.
  • Utility is the great idol of the age, to which all powers must do service and all talents swear allegiance.
  • Those proud Islanders whom many unduly honour, know no watchword but gain and enjoyment. Their zeal for knowledge is only a sham fight, their worldly wisdom a false jewel, skilfully and deceptively composed, and their sacred freedom itself too often and too easily serves self-interest. They are never in earnest with anything that goes beyond palpable utility. All knowledge they have robbed of life and use only as dead wood to make masts and helms for their life's voyage in pursuit of gain.
  • It's the flock, the grove, that matters. Our responsibility is to species, not to specimens; to communities, not to individuals.

W[edit]

  • Before the age of adulteration it was held that behind each work there stood some conception of its perfect execution. It was this that gave zest to labor and served to measure the degree of success. To the extent that the concept obtained, there was a teleology in work, since the laborer toiled not merely to win sustenance but to see this ideal embodied in his creation. Pride in craftsmanship is well explained by saying that to labor is to pray, for conscientious effort to realize an ideal is a kind of fidelity. The craftsman of old time did not hurry, because the perfect takes no account of time and shoddy work is a reproach to character. But character itself is an expression of self-control, which does not come of taking the easiest way. Where character forbids self-indulgence, transcendence still hovers around.
When utilitarianism becomes enthroned and the worker is taught that work is use and not worship, interest in quality begins to decline. … There is a difference between expressing one’s self in form and producing quantity for a market with an eye to speculation. Péguy wished to know what had become of the honor of work. It has succumbed to the same forces as have all other expressions of honor.
  • Knowledge conceived as an instrument is a means to the end of power. The goal of philosophy, however, is not to gain power over the Absolute but to know it as it truly is.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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