Utilitarianism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 96 pages of information about Utilitarianism.
for the action of personal desires and partialities.  We must remember that only in these cases of conflict between secondary principles is it requisite that first principles should be appealed to.  There is no case of moral obligation in which some secondary principle is not involved; and if only one, there can seldom be any real doubt which one it is, in the mind of any person by whom the principle itself is recognized.


[Footnote A:  The author of this essay has reason for believing himself to be the first person who brought the word utilitarian into use.  He did not invent it, but adopted it from a passing expression in Mr. Galt’s Annals of the Parish.  After using it as a designation for several years, he and others abandoned it from a growing dislike to anything resembling a badge or watchword of sectarian distinction.  But as a name for one single opinion, not a set of opinions—­to denote the recognition of utility as a standard, not any particular way of applying it—­the term supplies a want in the language, and offers, in many cases, a convenient mode of avoiding tiresome circumlocution.]

[Footnote B:  An opponent, whose intellectual and moral fairness it is a pleasure to acknowledge (the Rev. J. Llewellyn Davis), has objected to this passage, saying, “Surely the rightness or wrongness of saving a man from drowning does depend very much upon the motive with which it is done.  Suppose that a tyrant, when his enemy jumped into the sea to escape from him, saved him from drowning simply in order that he might inflict upon him more exquisite tortures, would it tend to clearness to speak of that rescue as ‘a morally right action?’ Or suppose again, according to one of the stock illustrations of ethical inquiries, that a man betrayed a trust received from a friend, because the discharge of it would fatally injure that friend himself or some one belonging to him, would utilitarianism compel one to call the betrayal ‘a crime’ as much as if it had been done from the meanest motive?”

I submit, that he who saves another from drowning in order to kill him by torture afterwards, does not differ only in motive from him who does the same thing from duty or benevolence; the act itself is different.  The rescue of the man is, in the case supposed, only the necessary first step of an act far more atrocious than leaving him to drown would have been.  Had Mr. Davis said, “The rightness or wrongness of saving a man from drowning does depend very much”—­not upon the motive, but—­“upon the intention” no utilitarian would have differed from him.  Mr. Davis, by an oversight too common not to be quite venial, has in this case confounded the very different ideas of Motive and Intention.  There is no point which utilitarian thinkers (and Bentham pre-eminently) have taken more pains to illustrate than this.  The morality of the action depends entirely upon the

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Utilitarianism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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