Utilitarianism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 83 pages of information about Utilitarianism.
may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof.  We are not, however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind impulse, or arbitrary choice.  There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of philosophy.  The subject is within the cognizance of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition.  Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.

We shall examine presently of what nature are these considerations; in what manner they apply to the case, and what rational grounds, therefore, can be given for accepting or rejecting the utilitarian formula.  But it is a preliminary condition of rational acceptance or rejection, that the formula should be correctly understood.  I believe that the very imperfect notion ordinarily formed of its meaning, is the chief obstacle which impedes its reception; and that could it be cleared, even from only the grosser misconceptions, the question would be greatly simplified, and a large proportion of its difficulties removed.  Before, therefore, I attempt to enter into the philosophical grounds which can be given for assenting to the utilitarian standard, I shall offer some illustrations of the doctrine itself; with the view of showing more clearly what it is, distinguishing it from what it is not, and disposing of such of the practical objections to it as either originate in, or are closely connected with, mistaken interpretations of its meaning.  Having thus prepared the ground, I shall afterwards endeavour to throw such light as I can upon the question, considered as one of philosophical theory.

CHAPTER II.

WHAT UTILITARIANISM IS.

A passing remark is all that needs be given to the ignorant blunder of supposing that those who stand up for utility as the test of right and wrong, use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial sense in which utility is opposed to pleasure.  An apology is due to the philosophical opponents of utilitarianism, for even the momentary appearance of confounding them with any one capable of so absurd a misconception; which is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the contrary accusation, of referring everything to pleasure, and that too in its grossest form, is another of the common charges against utilitarianism:  and, as has been pointedly remarked by an able writer, the same sort of persons, and often the very same persons, denounce the theory “as impracticably dry when the word utility precedes the word pleasure, and as too practicably voluptuous when the word pleasure precedes the word utility.”  Those who know anything about the matter are aware that every writer, from Epicurus to Bentham, who maintained the theory of utility,

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Utilitarianism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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