Utilitarianism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 83 pages of information about Utilitarianism.

The considerations which have now been adduced resolve, I conceive, the only real difficulty in the utilitarian theory of morals.  It has always been evident that all cases of justice are also cases of expediency:  the difference is in the peculiar sentiment which attaches to the former, as contradistinguished from the latter.  If this characteristic sentiment has been sufficiently accounted for; if there is no necessity to assume for it any peculiarity of origin; if it is simply the natural feeling of resentment, moralized by being made coextensive with the demands of social good; and if this feeling not only does but ought to exist in all the classes of cases to which the idea of justice corresponds; that idea no longer presents itself as a stumbling-block to the utilitarian ethics.  Justice remains the appropriate name for certain social utilities which are vastly more important, and therefore more absolute and imperative, than any others are as a class (though not more so than others may be in particular cases); and which, therefore, ought to be, as well as naturally are, guarded by a sentiment not only different in degree, but also in kind; distinguished from the milder feeling which attaches to the mere idea of promoting human pleasure or convenience, at once by the more definite nature of its commands, and by the sterner character of its sanctions.



[Footnote C:  See this point enforced and illustrated by Professor Bain, in an admirable chapter (entitled “The Ethical Emotions, or the Moral Sense”) of the second of the two treatises composing his elaborate and profound work on the Mind.]

[Footnote D:  This implication, in the first principle of the utilitarian scheme, of perfect impartiality between persons, is regarded by Mr. Herbert Spencer (in his Social Statics) as a disproof of the pretentions of utility to be a sufficient guide to right; since (he says) the principle of utility presupposes the anterior principle, that everybody has an equal right to happiness.  It may be more correctly described as supposing that equal amounts of happiness are equally desirable, whether felt by the same or by different persons.  This, however, is not a pre-supposition; not a premise needful to support the principle of utility, but the very principle itself; for what is the principle of utility, if it be not that ‘happiness’ and ‘desirable’ are synonymous terms?  If there is any anterior principle implied, it can be no other than this, that the truths of arithmetic are applicable to the valuation of happiness, as of all other measurable quantities.

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