James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, November 13, 2006

Utilitarianism in Context

Utilitarianism is commonly understood as the ethic that promotes "the greatest happiness for the greatest number."

In some ways the philosophy sounds abhorrent because it seems to attack individual rights on the one hand, and established institutions and practices on the other. But I was reminded today of the social and political context from which it came, while reading Elizabeth Rapaport's Editor's Introduction to John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (ISBN: 0915144433). The context of Utilitarianism's founder Jeremy Bentham and James Mill (John Stuart's father) was early 19th-century England. As Rapaport writes, "James Mill fashioned Bentham's ideas into a powerful weapon with which to attack aristocratic power and privilege. (page x; emphasis added)

I suppose if the choice was between utilitarianism or aristocratic power and privilege, I'd be a utilitarian too.

No comments:

Post a Comment