The Utility prior to the Utilitarianism

Conventionally the birth of utilitarianism is attributed to Bentham. But arguments from nature utilitarian are very previous. It is possible to find in Hobbes, Spinoza and Hume (not counting many other authors less well known today). In fact, the same Kant to describe the considerations material to the empirical on morale, for better criticizing them and remove them if possible postulates of the practical reason, what that does is criticize arguments of type utility.

Then, how is it possible that you might have, and in addition this is the received view, that utilitarianism only arises with Bentham? Then try to show that, in fact, the common opinion is actually quite reasonable.

See for example the definitions of good and evil that makes Spinoza (they are the first definitions of the 4th Part of Ethics)

“I understand by good what we know with certainty is useful for us.

By bad, however, I understand that we know with certainty that it prevents that we have any good”

Hume, after his review of empirical -or at least, that’s what you try to do – of the terms that are praised (or, after the first section -on the kindness – and the second -on the justice-raises that are clearly associated to the useful. In fact, his discussion on justice (section III of the Enquiry) says:

THAT Justice is useful to society, and consequently that PART of its merit, at least, must arise from that consideration, it would be a superfluous undertaking to prove.

Why those initial statements, which assimilate the utility of the good, are not yet utilitarianism full?

If we look closely we will notice that in the two authors that we are reviewing are obtained with different conclusions that have been characterized usually to the conceptions utilitarian. In both cases, there is a strong idea of the social character of human beings, and therefore of its virtues. This faces the character rather asocial that happens many times in the utilitarianism. Now, not utilitarianism, but the version most ‘social’ of utilitarianism -the well-being of most – not avoid it: Because this well-being of the majority is a sum of the bienestares individual. But in the other authors is in relationships with other people where playing this well-being. The discussion of benevolence in Hume is not reducible to the sum of bienestares individual separate because the relationship is where it generates the well. The case of Spinoza is more complex, but in the end it may defend the same idea. It is more complex because, for example, the only pity is a passion, and therefore, in a strict sense a bad. But for those who do not live under the guidance of reason it is better to have that passion to that you do not have. And for those who live under the guidance of reason it is true that in the social relations which produces utility, and given that they agree in nature, nothing is more useful than to the human beings that other human beings (Corollary II of Proposition 35 in the 4th Part). Ethical behavior, then, is in both essentially, and not only by chance, social.

Ultimately, the above comes from another common feature: In both the argument of utility is applied to evaluate provisions (affection in the case of Spinoza, and feelings or general rules in Hume), is not to evaluate specific actions (as is the case of the tradition that is born with Bentham). So, Hum will show us how the generosity or benevolence are positive feelings by its utility; and from these definitions utilitarian is that Spinoza gets a positive vision of the joy. What neither does is apply a calculation to evaluate a specific action. The question is not whether it is morally right to do X (to solve, for example, the problem of the tram), but on whether the X attribute is good or bad according to that vision.

This is, I have the impression, that avoids the consequences more problems of utilitarianism: the refusal to perform a calculation utilitarian of the action. The argument is utilitarian justifies a provision, but it is the provision that justifies actions; the utility does not operate directly. Now, this emparente with traditions quite old thinking: For example, a virtue ethics is concerned with assessing dispositions (virtues) rather than directly evaluating actions. At the same time, this shows us something that is related to utilitarianism with his usual opposite: the kantian ethics. In these latter two traditions, the ethical question central is by the actions, which manifestly is not the center on the authors pre-kantian examined.

In summary, this brief examination of the situation shows us that what we had planned since the beginning that these arguments of taste utility are different from the utilitarianism that is born with Bentham (and now putting up an opinion is purely personal: they are also preferable).


Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top