Williams and utilitarianism

Precursors to the Classical Approach Though the first systematic account of utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham —the core insight motivating the theory occurred much earlier.

Williams and utilitarianism

Precursors to the Classical Approach Though the first systematic account of utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham —the core insight motivating the theory occurred much earlier.

Of these, Francis Hutcheson — is explicitly utilitarian when it comes to action choice. They believed that promoting human happiness was incumbent on us since it was approved by God.

This view was combined with a view of human motivation with egoistic elements. A person's individual salvation, her eternal happiness, depended on conformity to God's will, as did virtue itself.

Promoting human happiness and one's own coincided, but, given God's design, it was not an accidental coincidence. This approach to utilitarianism, however, is not theoretically clean in the sense that it isn't clear what essential work God does, at least in terms of normative ethics.

God as the source of normativity is compatible with utilitarianism, but utilitarianism doesn't require this. Gay's influence on later writers, such as Hume, deserves note. It is in Gay's essay that some of the questions that concerned Hume on the nature of virtue are addressed.

Williams and utilitarianism

For example, Gay was curious about how to explain our practice of approbation and disapprobation of action and character. When we see an act that is vicious we disapprove of it. Further, we associate certain things with their effects, so that we form positive associations and negative associations that also underwrite our moral judgments.

Of course, that we view happiness, including the happiness of others as a good, is due to God's design.

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This is a feature crucial to the theological approach, which would clearly be rejected by Hume in favor of a naturalistic view of human nature and a reliance on our sympathetic engagement with others, an approach anticipated by Shaftesbury below.

The theological approach to utilitarianism would be developed later by William Paley, for example, but the lack of any theoretical necessity in appealing to God would result in its diminishing appeal.

This seems to have been an innate sense of right and wrong, or moral beauty and deformity. Again, aspects of this doctrine would be picked up by Francis Hutcheson and David Hume — Hume, of course, would clearly reject any robust realist implications.

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If the moral sense is like the other perceptual senses and enables us to pick up on properties out there in the universe around us, properties that exist independent from our perception of them, that are objective, then Hume clearly was not a moral sense theorist in this regard.

But perception picks up on features of our environment that one could regard as having a contingent quality. There is one famous passage where Hume likens moral discrimination to the perception of secondary qualities, such as color. In modern terminology, these are response-dependent properties, and lack objectivity in the sense that they do not exist independent of our responses.

If an act is vicious, its viciousness is a matter of the human response given a corrected perspective to the act or its perceived effects and thus has a kind of contingency that seems unsettling, certainly unsettling to those who opted for the theological option.

So, the view that it is part of our very nature to make moral discriminations is very much in Hume. Further — and what is relevant to the development of utilitarianism — the view of Shaftesbury that the virtuous person contributes to the good of the whole — would figure into Hume's writings, though modified.

It is the virtue that contributes to the good of the whole system, in the case of Hume's artificial virtues. Shaftesbury held that in judging someone virtuous or good in a moral sense we need to perceive that person's impact on the systems of which he or she is a part.

Here it sometimes becomes difficult to disentangle egoistic versus utilitarian lines of thought in Shaftesbury. If one should help others because that's the right thing to do — and, fortunately, it also ends up promoting one's own interests, then that's more like utilitarianism, since the promotion of self-interest is a welcome effect but not what, all by itself, justifies one's character or actions.

Further, to be virtuous a person must have certain psychological capacities — they must be able to reflect on character, for example, and represent to themselves the qualities in others that are either approved or disapproved of.

Animals also lack the capacity for moral discrimination and would therefore seem to lack the moral sense.

Williams and utilitarianism

This raises some interesting questions.Utilitarianism is basically the theory that the right course of action is the one that maximizes happiness and reduces suffering. John Stuart Mill (–) was the most famous and influential British philosopher of the nineteenth century.

He was one of the last systematic philosophers, making significant contributions in logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and social theory. Utilitarianism is basically the theory that the right course of action is the one that maximizes happiness and reduces suffering.

John Stuart Mill (—) John Stuart Mill () profoundly influenced the shape of nineteenth century British thought and political discourse.

Purpose: Through the academic disciplines and co-curricular activities, General Education provides multiple, varied, and intentional learning experiences to facilitate the acquisition of fundamental knowledge and skills and the development of attitudes that foster effective citizenship and life-long.

Utilitarianism definition, the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.

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Utilitarianism, Act and Rule | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy