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John Stuart Mill And Utilitarianism

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John Stuart Mill published Utilitarianism in 1861 in installments in Fraser's Magezine it was later brought out in book form in 1863. The book offers a candidate for a first principle of morality, a principle that provides us with a criterion distinquishing right and wrong. The unilitarian candidate is the principle of utility, which holds that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happpiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure."

One version of cecular utilitarianism was represented by William Godwin the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and father of Mary Shelley, who achieved great notoriety with the publication of hil Political Justice of 1793. Godwin's use of the principle of utility for the cause of radical political and social critique began the identification of utilitarianism with anti-religiosity and with dangerous democratic values.

The second version of secular utilitarianism, and the one that inspired Mill, arose from the work of Jeremy Bentham. Benthan, who was much more successful than Godwin at building a movement around his ideas, employed the principle of utility as a device of political, social, and legal criticism. Bentham's interest in the principle of utility did not arise from concern about ethical theory as much as from concern about lefislative and legal reform.

Though Bentham and Godwin intended it to have this function in the late eighteenth century, utilitarianism became influential only when tied with the political machinery of the Radical party, which had particular prominence on the English scene in the 1830's.



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