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On one understanding of the concept, publicity deems it impermissible for public officials to hide the reasons and moral theories that inform their policy choices. As just one example of this, publicity forbids the utilitarian from cloaking her policy recommendations in terms of a moral theory other than utilitarianism. While this might seem like a compelling requirement at first, its proponents have offered little argument for it, as defenders of utilitarianism have been quick to point out. To remedy this, I try to rehabilitate the blanket ban on false rationales demanded by this understanding of publicity, relying on the work of Bernard Williams (himself a fierce critic of esoteric utilitarianism). None of the arguments recovered from Williams successfully rule out secret rationales on the part of public officials. This understanding of publicity, I conclude, lacks compelling justification.
The empiricist legacy of John Locke developed in various directions in the British Romantic period, especially informing the movement known as theological utilitarianism, which taught ethics based on prudence and sought evidences for a benevolent, Christian God as designer of the world. This approach was challenged, however, above all by the idealism of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who drew on Platonic and recent German sources. Further, newly translated Hindu texts influenced both metaphysical speculation and practical recommendations of a life of moderation and self-denial, including in the work of several female novelists in the period.
Barrell concludes by arguing that the utilitarians’ conscription into an ahistorical Enlightenment is doubly misconceived, first, because they opposed only the crudest forms of historical enquiry, and, second, because the eighteenth-century Enlightenments were neither systematically ahistorical nor neatly superseded by Romantic, organic, and historicist ideas. If, therefore, these new historical perspectives were both products and unruly offshoots of Enlightenment, then the utilitarians’ intellectual history assumes a more fluid shape. This new shape, Barrell suggests, may force us to rethink the utilitarians’ place within the intellectual history of the nineteenth century; the history of historical writing; and the history of philosophy.
James Mill’s dogmatic rhetoric in his essay ‘On Government’ (1820) and his rejection in the History of British India (1817) of ocular and narrowly empirical methods, when seen against the febrile political backdrop of the early 1830s, was a gift to utilitarianism’s Whig, Tory, and Romantic opponents. However, his defence in A Fragment on Mackintosh (1835) of Bentham’s jurisprudence and moral philosophy, when placed in the context of his other late writings, suggests a different intention. In both his historical and political writings, James Mill pursued the ‘real business of philosophy’ in which general principles illuminated social phenomena and laid bare the emptiness of Whig empiricism. Only the ‘speculative man’ could appreciate the past’s distinctness by separating general from special causes, and Mill’s indebtedness to Francis Bacon and David Hume is evident in this respect. His attractions to Benthamite utilitarianism and Scottish philosophical history were variously deepened and underpinned by his readings of Bacon and Hume, and those readings, Barrell suggests, may have been encouraged by Dugald Stewart at Edinburgh.
This chapter examines J. S. Mill’s writings on universal history, beginning with his reviews of Jules Michelet, François Guizot, and Henry Buckle, and ending with Alexis de Tocqueville’s prophetic account of democracy and Mill’s timely socialism. Barrell argues that we must take seriously the two historical perspectives from which Mill theorised politics: the first looked to the special causes which determined the timeliness or untimeliness of a given doctrine, reform, or phenomenon, while the latter looked to general causes and the region of ultimate aims. The first depended logically on the second. Any attempt to historicise the study of politics – by making laws relative to time and place, for example – must reckon with civilisation’s provisional trends. The debate surrounding Mill’s universalism and relativism, Barrell concludes, can be helpfully understood in these terms. While Mill’s argument is difficult to credulously follow, his intentions were clear: general and special circumstances always coexisted, and because they coexisted the past was both irreducibly distinct and uniform in its development. One consequence of this intellectual remapping might be to re-establish continuities between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in keeping with Mill’s self-professed eclecticism.
This chapter examines contemporary responses to utilitarianism as a political tradition, and, contrary to accepted wisdom, argues that Bentham’s theory of utility was circumstantially and thus historically relative. It asks why Bentham has been perceived as both an ahistorical and an antihistorical thinker, despite his engagement with the ‘Enlightened’ historicisms of the eighteenth century: with Montesquieu, Barrington, Kames, and others. While he denied that history possessed an independent value that could determine or even effectively structure politics, we should not mistake these arguments for an unwillingness to contemplate politics historically, or to make occasionally significant concessions to time and place. Bentham’s point, rather, was that historical truths were categorically distinct from philosophical ones, and that sciences historiques observed the past while sciences philosophiques appraised it. The chapter also addresses Bentham’s overlooked work as a ‘historiographer’ who performed recognisably historical tasks, including the examination of evidence and the passing of historical judgements
This first comprehensive account of the utilitarians' historical thought intellectually resituates their conceptions of philosophy and politics, at a time when the past acquired new significances as both a means and object of study. Drawing on published and unpublished writings - and set against the intellectual backdrops of Scottish philosophical history, German and French historicism, romanticism, positivism, and the rise of social science and scientific history - Callum Barrell recovers the depth with which Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, George Grote, and John Stuart Mill thought about history as a site of philosophy and politics. He argues that the utilitarians, contrary to their reputations as ahistorical and even antihistorical thinkers, developed complex frameworks in which to learn from and negotiate the past, inviting us to rethink the foundations of their ideas, as well as their place in - and relationship to - nineteenth-century philosophy and political thought.
According to a standard account liberalism is committed to the rejection of legal paternalism. But the fact is that paternalistic policies are common currency in most liberal democracies, and liberal governments claim or at least assume that those policies are not inimical to liberal principles. My argument in this chapter is, first, that paternalistic interventions do infringe the right to direct one’s life, and that, therefore, the scope of this right cannot be redefined to conceal the conflict. However, the fact that there is an unavoidable conflict between individual sovereignty and paternalism does not mean that paternalism is necessarily unjustifiable. Second, since the right to direct one’s life is not absolute, it can be outweighed by considerations related to an individual’s positive freedom. I will argue that the protection of an agent’s positive freedom is a permissible moral goal, and, sometimes, this goal can offset the right to direct one’s life. I acknowledge that paternalistic actions set back individuals’ autonomous choices, but I nonetheless claim that such interferences are justified because, on some occasions, positive freedom considerations outweigh the right to sovereign individual choice.
The Introduction to Morality as Legislation: Rules and Consequences explains the difference between a situated perspective where a person asks which act should be performed in a particular instance and a legislative perspective where one asks what rule should apply to a whole class of people in given circumstances. The legislative perspective seems to have advantages in terms of coming to more plausible moral conclusions but does not fit neatly into either consequentialist or Kantian categories as it uses consequentialist considerations to select among possible rules while being unable to explain why the question “which rule?” is the relevant question on purely consequentialist grounds. The Introduction describes four different dimensions along which conceptions of the legislative perspective can vary and two contextual dimensions as to where it is employed: political and nonpolitical contexts and legislative and nonlegislative contexts. The Introduction clarifies the goals of the book and provides summaries of the following chapters.
In Grotius, Cumberland, and Locke we see the basic elements of the theological version of morality as legislation. Grotius used a framework of evaluating the consequences of different possible rules for fallible, biased people as a way of determining what ought to be done. Cumberland provided a theory of right in which all the content of all divine laws could be traced back to one divine attribute, benevolence. Locke, while less systematically consequentialist than Cumberland, had a hedonistic theory of the good, an account of God that also emphasized benevolence, and (most interestingly) a willingness to press very hard on the legislative metaphor in order to establish the correct content of natural law when it was in dispute. Locke imagines God as a legislator using precisely the structure of rationality that a human legislator would use in contemplating which law to pass, including problems of biased and fallible execution of the law. Locke’s use is clearly counterfactual. It is probably not a coincidence that both Locke and Cumberland were strong supporters of new scientific theories that sought to understand nature by means of natural laws.
Chapter 3 examines the decisive break between religious and secular utilitarianism in the thought of William Paley and Jeremy Bentham. Paley, the better known and more widely respected thinker of the two at the time, is in many ways the paradigm case of the theological version of morality as legislation. Paley, like Locke, used human legislative deliberation as a paradigm of rationality for thinking about the content of the divine law. Bentham’s project must be understood in part as motivated by a desire to reject the theological assumptions of theories like Paley’s that stood in the way of radical reform. It also encouraged a reframing of moral expression as a kind of legislative act. Bentham saw reputational sanctions as one substitute for religious motives for moral action, but this also required a perspectival shift towards a legislative approach when making moral statements.
John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick grappled with the perspectival problem arising from Bentham’s full rejection of the theological justification for the legislative point of view. Mill’s intriguing suggestion that “wrong” refers to that which should be punished by law, public opinion, or private conscience combined with his assumption that all three are open to revision on utilitarian principles leads to the interesting conclusion that our moral statements about right and wrong are tacit legislative proposals. When deciding whether to voice our moral opinions we must think like legislators enacting a rule. This was in tension with the idea that our public expressions of moral judgment should be spontaneous reactions to the poor choices of others. Sidgwick grasped the implications of this issue more clearly and more self-consciously than did Mill, since it meant that there was a potentially deep disjunction between what is right according to utilitarianism and what utilitarianism tells us to publicly state as right. Sidgwick’s defense of an esoteric morality is the final outcome of the attempt to secularize morality as legislation.
'What would happen if everyone acted that way?' This question is often used in everyday moral assessments, but it has a paradoxical quality: it draws not only on Kantian ideas of a universal moral law but also on consequentialist claims that what is right depends on the outcome. In this book, Alex Tuckness examines how the question came to be seen as paradoxical, tracing its history from the theistic approaches of the seventeenth century to the secular accounts of the present. Tuckness shows that the earlier interpretations were hybrid theories that included both consequentialist and non-consequentialist elements, and argues that contemporary uses of this approach will likewise need to combine consequentialist and non-consequentialist commitments.
Chapter 3 further establishes the significance of Aristotelian virtue theory within the landscape of British moral philosophy, where it has been almost entirely neglected. It begins with the 1874 publication of Henry Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics, which was a significant literary event because it identified virtue ethics with “aesthetic” modes of reasoning. An Aristotelian conception of stylistic character subsequently flourished in the philosophical writings of J.S. Mill, John Grote, T.H. Green, and Bernard Bosanquet, all of whom rejected the dissociation of ethics from aesthetics and imagined character as an aesthetic realization of the self. In this way, philosophers in the Aristotelian tradition provided an ethical justification for aesthetic autonomy and the character-based formalism of Victorian stylistic criticism.
This chapter reviews Cost–Benefit Analysis (CBA) as one of the most commonly applied methods for assessing engineering projects, particularly when a choice is to be made between alternatives. It is often wrongly assumed that a CBA is an objective way of assessing costs and benefits and that the result unequivocally presents the best outcome. CBA is rooted in utilitarian thinking in ethics which argues that moral rightness depends on whether positive consequences are being maximized. CBA – together with its underlying ethical theory – has been abundantly criticized in the philosophy literature. This chapter is not just another voice in this "philosophical choir": not because the critique is not valid, but because it does not necessarily dismiss the CBA altogether. The chapter aims to show what a CBA can and cannot do and how it can be made more suitable for assessing the risks, costs, and benefits of engineering projects. It provides several ways of circumventing some of the ethical objections to a CBA by amending, adjusting, or supplementing it – and when none of these can help – rejecting the CBA as a method and substituting a multi-criteria analysis.
The eighteenth century was a period of dramatic change in political and legal thought. Much of the way in which we currently conceive of democratic institutions and the responsibilities and rights attached to citizenship can be traced back to concepts that dominated eighteenth-century thought. The social contract was debated by figures such as John Locke, Algernon Sidney, David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Among the many issues under deliberation were the validity of consent, the will of individuals, the role of virtue, and the rights of self-governance. Legal thought was very closely tied to political thought because law was a foundation of political authority. Natural law, which was associated with divinity, rose in importance because it protected inalienable rights, such as self-preservation. Positive law, that is, laws of civil society such as common law and statute law, could be reformed and updated as civil society evolved. This flexibility was praised by jurists such as Lord Mansfield, but it also drew attempts to clarify and systematize law by Sir William Blackstone and Jeremy Bentham, as they prepared the citizenry for a growing engagement with the law.
Is an outcome where many people are saved and one person dies better than an outcome where the one is saved and the many die? According to the standard utilitarian justification, the former is better because it has a greater sum total of well-being. This justification involves a controversial form of moral aggregation, because it is based on a comparison between aggregates of different people’s well-being. Still, an alternative justification—the Argument for Best Outcomes—does not involve moral aggregation. I extend the Argument for Best Outcomes to show that any utilitarian evaluation can be justified without moral aggregation.
We re-examine Pigou’s ethics in welfare economics with respect to welfarist or non-welfarist (more broadly, utilitarian or non-utilitarian) concepts based on various perspectives, such as incommensurability among utility and people, basic need information approach, non-welfarist justification of the national minimum, and methodological individualism in axiology. Consequently, we could detect certain non-welfarist approaches in his welfare economics, which squarely challenges the orthodox understanding of his works. We can assert that the deviation from simple welfarism was a result of practical considerations. Furthermore, apart from the dichotomy about welfarist and non-welfarist viewpoints, we present novel assessments of Pigou’s welfare notion: a hybrid strategy for the enhancement of people’s well-being. We show that his overall welfare idea involves both subjective and objective accounts and has a three-layered welfare strategy: bare and raw preferences turn into educated and refined ones via objective needs.