Lecture 4 - Origins of Classical Utilitarianism

author: Ian Shapiro, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: Aug. 19, 2014,   recorded: January 2010,   views: 1733
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)
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Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism is the first Enlightenment tradition that the course will cover in depth. In his Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham outlines the principle of utility; that is, the principle that all men are pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding. Professor Shapiro presents the case that classical utilitarianism has five characteristics: (1) it is comprehensive and deterministic, (2) it is a pre-Darwinian naturalist doctrine, (3) it is egoistic but not subjectivist, (4) it is highly consequentialist, and (5) it is based on the idea that utility is quantifiable and that one can make interpersonal comparisons of utility. As for the role of government, Bentham believes that it is to "maximize the greatest happiness of the greatest number." The class discusses the merits of utilitarianism through examination of Robert Nozick's hypothetical experience machines, the implication of public goods, and "the tragedy of the commons."

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