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   ambridge ompanions Online The Cambridge Companion to UtilitarianismEdited by Ben Eggleston, Dale MillerBook DOI: ISBN: 9781139096737Hardback ISBN: 9781107020139Paperback ISBN: 9781107656710Chapter1 - Utilitarianism before Bentham pp. 16-37Chapter DOI: University Press  colin heydt 1  Utilitarianism before Bentham introduction This chapter examines the history of utilitarianism in early modernBritain and, more brie fl y, France. Utilitarianism offers one problemand two advantages as a subject of historical inquiry. The problem isterminological. “ Utilitarianism ” isamid-nineteenth-centurytermandonethatreferredtoareforminglegal,social,andpoliticalmovementof the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 1 I will anachronistically,though in accord with present-day usage, employ the term throughoutthis chapter to refer to utilitarian moral thought in general. Now theadvantages: First, utilitarian theory began. More precisely, we canlocate its srcins in England during the period  1660 s – 1730 s. For amajor theory in philosophy, that is pretty speci fi c. Second, the begin-ningisrecentenough to provide ample documentation of the thoughtsandcircumstances ofearly proponents ofthetheory.These advantagesenable us to think more cogently about how to respond to importantquestions: What motivated people to develop and defend utilitarianideas? In choosing to defend utilitarianism, what alternatives werethese thinkers rejecting? This chapter addresses these questions inthe hope of making utilitarianism more intelligible  –  not simply asembodying philosophical theses and arguments, but as expressing andshaping modes of moral, political, and religious life. utilitarianism in britain The history of utilitarianism in Britain prior to the late-eighteenth-century work of Jeremy Bentham is dominated by what I call ThankstoBenEgglestonandDaleMillerfortheirexcellenteditorialsupervisionandtoJimCrimminsandJamesHarrisforhelpfulcommentsonanearlierdraftofthischapter. 16 Downloaded from Cambridge Companions Online by IP on Thu Oct 30 00:23:16 GMT 2014. Companions Online © Cambridge University Press, 2014  “ Anglican utilitarianism. ” 2 Its notable proponents included theeighteenth-century thinkers John Gay, John Brown, Soame Jenyns,Edmund Law, Abraham Tucker, Thomas Rutherforth, and WilliamPaley. 3 These thinkers argue for two key theses of standard utilitar-ianism:allthings – knowledge,virtue,health – arevaluableonlyinsofaras they promote pleasure or decrease pain, and actions are rightor wrong depending on their consequences for the public good, i.e.,the greatest happiness. While the  fi rst thesis goes back to ancientEpicureanism, the second receives its initial modern expression inRichard Cumberland ’ s  1672  A Treatise of the Laws of Nature . Moredistinctively, however, and in contrast to secular versions of utilitar-ianism, Anglican utilitarians contend that morality needs God, partic-ularlyforasatisfactoryaccountofmoralobligationandforasolutiontothe problem of con fl ict between private and public happiness.The analysis of Anglican utilitarianism offered here strivesto make it comprehensible by seeing it as the synthesis of two cur-rents of thought, both of which developed in the seventeenthcentury: Protestant natural law theory and the modern revival of Epicureanism. The preceding intellectual labors expressed in thesetraditions enabled the Anglican utilitarians to articulate a novelethical system, one that had an in fl uential life in Britain. Protestantnatural law theory and modern Epicureanism are examined throughanalyses of key late-seventeenth-century  fi gures: Cumberland and,the most important in fl uence on the development of Anglican utili-tarianism, John Locke. The section then moves on to interpretthe works of George Berkeley, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, andtheAnglican utilitarians vis-à-visnatural law, Epicureanism, and theestablishment of utilitarian ideas and arguments. Cumberland and Locke cumberland  It would be too weak to say that the most famous of the classical utilitarians  –  Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill  –  rejected theideaofalawofnature.Rather,they  ridiculed it.Benthamasserted that the  “ pretended  law of nature ”  was nothing but  “ anobscure phantom. ” 4 John Stuart Mill decried the  “ imaginary law of theimaginarybeingNature. ” 5 Insteadofseeinglawasthefundamen-talorganizingprincipleofmorality,theclassicalutilitarianstooklawto be derivative of a more fundamental notion: the good.Utilitarianism before Bentham  17 Downloaded from Cambridge Companions Online by IP on Thu Oct 30 00:23:16 GMT 2014. Companions Online © Cambridge University Press, 2014  Perhaps surprisingly, then, when we examine the history of utili-tarianism in Britain prior to Bentham, we discover that utilitariantheories were natural law theories, in which God is the legislator.Richard Cumberland ( 1631 – 1718 ) can be seen as the  fi rst to put autilitarian view in natural law garb.Natural law morality emphasizes that morality is a universal law,imposedbyalaw-giver(typicallyGod),andknowablebyreasonalonewithout the aid of revelation (thus  “ natural ” ). Though the idea thatthere is a universal moral law extends back to the Stoics, natural lawmorality received a seminal development at the hands of ThomasAquinas (and still remains an important part of Catholic moral phi-losophy today). In the period after the Protestant Reformation, how-ever, a new school of natural law morality, Protestant natural law,began. 6 One landmarkinProtestant natural law theorywas the publicationof Cumberland ’ s  A Treatise of the Laws of Nature . For Cumberland,thedemands of God ’ slaw (i.e.,morality)are reducibletoone:promotethe commongood ofrationalagents,namely,thehonorofGodandthehappiness of humans.On Cumberland ’ s account, we can know that the common good isanobligatoryend independentlyofscripturalrevelation. This knowl-edge arises through careful observation of nature, because the will of God is  “ naturally known ”  in these matters most clearly from itseffects. 7 That is, we can infer that God has willed us to pursue thecommon good because, for the agent,  “ [i]nnumerable evils  . . .  natu- rally attend  every Action  injurious  to others ”  and various goodsaccompany every action bene fi cial to the common good. 8 OncewerecognizethatGodhaswilledustopromotethecommongood,hisauthorityasthe “ GovernouroftheWorld ” makesthisa  law  for us. 9 God ’ s will, in other words, makes the difference between itsbeing merely  reasonable  to pursue the common good and its beingsomething that we are  bound  to promote. Without God, obligation  – and therefore morality  –  is impossible.What is the signi fi cance of Cumberland ’ s account of the commongood, particularly for the history of utilitarianism? Two things seemnoteworthy. First, it was  not unusual to claim that the end of naturallaw is the common good (indeed, Aquinas does so). However,Cumberland makes the novel claim that the common good is some-thing that is a  sum  of the good of the individuals that make up the 18 colin heydt Downloaded from Cambridge Companions Online by IP on Thu Oct 30 00:23:16 GMT 2014. Companions Online © Cambridge University Press, 2014


Jul 23, 2017
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