“...we try to work out our correct principles
to guide us in our approach to
the social problems of the time”
Utilitarianism has a long and illustrious pedigree having gone through numerous permutations in the hands of philosophers, economists and politicians who have been attracted to its potential social reform (Oliver, 2006)
Despite the idea of utilitarianism being a simple one that has been prevalent throughout our history since the time of Epicurus it’s intertwining in such things as social policy development in the modern welfare state where it begins to take on complexity.
Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined by its contribution to happiness. It is the happiness, or utility, of the collective that is the key to this idea especially since the time of its most famous promoter if not creator Jeremy Bentham. This can be viewed in his most famous saying “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong” the idea that an action can only be seen as morally correct if it increases the happiness of the majority rather than the minority. He later reworked this phrase so that the principle of utility is “that principle which states the greatest happiness of all those whose interest is in question, as being right and proper...” (Bentham, 1789)
It was Epicurus who first touched on the idea of utilitarianism. He claimed that the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy tranquil life characterised by aponia, the absence of pain and fear and by living a self sufficient life surrounded by friends. (http://classics.mit.edu/Epicurus/princdoc.html)
Plato expounded a similar idea of utilitarianism when he dealt with happiness and ethical value in Dialogues. He saw that the more “self controlled (man) is, the more happy he will be” Critically, at the same time Plato saw that wisdom must...