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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The central thesis of utilitarianism, in its most general
form, is that actions are to be judged solely by their
consequences and are not right or wrong in themselves.
The term is most commonly used, however, to refer
to the more specific view put forward in the eighteenth
century by Helvétius in France and Jeremy Bentham
and his followers, the Philosophical Radicals, in
England, that the rightness of any action is determined
by a single criterion, its contribution to the greatest
happiness of the greatest number. Utilitarians have
often been moral reformers; but some have claimed
to be merely stating what is implicit in the generally
accepted moral rules. Most have combined these posi-
tions. They have said that the utilitarian principle
underlies ordinary moral reasoning, but that, because
this has not been realized, individuals and communities
have often held moral beliefs which are inconsistent
with utilitarianism and which a more careful analysis
of their own views would lead them to renounce.

Utilitarianism needs to be distinguished from natural
law theory, which in some ways it resembles. Many
of the Greeks, including Aristotle, had said that the
ultimate good is eudaimonia, but they seem to have
meant, not happiness in Bentham's sense, but some-
thing like a happy (or blessed) condition of the soul.
The crucial distinction is between the gratification of
the desires a man actually has and the gratification of
the desires a fully rational, or perfect, man would have.
Most of Bentham's precursors are at least partly influ-
enced by natural law theory. Thus Richard Cumber-
land, Bishop of Peterborough, sometimes considered
the first English utilitarian, includes moral perfection
as well as happiness in his common good.

Many members of the “moral sense” school came
close to utilitarianism but in them, too, the theory is
modified, though in varying degrees. Bishop Butler in
a note to one of his sermons makes the tentative sug-
gestion (which he may not mean to endorse) that God
is probably a utilitarian, but that men had better not
be. It is reasonable, he concedes, to suppose that God
approves of those actions which lead to general happi-
ness in the long run. Men, however, are likely to make
mistakes in trying to decide which actions will in fact
have this result. Consequently it is safer for them to
trust to the immediate judgments of conscience, by
which they may know immediately what actions are
right, as distinct from what ultimately makes them
right. Francis Hutcheson went much further than
Butler by insisting that the rightness of an action simply
consisted in its rousing feelings of approval in all nor-
mal men. Those actions which did rouse such approval,
however, had another characteristic in common: they
all showed evidence of benevolent intention. And
benevolence was, for Hutcheson, a natural propensity
to seek “the greatest happiness for the greatest num-
bers” (a phrase which he may have been the first in
England to use). In saying this Hutcheson gave the
moral sense theory a more definite utilitarian twist than
either Butler or Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury thought that
what those actions approved by the moral sense had
in common was a tendency to promote the harmony
of the universe. Consequently he is probably closer to
natural law theory than to utilitarianism. Hume, whose
moral theory follows Hutcheson quite closely, was
more interested in Hutcheson's subjectivism than in his
utilitarianism. His account of benevolence is closer to
Butler's than to Hutcheson's: man's natural generosity
is limited, and does not, as a rule, extend beyond his
immediate acquaintances to mankind in general. On
the other hand, the combination of self-interest, limited
generosity, and the requirements of social living result
in a moral sense which approves of those qualities that
are useful to the possessor or to other people affected
by them.

John Stuart Mill, in his essay on Bentham, says that
he was anticipated by John Brown and Soames Jenyns;
but, at least in part, their view was that, since the pains
and pleasures of eternity far outweighed those of this
life, and since God happened to reward those who
considered others as well as themselves, the far-seeing
egoist would adopt a utilitarian policy. This view
attained great popularity, especially through the writ-
ings of William Paley; but it is a form of the self-
interest theory rather than of utilitarianism proper.

Perhaps the most wholehearted English endorsement
of utilitarianism apart from Bentham's was William
Godwin's. Godwin summarizes his moral theory in just
two sentences: “The end of virtue is to add to the sum
of pleasurable sensations. The beacon and regulator of
virtue is impartiality, that we shall not give that exer-
tion to procure the pleasure of an individual, which
might have been employed in procuring the pleasure
of many individuals” (Political Justice, 3rd ed., II, 493).
He did not hesitate to accept those consequences of
utilitarianism that had made Butler shy away from it.
He repudiated the virtue of promise-keeping, for ex-
ample: if the promised act promoted the general hap-
piness, one ought to do it, whether one had promised
to or not; if it detracted from the general happiness,
one ought not to do it, even if one had promised to.
Promises, then, were either irrelevant to morality or
hostile to it. He did not hesitate to say that, if one
could save only one person from a burning building,
and had to choose between one's own mother and some
great man more likely to contribute to human happi-
ness, one should save the latter.


It is hardly surprising that Godwin was the target
of a pamphlet published in 1798 attacking “the leading
principle of the new system of morals.” The “leading
principle” is utilitarianism, from which, according to
the anonymous author (actually Thomas Green of
Ipswich) Godwin's scandalous conclusion follows
logically: that we are entitled, in the interests of the
general happiness, to ignore all general rules, and
hence law and convention, and also all emotions, such
as friendship or filial affection.

The early utilitarians were fighting on two fronts:
against the self-interest school and against the belief
that moral rules are binding quite apart from their
consequences. Inevitably both controversies became
entangled in a different one, between naturalism on
the one hand and, on the other, nonnaturalism and its
concomitant, intuitionism. The “principle of utility”
merely states that an action is right only if it contrib-
utes more to the general happiness than any alternative
action open to the agent. That principle itself might
result from the psychological fact that men (either
instinctively or as a result of social conditioning) tend
to subordinate all other considerations to the general
happiness. But equally it might just be an irreducible
fact that men ought to do this, whether they actually
do or not. That they ought to do this, it might be said,
is known by intuition. There is no reason, then, why
utilitarianism should not be combined with intuitionism
and nonnaturalism; and Henry Sidgwick did so com-
bine it.

Bentham and his followers, however, derided
intuitionism (“ipse-dixitism,” Bentham called it) be-
cause, they said, it amounted to exalting one's own
prejudices into eternal and immutable principles.
Utilitarianism, they claimed, provided an objective
criterion which its rivals lacked. In one way, this claim
was justified. If happiness is simply the fulfillment of
individual desires, whatever they may be, then
utilitarianism can be said to aim at the gratification
of everyone's desires (or as many as possible) instead
of foisting on the individual what others happen to
desire for him. Bentham, who was primarily a legal
reformer, was anxious that criminals should be judged
by the harm they actually did, not by the feelings of
revulsion individual judges might have for their actions.
But the desire that everyone's desires should be grati-
fied is itself the desire, not of everyone, but of the
utilitarian—who may therefore be accused, at least at
this higher level, of foisting his own prejudice on
others. To escape this charge by saying that the greatest
happiness principle itself is an objective moral princi-
ple known by intuition is to weaken the force of
Bentham's diatribe against intuition as another name
for prejudice.

Consequently Bentham and Mill tried to base utili-
tarianism upon psychological hedonism. On this view,
the desire to escape pain and obtain pleasure is simply
a psychological (ultimately a biological) fact about
men, and, since morality can be derived from it, there
is no need for intuitions about special moral facts. But
psychological hedonism leads to egoistic hedonism, not
to utilitarianism. It is our own pleasure that nature
bids us seek, not that of others. There is indeed one
obvious way in which utilitarianism can be based on
egoism. The relation between them can be said to be
that of means to end. Though not a utilitarian, Hobbes
had argued that men could satisfy their individual
desires only by cooperating with other men, and that
cooperation was only possible if men agreed to aim
at a compromise between their various desires rather
than insisting on those desires as such. The half-loaf
offered by society was better than the no-bread of the
state of nature. Brown, Jenyns, and Paley also regarded
utilitarianism as a means to attaining happiness for
oneself, through the mediation of God. Neither of these
views was acceptable to Bentham and Mill. If the
greatest happiness is good only as a means to one's
own happiness, it will follow that self-interest should
take precedence whenever the two conflict. Hobbes
and Paley, for different reasons, maintained that they
never could conflict in the long run, but this seems

The usual view is that Bentham and Mill failed
dismally in their attempts to base utilitarianism on
egoism. Bentham seems simply to make the transition
without arguing for it. Mill, in the notorious fourth
chapter of Utilitarianism (1863), is said to have been
betrayed into gross logical howlers by attempting to
argue for it. Mill's argument may, however, be more
subtle than is generally realized. The happiness of the
individual consists simply in the realization of whatever
desires he may happen to have. Some of these, of
course, are biological in origin; but others (and even
the biological ones to a limited extent) will depend
on social conditioning, on what David Hartley called
“associations.” Now, if Hobbes is right, men in society
will be conditioned to associate their own happiness
with that of others. The ultimate justification of society
is self-interest; but society will not work smoothly if
men think of “the laws of nature” (the rules of behavior
necessary to keep society together) as mere means to
an end, to be broken whenever there is no chance of
detection. Society will see to it that the individual will
come to think of himself, in Mill's words, as “a being
who of course pays regard to others” (Utilitarianism,
Everyman ed., p. 30).

The happiness of others, that is to say, is not thought
of as a means, but as an end in itself. We have been


conditioned to desire it. Conditioning is not possible
unless there is some inherent desire with which the
conditioned desire can be associated; but the condi-
tioned desire is quite as genuine a desire as (and may
even, on occasion, be stronger than) the original desire
which engendered it. Man's two masters, pain and
pleasure, drive him into society, in the way outlined
by Hobbes; but Hobbes failed to notice that, as a result,
society will see to it that he forms the associations
between his own pleasures and the pleasures of others
which make him aim at the greatest happiness rather
than simply at his own happiness. But this is an
inaccurate way of putting it; for, since his happiness
is whatever he desires, and he has been conditioned
to desire the happiness of others as well as his own,
the sharp distinction between his own happiness and
that of others breaks down. We should distinguish
rather between what he desires for himself and what
he desires for others. Both are desires that he has; and,
since his happiness consists in the gratification of his
desires, we may say, paradoxically, that the happiness
of others is part of his happiness. This is no contra-
diction. All that is meant is that one of the things the
individual desires is that the desires of others shall be
gratified so far as is possible. Whether or not this view
is a sound one, to interpret Mill as putting it forward
at least leaves him guiltless of the grosser confusions
attributed to him. Moreover, this interpretation takes
account of the influence on Mill of his father, James
Mill, and of Hartley, who was of course one of the
major influences on James Mill.

Utilitarianism, as formulated by Bentham, gives rise
to some obvious objections. According to Bentham, the
way to determine the rightness or wrongness of a given
action is to ask oneself the question: Will this action
cause more pleasure, on balance, to all those affected
by it, than any alternative action open to the agent?
But how can this be answered unless one can measure
pleasures? Bentham seemed to think that it made sense
to talk about the units of pleasure (or of pain) caused
to a given person by a given action. In fact, however,
there are no such units. Pleasures, the critics of utili-
tarianism insisted, are incommensurable. It is impor-
tant, however, to distinguish between two different
things that may be meant by this. If you say that you
get more pleasure from music, say, than from reading
detective stories, you do not mean that it is a matter
of indifference whether you read two detective novels
or attend one symphony concert. This is a valid criti-
cism of the hedonic calculus if it is meant to be very
precise. There is, however, a sense in which we can
and do weigh one pleasure or pain against another.
A judge, for example, may offer a convicted person
a choice between a term of imprisonment or a fine
of a given amount. The job of finding equivalent sen-
tences can be well or badly done. “One day in prison
or a fine of $10,000” would be an absurd sentence.
The two kinds of pain, then, are not wholly incom-
mensurable. In ordinary life, we do constantly have
to choose between alternative courses of action. Often
the questions we ask ourselves are: Which will I enjoy
more? Is it worth giving up this for the sake of that?
These questions admit of no precise answer, but they
can be answered. It is not absurd then, to suggest that
the question: Ought I to do this or that? amounts to:
Will this or that cause more pleasure in the long run
to all concerned?

There is, however, something quite different that is
often meant when it is said that pleasures are incom-
mensurable. Most of us do not believe that, to use G. E.
Moore's example, “the state of mind of a drunkard,
when he is intensely pleased with breaking crockery,
is just as valuable in itself—just as well worth having,
as that of a man who is fully realizing all that is exquis-
ite in the tragedy of King Lear, provided only the mere
quantity of pleasure in both cases is the same” (Ethics,
p. 238). Some kinds of pleasure, we think, are more
valuable than other kinds; and this is not the same as
saying that they yield greater pleasure.

In answering this objection Bentham and Mill part
company. Bentham argues that, when the dimensions
of pleasure are taken into account, the difference be-
tween higher and lower pleasures is, after all, a quanti-
tative one. Mill does not, however, take this line. “It
is quite compatible with the principle of utility,” he
says, “to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleas-
ure are more desirable and more valuable than others”
(op. cit., p. 7). His critics have not thought so: in
conceding that the distinction between higher and
lower pleasures is qualitative and not quantitative Mill
has, it is said, tacitly admitted that there is something
else, apart from pleasure, that is intrinsically good.

This criticism has given rise to a modified version
of utilitarianism, called Ideal Utilitarianism by Hastings
Rashdall, and put forward by him and by G. E. Moore
in the first years of this century. They differed from
the older, or hedonistic, utilitarians in maintaining that
other things (notably truth, beauty, and love) were
good in themselves as well as pleasure or happiness.
Consequently they altered the utilitarian formula to
“the greatest good of the greatest number.” They
agreed with the hedonistic utilitarians, however, in
judging actions solely by their consequences, their
efficacy in producing good states of affairs. (Some
philosophers, indeed, added moral perfection to the
list of goods; but to say this is to abandon what is
distinctive about utilitarianism.)

In one respect Sidgwick had already made a step


in the direction of ideal utilitarianism. It would seem
to follow from the hedonic calculus that there is no
moral difference between a situation in which A
benefits (obtains 50 units of pleasure, say) at the ex-
pense of B (say 40 units of pain) and one in which
A and B both obtain moderate benefits (say 5 units
each). The total increase in human happiness (10 units)
is the same whichever we choose. To meet this objec-
tion Sidgwick modified the greatest happiness formula
by making the equal distribution of happiness a re-
quirement as well as its maximization. It would seem
to follow that equality, as well as happiness, is good
in itself. Ideal utilitarianism does not escape this objec-
tion, since we need to amend the “greatest good”
formula in the same way. It is, however, easier for the
ideal utilitarian to accommodate the change: since he
has already admitted a multiplicity of goods, he need
not shrink from regarding the equalization of good as
itself a good.

Most of the criticisms leveled at utilitarianism, how-
ever, apply with equal force to both kinds. This is true
even of the objection that utilitarians put the promo-
tion of happiness on a level with the relief of misery,
which has seemed to many a more stringent obligation.
The ideal utilitarian will be faced with the same prob-
lem, both because happiness is one of his goods, and
because similar questions arise about truth and beauty,
as contrasted with the removal of ugliness or error.
Utilitarians have sometimes tried to meet both these
objections and the one about equal distribution by
invoking the economist's principle of marginal utility.
This would not, however, explain why the obligation
to relieve misery is felt to be of a different kind from
the obligation to increase happiness; nor would it pre-
vent equality of distribution from ever conflicting with

A more important objection is that we often judge
an action right or wrong because of the motive or
intention and not because of the actual consequences.
(For this reason Hutcheson's utilitarianism went no
further than making evidence of benevolent intention
the feature which all actions approved by the moral
sense have in common.) The utilitarian replies that this
is merely because, in ordinary speech, we fail to distin-
guish between a right action and a praiseworthy one.
If a man asks himself which of two alternative actions
is right, he is not, as a rule, questioning his own mo-
tives. His only motive may be to do whatever is best
in the circumstances; but he will not be satisfied if we
say to him: “In that case, anything you do will be right,
so you can stop worrying about which to do.” “If you
do what you sincerely think to be right, you will do
what is right” does not mean that you can never make
mistakes about what is right. What is meant is: “If you
do what you sincerely think to be right, you deserve
praise, even if what you do is not actually right.” Once
the confusion between “right” and “praiseworthy” is
cleared up, there is no further difficulty about motives
for the utilitarian. He can, quite consistently, praise
the man who acts from a benevolent motive even if
the results are unfortunate in a particular case, since
actions done from good motives generally have good
results. It is indeed a corollary of utilitarianism that
an action is to be praised if the consequences of prais-
ing it are good, not if the consequences of doing it
are good.

The other objections are essentially those which
Green brought against Godwin, and which made Butler
decide that utilitarianism was better left to God.
Utilitarianism, it is said, cannot account for contractual
obligations: as Godwin realized, it makes the act of
promising irrelevant to morality. Nor can it account
for private and domestic obligations: to one's friends,
one's wife or husband or children, or to the mother
whom Godwin would leave to perish in the flames.
The utilitarian, it is argued, denies all obligations ex-
cept the single one of indiscriminate benevolence. To
this most utilitarians have replied that promoting hap-
piness (or good) requires a certain amount of orga-
nization. Division of labor may be necessary here as
elsewhere: we are more likely to get results if everyone
has a special responsibility for the welfare of a few
individuals. This is the rationale of family obligations.
A somewhat similar account may be given of promises.
It would be impossible to cope with the world unless
inanimate objects behaved predictably—according to
fixed laws which can be discovered. In the same way
society functions much more smoothly if human be-
havior is predictable. Even predictably hostile behavior
may be easier to cope with than random behavior. The
making and keeping of explicit undertakings is then
a useful social device which, in spite of Godwin, may
easily be justified on utilitarian grounds.

This may explain why we believe that private or
contractual obligations have a special force. It would
follow, however, that, if ever these obligations con-
flicted with the general obligation to promote happi-
ness (or good) they should be subordinated to it. And
it is just this that the opponents of utilitarianism deny.
No one disputes that we are justified in breaking a
promise in order to save a life, or gain some other
end which far outweighs anything achieved by keeping
the promise. But when there is only a slight advantage
to be gained by breaking the promise, it would gener-
ally be said that the obligation to keep it comes first.
Bentham accounted for this by distinguishing between
first and second order evil. First order evil is the pain
caused to particular individuals; second order evil is


the harm done to the community in general by the
shattering of public confidence in, for example, the
institution of promise-making.

Second order evil, however, would seem to require
publicity; and it is objected that we do not think it
right to break a promise, for the sake of a slight in-
crease in good, even if no one would know of the
breach. A promise made to a dying man, for example,
is usually held to be binding even after the man has
died, whether others know about it or not.

Exactly the same sort of point can be made about
justice. The utilitarian, it is said, is committed to the
view that the end justifies the means, with all its
totalitarian implications. One can imagine circum-
stances in which good consequences might result from
punishing an innocent man (if he is generally believed
to be guilty, say, and riots would result from acquitting
him). Of course, if it were known that he were
innocent, there might be general insecurity and loss
of confidence in the law—the very great second order
evil we associate with a police state. But most of us
think it wrong to punish the innocent, even if the
second order evil can be avoided.

Like the objection about higher and lower pleasures,
this one has given rise to an amended utilitarian theory,
sometimes called Rule Utilitarianism (in which case the
more traditional theory is called Act Utilitarianism) and
sometimes Restricted Utilitarianism (in which case the
traditional theory is called Extreme Utilitarianism).
According to this amended theory, the test of rightness
is not whether an individual action will have better
consequences than any alternative but whether it
would have such consequences if it formed part of a
general practice. Some statements of rule utilitarianism
give it a slight flavor of conformism by suggesting that
the test is whether the proposed action is or is not
in conformity with an existing social norm: the test
of such norms is whether their general adoption makes
for the general good.

At least at first sight this revision of utilitarianism
seems to meet the objections just discussed. Whatever
may be said about individual acts of promise-breaking
or injustice, a general practice of disregarding under-
takings or punishing the innocent whenever it seemed
expedient could hardly have good consequences.

It does not seem to have been noticed that rule
utilitarianism was propounded by Bishop Berkeley in
Passive Obedience. “In framing the general laws of
nature,” Berkeley says, “it is granted we must be
entirely guided by the public good of mankind, but
not in the ordinary moral actions of our lives. Such
a rule, if universally observed hath, from the nature
of things, a necessary fitness to promote the general
well-being of mankind: therefore it is a law of nature.
This is good reasoning. But if we should say, such an
action doth in this instance produce much good and
no harm to mankind; therefore it is lawful: this were
wrong. The rule is framed with respect to the good
of mankind, but our practice must be always shaped
immediately by the rule” (Works, ed. Luce and Jessup,
6, 34).

This quite explicit statement of rule utilitarianism
does not seem to have attracted much attention, and
modern interest in the theory apparently stems from
an article by R. F. Harrod in Mind for 1936. Even
then, it was not till the nineteen-fifties that general
interest was roused. Some of the modern exponents of
rule utilitarianism have, however, suggested that the
traditional utilitarians have been misinterpreted, and
that they were, at least implicitly, rule rather than act
utilitarians. This claim has been made by mid-twen-
tieth-century philosophers: for Mill by J. O. Urmson,
for Hume and Austin by J. Rawls, and for Hutcheson
by J. D. Mabbott.

If rule utilitarianism is to be genuinely distinct from
act utilitarianism, it will presumably assert that con-
forming to a rule is good in itself, and not merely good
as a means. For if it is good as a means, and the end
is the general welfare, what is in dispute is simply the
factual question whether one ever can increase the
general good by contravening a rule which could not
advantageously be broken by everyone. The rule
utilitarian says that even if the general good could be
increased by such an action, it would still not be right.
Why not, unless something else, namely the following
of general rules, is good in itself as well as happiness
(and, for the ideal utilitarian, truth, beauty, etc.)? It
has seemed to some critics that this assertion is patently
absurd, and they have called it derisively “rule-

One way of defending the assertion is to invoke the
universalization principle. This is often held to be a
principle of reason, quite independent of utilitarianism.
If so, it seems reasonable to suppose that a sound moral
theory will comply with it as well as with the utili-
tarian formula. But a utilitarian who reaches the con-
clusion that he ought to break a promise made in secret
to a dying man, or that he ought to punish an innocent
man whom everyone else believes to be guilty, is not
departing from the principle of universalization. Not
only does he think it right to act as he is acting, in
the peculiar circumstances in which he finds himself:
he also thinks it right that everyone else in those cir-
cumstances should act in that way. One relevant cir-
cumstance is that no one else knows the truth about
what he is doing. This can hardly be ignored: for it
is only because of it that second order evil may be
presumed not to occur, and the absence of second order
evil is clearly a relevant circumstance. It would seem,
then, that merely appealing to the universalization


principle will not enable us to avoid the objections made
to act utilitarianism.

What makes the difference is not the presence of
universalizability, but the absence of secrecy. What the
rule utilitarian needs to say is that one should always
act according to principles one is prepared to ac-
knowledge publicly. Is it clear, however, that this is
an independent principle, and not one that can be
derived from utilitarianism itself? Predictability would
seem to demand that men should not profess one set
of principles and act on another. Consider the conse-
quences if a utilitarian does decide that the general
welfare demands that on occasion he depart from
certain “secondary principles” in secret. If he is asked
whether utilitarianism ever does lead to this departure,
he has to say that it never does. He cannot say that
it follows from utilitarianism that it is permissible to
break promises made to dying men; for then it would
become impossible for a known utilitarian to comfort
dying men by making promises to them. To avoid this
second order evil he must practice deception, not only
about his own actions, but about the true nature of
utilitarianism itself. But it is presumably in the general
interest that utilitarianism should be practiced with
understanding. This deception, then, will in itself lead
to second order evil.

It is at least arguable that, when Mill and other
traditional utilitarians lay the stress they do on “sec-
ondary principles” and say things like “it would be
unworthy of an intelligent agent not to be consciously
aware that the action is of a class which, if practiced
generally, would be generally injurious and that this
is the ground of the obligation to abstain from it” (op.
cit., p. 18), they are merely spelling out Bentham's
contention about second order evil and are not depart-
ing from act utilitarianism. The case may have been
different with Berkeley, since he did think that some-
thing else was good in itself besides attaining the gen-
eral good, namely, loyal obedience to the commands
of God. Even Berkeley, however, gives utilitarian rea-
sons for God's willing us to conform to general rules.
The reasons are that predictability is important, and
that men are fallible in judging the consequences of
their actions.

We would seem, then, to have this position: If the
rule utilitarian is merely saying that it is not possible
to promote the general interest by breaking general
rules in secret, he does not differ from the act utilitar-
ian, who has always maintained that, when second
order evil is taken account of, his theory does not
commit him to this kind of deception. To differ signifi-
cantly from the act utilitarian, the rule utilitarian must
maintain that it is sometimes possible to attain the
general good in this way, and that, even then, the
action is not right. This amounts to saying that some
thing else is right, besides the maximization and equal
distribution of welfare. But what? It is hardly plausible
to say that conforming to rules is right in itself, apart
from its consequences. Universalizability, as we have
seen, will not do; and modern rule utilitarians are
unlikely to follow Berkeley and invoke the will of God.
One suspects that they have in mind something which
is often confused with universalization: fairness or
justice. Whether utilitarianism can account for justice
is one of the crucial questions. If the principles of
justice cannot be derived, as Mill thought, from the
maximization of happiness principle, there remain two
possibilities. It may be that justice is concerned with
the equal distribution, rather than the maximization
of happiness (or good), in which case we are faced with
a conflict between two utilitarian principles, and obvi-
ously need to find some way of reconciling them. Or
it may be that justice is right quite apart from its
consequences, which is what the critics of utilitarianism
have always said. In either case, the problem does not
seem to be solved by making conformity to rules an
independent good.


N. Rescher, Distributive Justice (Indianapolis, 1966), has
a comprehensive bibliography. The classical texts of hedo-
nistic utilitarianism are: J. Bentham, Introduction to the
Principles of Morals and Legislation
(London, 1780); J. S.
Mill, Utilitarianism (London, 1863); and H. Sidgwick, The
Methods of Ethics
(London, 1874; 7th ed., 1907). The chief
works of the eighteenth-century forerunners of utilitarian-
ism are: F. Hutcheson, Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas
of Beauty and Virtue
(London, 1725); idem, Essay on the
Nature and Conduct of the Passions, and Illustrations upon
the Moral Sense
(London, 1728); idem, System of Moral
(London, 1755); J. Brown, Essays on the Charac-
(London, 1751); C.-A. Helvétius, De l'esprit (Paris,
1758); A. Tucker, The Light of Nature Pursued (London,
1768-77); W. Paley, Principles of Moral and Political Philos-
(London, 1785); W. Godwin, Enquiry concerning Po-
litical Justice
(London, 1793). For ideal utilitarianism the
main sources are G. E. Moore, Principia ethica (London,
1903); idem, Ethics (London, 1912); and H. Rashdall, Theory
of Good and Evil
(London, 1907). Apart from G. Berkeley,
Passive Obedience (London, 1712), rule utilitarianism is
developed mainly in articles by R. F. Harrod, J. Harrison,
J. Rawls, R. B. Brandt, and others. There is a bibliography
and a critique in D. Lyons, Forms and Limits of Utilitarian-
(Oxford, 1967). General historical accounts of utilitar-
ianism are: L. Stephen, The English Utilitarians (London,
1900); E. Albee, A History of English Utilitarianism
(London, 1901); É. Halévy, Growth of Philosophical
(London, 1928); J. Plamenatz, The English
(Oxford, 1949).


[See also Equality; God; Happiness and Pleasure; Justice;
Law, Natural; Pragmatism; Right and Good.]