By William C. Havard

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They appear to their opponents to forget the limits in their practical conclusions/'4 The all-embracing nature of the system is reflected strongly in the sweeping practical reforms urged by the utilitarians. Bentham and the two Mills were the philosophers of the English reform m ove­ ment in the early nineteenth century and, in consequence, m ay b e regarded as the founders of m odem English liberalism. T hey furnished the intellectual ammunition with which the Philosophical R adicals in Parliament attacked what they believed to b e the strongholds o f reaction.

His change was due mainly to the Liberal party’s handling of the Irish question; he felt that either coercion or home rule was necessaiy in place of what he regarded as vacillating policy. In 1885 he was asked to stand as a Liberal candidate at the next election. His conscientiousness led him to make this comment: “I was tempted; but I communed with my political conscience and discovered that I could not come forward as a Liberal at this juncture without hypocrisy. I am a Utilitarian, and would be a hypocrite if I 26 Educator 6* Philosopher were convinced that the country required this sacrifice; but I cannot rate my political value so high.

Utilitarianism is above all a theory of morals/*22 and the basis of its moral theory m ay be stated in very sim ple terms; the sole good is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. However, the apparent sim plicity of this doctrine covers an extraordinarily complex system of ethics, a system m ade more diffi­ cult by the failure of its central exponent, Bentham, to clarify his terms and m ake explicit his assum ptions. Bentham s strength as a thinker m ay be found in his vigorous application of utilitarian prin­ ciples, especially in the field of legal reform; his weakness lies in his inadequate philosophical formulation of the very principles on which his specific rules of action are based.

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Henry Sidgwick, And Later Utilitarian Political Philosophy by William C. Havard


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