Is Utilitarianism A Good Way To Judge Right And Wrong?

The late eighteenth century saw notable rationalist figures in English philosophy. Tom Paine attacked the theology of Christianity as a collection of absurdities in his his book The Age of Reason. The philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836) argued for the reform of society based on utilitarian principles. Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) terrified everyone with his predictions that poverty and war were the unavoidable consequence of the laws of population. Erasmus Darwin anticipated his famous grandson by suggesting some aspects of natural selection in his surveys of biology. It was a fruitful and disquieting age.

One man decided to apply Enlightenment principles to law and morals. The jurist Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) asked himself why the cobwebbed laws of England—most of them dating back to medieval times—should not be viewed with the same skepticism that scientists were then applying to the inherited wisdom about the natural world. Laws, he believed, should be judged solely on one criteria: whether they function as a net benefit to society. If they do, they are good; if not, they should be discarded.

Bentham was, as we might expect, a brilliant student as a youth; he mastered several languages by his teenage years and consumed books with an insatiable appetite. His reformatory zeal was fired at the age of fifteen, when he heard a lecture on British law by the great Sir William Blackstone. He was outraged by what he perceived to be the undue veneration that Blackstone gave to tradition and authority. Such a perspective, Bentham believed, could only block progress.

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Is this true? Or is it nonsense?

Bentham was obsessed with finding a proper way of evaluating right and wrong. How should it be done? In his later writings, Bentham was careful to reject abstract concepts such as duty, equality, honor, right, power, and similar categories. They were nothing but “nonsense on stilts” that impeded understanding, rather than enhanced it. Traditional religion, he also believed, did nothing to advance our understanding of economics, science, or government; he was not quite an atheist, but contented himself with a deism that left no room for divine inspirations.

At the ripe age of twenty three (1776), he wrote A Fragment on Government, a treatise that gave expression to his “utilitarian” philosophy. Bentham argued that a properly formed government should have its powers sanely distributed among various branches, to avoid the temptations of despotism; legislators should be concerned with “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” rather than the will of the chief executive.

His major work, published in 1789, was The Principles of Morals and Legislation. It was a revolutionary work that sought to evaluate human conduct on a purely utilitarian basis, without regard to theology or the dead hand of history. In other words, a law was either “good” or “bad” depending only on whether it advanced the needs of the community. Bentham distrusted both ideologies and theologies.

Organisms, argued Bentham, structure their lives around pain avoidance. Happiness for the group is thus a situation where pleasure is maximized, and pain minimized. Laws and public morality, therefore, should seek to provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism alone should be the ultimate arbiter of taste, morals, and law. The argument sounds simple, but was there ever a job so difficult as trying to provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number?

Yet Bentham was undeterred, and turned his analytical powers to English law. Usury should be permitted, he argued in his work The Defense of Usury, as it was a necessary incentive for free trade. Laws, whether they be commercial, administrative, or criminal, should be composed with one object in mind: how do they contribute to the good of the citizens? Punishments should be humane and rational; trade and commerce should be encouraged without regard to idiotic restrictions imposed by custom and tradition; and all citizens (men and women) should be equal before the law.

In a move that was radical for its day, Bentham argued strenuously for individual liberties. The individual person was the best judge of what was good or bad for himself; he should, therefore, be left alone to do what he wanted, without the hectoring of clerics or legislators. The genders should be equal in all respects; even homosexuality, which was then criminalized in England, should be seen as matter of personal preference (Bentham’s opinions on this subject were not published in his lifetime, being rightly seen as too radical).

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The weaknesses of utilitarianism are readily apparent. Bentham, while claiming to despise ideologies, simply substitutes his own for the ones that preceded him. And how are we, in our limited perspective, to know what is to the greatest advantage to the group? Who judges? Is not history and tradition—for which Bentham had such little regard—the primary determiners of what works for the group and what does not?

And is it even proper to evaluate everything from a utilitarian perspective? “Usefulness” itself may be more often in the eye of the beholder than we care to admit. Bentham’s knowledge of history and human nature shows surprising shortcomings: “utilitarianism” in practice can often degenerate into a cover for our own prejudices and preferences. He was vigorously attacked in his lifetime by conservative Tories for being an atheist, a materialist, and an impractical idealist.

Yet much reformatory good came from his pen. His philosophy, warts and all, was like a cleansing wind in the body politic. Advocates and reformers inspired by his writings undertook desperately needed reforms in public sanitation, housing, health, legislation, and judicial process. In the never-ending debate between conservatism and reform, there is a need for both: reform is the gas pedal that moves the vehicle forward, and conservatism is the brake that prevents it from speeding out of control and crashing.

He died in 1832 at the age of eighty-four. Believing that his body, like his philosophy, should act in the greater good, his will instructed that he be dissected in the presence of family. His skeleton and head were then preserved and dressed, and made for public display at University College London as an “auto-icon.” At the very least, Bentham practiced what he preached.

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106 thoughts on “Is Utilitarianism A Good Way To Judge Right And Wrong?”

  1. And how are we, in our limited perspective, to know what is to the greatest advantage to the group? Who judges?
    Thoroughly evaluated, objective standards judged by unbiased judges who can clearly articulate those standards.
    And is it even proper to evaluate everything from a utilitarian perspective?
    For the government, yes it is. If the outcomes of laws are not objectively utilitarian, they are likely impeding somebody’s pursuit of life, liberty or happiness.
    I have to confess to an obvious bias as I work in utility regulation. I have witnessed first hand the confusion and unfairness that results from using subjective criteria to make law or determine a legal question. I prefer clear, objective and measurable standards that should be applied equally. I’ve also seen companies lie like dogs about the output of their less than utilitarian services and try to protect their unearned income.
    I think its a combination of the Eastern protestant work ethic and just plain getting older (and realizing how fast time slips away), but I have less and less patience for things that are not productive. If something is not producing a net benefit, I cut it out of my life – goods, people, etc. Anything I buy is based on the utilitarianism of that item – I only take into account aesthetics, style, design, etc. if utility between two products is equal.
    Good article.

    1. I’ve also seen companies lie like dogs about the output of their less than utilitarian services and try to protect their unearned income.

      how exactly can you have not earned your income? aside from working for the government?

    1. alternatively the absolute prohibition of usury made societies unstable, and made governments dependent on third party groups, be they the knights templar or jewish moneylenders.

      1. So a banking system based on simple rather than compounding interest wouldnt work?

        1. that’s interesting – I hadn’t really thought about the matter but checked wikipedia where there was an islamic quote against compound interest. Simple could still be usury if the rate was excessive I think. There are two issues IMO. First if you can’t repay the principal – most likely with compound interest then you are effectively trapped in debt – most modern governments are in that position. The second issue – which is the point I was making – is that historically christian (and islamic) governments got into trouble regularly because they ran out of money and couldn’t pay for wars etc meaning they would go to money lenders. Jews (and templars etc) weren’t bound by this (not sure why the templars weren’t actually) hence they naturally filled the gap. Inevitably those governments who had turned to money lenders for whatever reason would borrow more and more and would become uncomfortably indebted producing a vicious reaction. Phillip the Fair for example almost certainly turned on the templars because he was indebted to them and they were becoming too powerful. So yes, with qualifcations

        2. Jews werent allowed to be money lenders, at least not during the Renaissance…at best, they were the eras version of pawn brokers. Not trying to call you out, read it in a book about the Medici family(the originators of the modern banking system)…something about Metaphysics and Money…that might be the title of the book

  2. I’d like to refer some ROK readers to a researcher by the name of Mark Passio who has done several presentations on the topic of right vs wrong and morality. Mainly his work on Natural Law if anyone is interested.

  3. The sort of philosophy that sounds great and wonderful in theory, but quickly falls apart in practice. Why is happiness a higher ideal than, say efficiency, honor, strength, power, duty, etc.? “Happiness” is a very squishy term. Are we talking about happiness in the long term or the short term? Long term happiness will involve quite a bit of unhappiness in the short term, and vice versa. “The individual person is the best judge of what was good or bad for himself” – how so? Is this assumption demonstrably true in practice, or just a pleasant assumption? And so forth.

      1. I have, and I prefer Nietzsche’s. He recognizes Utilitarianism as fundamentally English, i.e. decadent. “Man does not seek happiness, only the Englishman does.”

  4. I don’t subscribe to Bentham’s ideas. I believe that suffering is both necessary and unavoidable. If we run from pain and adversity , we do not grow or evolve. We stay weak, stupid and hopelessly addicted to pleasure principle.
    Being men, we understand the concept something being morally wrong and serving a common good. Do you betray your values for a group benefit? If so, this behavior may continue to spread like a cancer. Soon your values and things you hold fear will be nothing more than vague philosophies that you will whore out or sell out if need be.
    Pacino said it best in Scarface”I have my word and my balls, and I dont break them for nobody.” It was a value statement that he held throughout the movie.
    Real men do not waver in their values and beliefs. For the common good or not.

    1. I have always found it funny that Bentham was inadvertently advocating for hedonism and degeneracy. He sought to build a greater society through his utilitarian lens, but failed to realize that people are creatures of habit and tend to take the path of less resistance.
      Also, he comes off as an insufferable populist/collectivist, akin to the followers of Marxism and it’s many offshoots of socialism.

      1. A life of ease and least resistance yields bland or bItter fruits. Life’s biggest payouts require either fortitude, sweat equity,risk, higher vision or a mix of the above. Everyone’s goals are not the same. An easy life is the aspiration of the fat and lazy.

      2. I think this is a much deeper topic. Indeed, I have thought about the pros and cons of utilitarianism off and on for years.
        We are all utilitarians to a degree. For example why do the single guys here choose not to marry? Indeed, millions are getting married every year, and if I had to find a wife by year end, I could come up with some sort of passable prospect. But we weigh the options and have decided that the suffering of a union with an insufferable modern feminist in the west is not worth the very small benefits they could offer us, compounded by the risk of divorce rape.
        As proof of this utilitarian self interest, I think if we saw no-fault divorce and alimony repealed, a substantial number of single guys would try marriage. I still would not, due to the low quality of the available partners, but let’s say I relocated to a more traditional culture with fit, feminine women, then there are chances I would consider marriage.
        Therefore by reducing the pain (repealing alimony/divorce), or improving the benefits (traditional, beautiful, thin uncorrupted young women), one can achieve a social outcome (increased marriage rates). I think everyone follows utilitarianism to some degree. The question is, ought it be a universal law?

  5. “In a move that was radical for its day, Bentham argued strenuously for
    individual liberties. The individual person was the best judge of what
    was good or bad for himself; he should, therefore, be left alone to do
    what he wanted, without the hectoring of clerics or legislators.”
    The assumption in this is that all (or at least the vast majority) of individuals are even capable of making good decisions and take responsibility for their own actions. But just turn on the news or look at some statistics and you realize this is a fallacy. Intelligent people seem to be prone to such beliefs since they think that because they are intelligent and are capable of making good decisions, others are too. But that is not the case.

    1. It’s referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect; the less-skilled people tend to over-value their work and abilities, while the higher-skilled think that everyone else is at their level of comprehension and application of knowledge.

      1. I have not heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect but I will look into it. My thing, which I came on to from reading The Bell Curve, is that half the population has IQs of less than 100 but the people who write the laws are at 120 or higher. . .and they write the laws for themselves or at least and idealized version of themselves.
        .
        Do you think that a couple of teenagers with IQs of 90 who sincerely are affectionate for each other and get into some heavy petting even have the POTENTIAL to understand “yes means yes” legislation?

    2. His suggestion was for his time, not ours. People were taught strong moral and religious codes back then. His mistake becomes clear when it is noted how he rails against the traditions and culture which makes his prescription of individual liberty possible in the first place.

      1. spoken like a true oracle.
        Everyone assumes that their own moral compass is ‘innate’ and not a construct of the culture they arise from… They see their own ability to distinguish good from evil, and assume everyone is born with that ability.
        There is indeed perceptible evil one can be born recognizing, but understanding deeper concepts such as the tragedy of the commons is not an easily perceived evil.

      2. That is the entire essence of the enlightenment. Men steeped in morality and wisdom and natural theology flowing from over a thousand years of religion attempting to throw off that religion and that God. They unknowingly throw the baby out with the bathwater and consider themselves wise and novel.

    3. No, the real assumption is even more obtuse; that one can objectively define where “liberties” should end, something we see today with government changing these boundaries for the sake of collecting votes.

      1. Taking a look around I see a whole hell of a lot less liberties now than when I grew up, with one topical exception (firearms) than anything.

        1. Yep, your liberties are taken and given to the “right” people: the current political elite and their supporters and darling groups.

    4. Yes, and this is why I think that if there is any truth to utilitarianism, it can only be through a hybrid of the philosophies of Bentham’s pragmatic utilitarianism and Plato’s philosopher kings practicing the noble lie. In other words, having an elite group decide what is best for the greatest numbers in the realm; this is essentially the purpose of monarchy.

      1. I have discovered that there is no law, only judges. Anyone who’s been done an injustice by “the law” would know this.
        This is why gay marriage will be legal but polygamy will not. Because our judges say so. That’s all.

      2. No, under utilitarianism, you need to account for the probability that you are wrong, which is why it is essential to have free speech, etc. Even free markets come from a similiar source.

    5. Yes, humans are not absolutely homo-economicus, but it’s better than a central authority choosing for them, because decentralization is good for stability. This is not in conflict with utilitarianism.

  6. I seem to remember JS Mill had a subtler take on utilitarianism and what happiness involved. In particular he seems to have considered too direct a pursuit of happiness to be mistaken i.e. hedonism would be mistaken. The general happiness principle seems not dissimilar to the older idea of ‘the good’ but in a more practical sense. British utiliarianism with its commitment to individualism also managed to avoid the potential pitfalls of totalitarianism inherent in the Rousseauist idea of the ‘general will’ that had been so influential in justifying the French revolution (and in subsequent communist thought).
    Of course Mill was also a feminist, but in those days the woman question probably seemed like a harmless bit of philosophising.
    OK, with hindsight J S Mill should have been shot

  7. One of the great ironies of utilitarianism, is that despite its rejection of Natural Law, it repeatedly proves the existence of Natural Law by its attempts to patch itself.
    Raw-utilitarianism often comes to inconvenient conclusions: such as, if the murder of one person by 10,000 others results in a net increase in ‘hedons’, then that murder is justified – you can literally see this logic being employed by communist countries. Sensing that this is evil, utilitarians will endlessly try to patch their ideology (creating exceptions that forbid acts like this), but ultimately the patches never work, and the very act f patching shows that they’re trying to adhere to Natural Law.

    1. Any raw theoretical construct has these flaws. Raw libertarianism, as an example, can easily devolve into anarchy. Raw democracy leads to the rule of the mob. You can go on, but the basic effect is this: all raw theoretical constructs are inherently flawed.

      1. Dude, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Everything is an anarchy, the government is just a powerful group of people. There is no such thing as “raw” and “cooked” utilitarianism, utilitarianism doesn’t say “intend to do the greatest good of the greatest number and screw up”, it says “do whatever creates the greatest good of the greatest number”. A libertarian-ish politics satisfies this.

    2. Communists are indeed the most famous utilitarians. I have no problem with utilitarianism when it is in its place, which is after deontology, deontology being after divine command theory and/or natural law.
      Divine command theory/natural law tell us what is good and true.
      Deontology tells us our responsibilities in light of that truth.
      Utilitarianism helps us mathematically enact those goods and duties.
      Virtue theory helps us teach all this stuff to non philosophers.

    3. Communism is absolutely not utilitarian, and neither is any other left-wing nonsensical ideology, you’re talking nonsense. The intentions might be utilitarian, the consequences are not.

  8. He died in 1832 at the age of eighty-four. Believing that his body, like his philosophy, should act in the greater good, his will instructed that he be dissected in the presence of family. His skeleton and head were then preserved and dressed, and made for public display at University College London as an “auto-icon.” At the very least, Bentham practiced what he preached.

    https://c3.staticflickr.com/3/2649/4115578239_b56aff7731_b.jpg

  9. As Quintus notes, the problem with “the greatest good for the greatest number” is how to judge what is “good.” Today, our perverse society says, by a landslide, that a mentally ill Bruce Jenner parading as a woman on the cover of a magazine is “good” for society, and that he looks “awesome.” Wise men know better, and unfortunately what is “good” for the most people often tastes like bad medicine that they don’t “want.”

    1. Another good way to judge if a doctrine is useful is by asking if it is beautiful. Tools are beautiful because they are useful in a natural, human way, and this can apply to culture and laws. Is Bruce Jenner’s image on a woman’s magazine cover beautiful? Any sane person would say no. Perversity and degeneracy is ugly.

        1. If you are going to attend OCAD then wrap your head around the maxim that “form follows function”. Among military-minded artists who would do conceptual drawings of tanks and space ships, one thought was “if it looks good it fights good”. Ok, bad grammar but I think you get the point.

        2. I’m not sure if I understand your post.
          “Form follows function” to me sounds like function comes first. Design should be organized around optimizing the functional purpose.
          Have I got that right?

        3. i think it means that the form should be chosen based on the function it is to provide – then it will be beautiful.
          i believe the fountainhead adopts this concept.

        4. You are correct. The other notion of looking good and performing well is not strictly logical. Similarly, among mathematicians, the saying is “it must be beautiful”. However, if you are going to do something, you might as well do it with style.
          .
          An effective design has an aesthetic all to its own.

    2. That Vanity Fair with him on the cover is pretty much what all my FB ladyfriends are posting today. All are pretty much saying the same thing too: “Good for her on doing what makes her happy.”
      I’d love to find out how his kids really feel about this- especially his sons.

      1. I can’t wait until kendall jenner does porn. at least we got something to look forward too from this whole scenario.

        1. For a moment I thought you were talking about Caitlyn Jenner doing porn. Might never recover from seeing that.

    3. Every man that devolves himself into a he-female just looks like some kind of deformed freak. Society is a circus, with everyone applauding the clowns to their own gags. P.T. Barnum was right.

      1. Transgenderism and homosexuality are both mental illnesses that require the participation of otherwise non-mentally ill people in order to survive. Without normal people applauding, they would not continue to thrive and grow in numbers.

        1. Why is it this way Jeff? Soon even those who walk in silence like myself, will be ousted for not participating in their sodomizing and philandering, let alone not approving of it.
          Do the puppetmasters really want this shit to tear apart the last remains of the nuclear family?

        2. “Why is it this way Jeff? Soon even those who walk in silence like myself, will be ousted for not participating in their sodomizing and philandering, let alone not approving of it.
          “Do the puppetmasters really want this shit to tear apart the last remains of the nuclear family?”
          The puppetmasters are the fallen angels and Satan, so, yes; whatever aids in the eternal damnation of the maximum numbers of human souls.


        3. There is a bigger picture going on than some fallen angel’s scheme. Though I’m not skeptical of this premise. I see the connections more and more every day. What do you know about those who were branded? Those not meant to be that still walk.

        4. “There is a bigger picture going on than some fallen angel’s scheme. Though I’m not skeptical of this premise. I see the connections more and more every day. What do you know about those who were branded? Those not meant to be that still walk.”
          Those who aren’t human anymore don’t qualify for God’s forgiveness. Those who try to save their mortal lives (by trying to become immortal gods by their own power) will, in the end, lose everything (John 12:25).


          For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14).
          There is no other way than putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), crucifying yourself (“we kill [ourselves] for honor,” “our armor stained with blood”) by plunging the sword that is the word of God into your heart (Hebrews 4:12), becoming “heroes of the day, legends forever,” through faith in Christ and spiritual warfare with your own sinful nature (“we slay the dragon”).

        5. you pluck low hanging fruit. Transhumanists are psychotic by any definition of the term, even without recourse to biblical passages.

        6. Why? Marxism.
          Destroy the nuclear family? Absolutely. One need look no further than the plans the former Soviet Union executed against is culturally, that are still running on autopilot. Normalizing these freaks was directly mentioned, precisely to destroy the family.

    4. Any attempt to remove acquired utility from the actions of individuals and their consequences to their voting patterns will end in some form of tyranny or costly civil war.

    5. Indeed. I found it interesting that Bentham thought usury fit the definition for a utilitarian good, where I believe it does not. So as most ideologies go, it all depends on the interpreter and as always, the golden rule applies–he who has the gold makes the rules.

    6. i like the idea that “good” is equivalent with strength, based on a competitive understanding of the world. a strong person / nation will be able to thrive long and achieve what they aspire to. everything that weakens a nation is, thus, bad. everything that strengthens it, is good.

      1. While I agree in theory, that is often twisted to serve just as often as utilitarianism. This same theory has been used by religious zealots and fascists.

      2. The question is, does protecting the weak so that they can produce or become strong fit the definition of good?
        If you pluck the right tactics, you can define virtually any morality as utilitarian.

        1. it does not, if the nation minus the effort to protect and educate them plus the benefit gained from their strength is weaker than a nation that didn’t protect them in the first place.

    7. Have you even read utilitarianism? Good is defined as happiness as defined by individual preferences (NOT the preferences of the agent, but of the recepients). It’s stupid philosophers who don’t understand this.

      1. Sure, but under this definition of “good,” medicine is bad because it makes kids, the recipients, unhappy. Utilitarianism seeks to maximize not happiness, but utility. Utility is a concept that encompasses the bad-tasting-medicine outcome as one that produces greater utility.
        Bruce Jenner is not “good” under utilitarianism unless you are willing to ignore what utility is really all about.

        1. And that’s exactly my point. Is Bruce Jenner’s long-term happiness maximized by catering to his mental illness, where he will likely end up dead by his own hands like so many other transsexuals? Or should we stop catering to people like him, tell them they are mentally ill, and force them to “take their medicine” to maximize the good to both him individually, and society as a whole?

        2. People know what’s best for them better than anyone else does. Kids do not. Also, I fail to see where mental illnesses come in.

        3. People who are mentally ill do not know what’s best for them. I see these people every day on the streets. Literally. They cannot even distinguish reality from fantasy. Transsexuals are mentally ill. That’s where it comes in. If I went to a doctor and told them I had always identified as a one-legged pirate and I wanted them to amputate my perfectly good leg, they would refuse as a violation of the Hippocratic oath and classify me as mentally ill. It’s not any different just because you want to chop off your dick instead of your leg.

  10. There’s also something to add about whether “happiness” is really the ultimate good. Too often, happiness simply translates into meaningless, wasteful hedonism. This is not something that should be promoted.
    A philosophy needs to have a higher goal than “happiness” which should be simply one component.

    1. isn’t the pursuit of happiness the american dream?
      it’s the pursuit of happiness through voting someone who will give you something you want that makes people unhappy really.

    2. Happiness: Aristotle says it is doing what you know is right. What people today take as happiness, he called pleasure.

    3. Happiness is DEFINED as the preferred emotional state in utilitarianism. “Wasteful hedonism” does not maximize happiness in the long run, it is not utilitarian.

  11. What I find ironic is that for 2000 years, people have railed against Christianity as if it were some kind of evil, but Christianity survives. A better question might be, why does Christianity survive?

      1. Christianity was mentioned in the article, not Judaism. I have never understood the hatred some people have towards Jews. Clearly, Jewish persecution is infinitely worse than Christian persecution, but then again, Jews aren’t persecuted because they read the Torah. Christians are “persecuted” (in the 21st century use of the word) if they read the Bible and profess the Bible as the word of God, even though Christians and Jews read some of the same words.

      2. “And Judaism? It’s even older.”
        Christianity is the true Judaism (Romans 2:28-29), the modern “Jews” are apostates (Revelation 3:9), a blessed/cursed people regathered to Israel for the fulfillment of End Times prophecies and the salvation of a remnant.
        “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced [with nails to the cross], and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)

  12. This philosophy, while having obvious merit in arguing for something specific, has obvious perils when applied broadly.
    It’s a vehicle for mob tyranny (or tyranny in the name of common good) and atomisation with its discarding of tradition and authority.
    Progress all too often seems to be a way for peoplemto enact their political self interest.
    They always call it progress at the very least.

    1. his mistake was his way of achieving happiness for everybody. think about it: if the mob was happy, they wouldn’t be decrying something all the time.

  13. The problem with assuming that organisms avoid pain in pursuit of pleasure is that it doesn’t always hold true. For example, exercise can be painful, but we embrace the pain for the experience and the end result of being fit. Not only this, but without having suffered the unpleasant it is difficult to appreciate the pleasant.

      1. Yes, but that is usually in the pursuit of pleasure with minimal pain during the act, withdrawals, overdoses, etc. is the kind of thing that lead to the development of the moderation school of hedonism.

    1. but the end goal still isn’t the pain. it is, in the long term, more painful to be weak than to exercise and be strong most of the time.

      1. No, but there is pain involved. Enough pain for the obese to avoid it. Although, I’d imagine obese people are short-term thinkers and doers rather than long-term thinkers and doers. Those that exercise suffer through the short term pain for the long term benefit. Those that live in the short term avoid pain. Perhaps that’s the difference between a disciplined civilized state and a more animalistic state?

      1. The Greeks had various schools of hedonism. The school of moderation seems to make the most sense. However, happiness tends to be a byproduct rather than an end result. This is the problem with the ‘pursuit of happiness’. Not to mention that is probably unhealthy to feel only one emotion (happy) all of the time.
        I’m not exactly sure what you mean though. Hedonism, generally speaking, is the pursuit of pleasure as central philosophy. Asceticism is the avoidance of pleasure as central philosophy. I’m not convinced that either lead to an ideal life. Perhaps, somewhere in the gradient between hedonism and asceticism a more ideal life could be found, but there are plenty of other philosophies to consider as well.

        1. “Asceticism is the avoidance of pleasure as central philosophy.”
          Gustav Mahler, “Res Severa Verum Gaudia” (To Be Serious is the Greatest Joy). Work is the greatest pleasure.

  14. Utilitarianism is unable to define concepts of “good”, “bad,” & especially” happiness” aka eudamia.

  15. A society needs to have some form of collective values enforced through a system of common morality for it to work cohesively as a group. There will be times of desperation when some form of utilitarianism is useful to get out of a jam, but a society who must go down that road for survival will be best advised to abandon those practices as soon as possible. The Romans understood this quite well by having the practice, during The Republic, of appointing a very short term dictator during times of war.

  16. Utilitarianism is just the (correct) thought that after you define utility, you should set to achieve it by looking at the ultimate consequences of the incentives you provide and if that enhances what you see as utility.
    Bentham hid behind this to make him seem more objective than he really was. Despite his claim that ideology is not present in his thought, it is quite apparent the base of his definition of utility is hedonism; a deeply flawed philosophy that denies the ability to endure, thrive and survive as the base law of the universe in favor of “maximizing pleasure”. Pleasure being only a biological incentive nature invented to help inform descendants on a very rudimentary level (bitter plants = poison, sweet = energy, sex = feels good = reproductive incentive). Such a construct lacks the complexity in human context to be of any meaning to society, which no longer survives out in the wild, shattering the validity of Bentham’s assertion. Another question is how one defines pleasure, which shows that passing the torch from “utility” to “pleasure” ultimately does not render the original subjectivity of this object any more objective in definition.
    I believe no utilitarianism can be implemented from any seat of government without incurring perverse incentives that lawmakers, in their limited scope, will fail to see happening as a result of their actions. The definition of utility should be that which strengthens one’s tribe and the human race as a whole. You can not eliminate suffering and some things have been deemed unnatural by nature, but by maximizing the success of humans you come as close as you can to fully minimizing human suffering.
    There is a reason Bentham comes across as thinking himself vastly superior to all around him; he does think that. There is a reason Bentham thought homosexuality should be protected; he felt distanced from others and sympathized with others who did as well. It is written all over his actions, where he tries to influence government to establish the reforms he sees as correct. Any healthy community that supports its members through the actions of individuals would see this act as what it is: an invasion of restrictive measures that are inherently worthless, as they do nothing the community does not already do itself, and sells their fate to individuals they do not know like Bentham in the name of said individuals arrogant, vain egotism towards others.
    Any person not arrogant enough to think they can tell people what they should want and build a perfect society would realize what using a government in this way would lead to. People will use the government as a weapon against each other, going from utilitarianism to socialism and finally to full blown totalitarianism once the weapon people like Bentham have created is monopolized.

  17. Utilitarianism appealed to me in my 20s, but with a few more decades of looking into things, I find it wanting. It does not deal well with infinities and has little room for human dignity.
    .
    Read Aristotle, William James and Confucius. You will already have balancing opinions ingrained in you from 12 or more years of state-sponsored indoctrination known as “education”.

    1. Aye — The Ethics and its discussion of happiness is much needed. Sorry for filling the thread with Aristotle but he’s still important, more than ever even.

  18. Historically speaking, Americans did a far more admirable job of resisting the dogma of Utilitarianism than Britain or Australia, which is why it’s deeply unfortunate to see the state that their country is in now with all of this SJW nonsense.

  19. Excellent work, Quintus. The article, itself, is informative and the comments section always leads to some good conversation, thoughts, etc…
    A side note: this part of the manosphere is always safe form SJWs. There is too much thinking (and logic) going on here. It’s like kryptonite to them.

  20. I hope there is a special place in hell for this kind of intellectual, who has been a plague for the last centuries. You know: the one who says “everything before me is nonsense” so he tries to replace the lessons that mankind has painfully learned throughout the centuries by his own half-baked ideas. Ideas that look good on paper but don’t take into account the Law of Unintended Consequences. This intellectual hubris has caused and is causing a lot of pain to the ones to which these “brilliant” ideas are being applied.

  21. To be dissected by scientists in front of other scientists of the day is one thing . . but for him to request it be done as his family watched? I suppose Caligula married his horse with utilitarianism in mind. ”No YOU give ME a piggy back ride to town honey”. What was done with the meat from Beckham’s bones when he was dissected? It would have avoided waste and would have proved his utilitarianism if he had requested that upon his death, he be made into sausage and eaten.

  22. The problem I have with utilitarianism is it is the typical atheistic veiw. It allows for ends justify the means situations and it is short sighted. What is a success to me and to you are differnt and with out concrete morals you lose your true north. See this sight talks of betas and alphas and blue pill red pill. Red pill would be when one supposedly grows up or wakes up and realizes there way to aproach women or work Ect ect wasn’t working. Hence adopting a more utilitarian veiw, what ever works for the short term. Of course this argument is unpalatable to most because the level of there aproach to women was childish any way and all they did any way was move to a more sophisticated scheme of trying to woo said women. For example buying a girl flowers on the first date is not what I am talking about. I am talking about using the same tactics as those you didn’t want to be like to get vagina. My veiw on life is how much is your soul worth to you will you give up for women or a car all these thing perish with the using. A mans morals make him they define him way futher than physical features, and utilitarianism is the veiw of most the veiw of the whore. Major companys do it now any thing for a short term profit but when 20,000 people get cancer there still winning because they have no soul. When they get caught no one goes to jail, they just pay a fine slap on the wrist. Ah but if you do something similar you go to jail. See the man working a 9 to 5 and sticking to his principals isn’t equiped to be a atheist or use utilitarian mechanisms. One cannot trust in a God and compromise morals for a short term
    Victory of you could even call it that. You banged that chick but is it the end when you say it is ,how do you know,who one did you play her, or did she play you. Who will be laughing in the end did you really get away with it is her husband going to find out. One must stick to there game with few adjustments live by a code and die by it.

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