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Utility, Publicity, and LawEssays on Bentham's Moral and Legal Philosophy$
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Gerald J. Postema

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198793175

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198793175.001.0001

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Normative Theory

Normative Theory

The Principle of Utility

(p.56) 3 Normative Theory
Utility, Publicity, and Law

Gerald J. Postema

Oxford University Press

The ultimate ground of Bentham’s normative philosophy was the principle of utility. It functioned for Bentham as the fundamental evaluative and decision principle and principle of institutional design. The principle combines universal consequentialism (the ultimate aim of morality is to promote the overall good of the community) with impartial hedonism (that the good of the community must be understood in terms of the subjective well-being or happiness of each considered impartially). Bentham maintained that at bottom moral judgments are expressions of approval or disapproval that appeal beyond themselves to some public matters of fact and that appeal to pleasures and pains can only serve this purpose. This essential meta-ethical requirement of publicity of moral judgment supplied the basic elements for an indirect argument for the principle of utility and the foundation of his critique of natural rights. Justice, he argued, is not opposed to utility so understood, but rather is a species of utility.

Keywords:   consequentialism, expressivism, happiness, justice, natural law, natural rights, principle of utility, publicity, well-being

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