One of the most important nineteenth-century schools of thought, Utilitarianism propounds the view that the value or rightness of an action rests in how well it promotes the welfare of those affected by it, aiming for 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the movement's founder, as much a social reformer as a philosopher. His greatest interpreter, John Stuart Mill (1806-73), set out to humanize Bentham's pragmatic Utilitarianism by balancing the claims of reason and the imagination, individuality and social well-being in essays such as 'Bentham', 'Coleridge' and, above all, Utilitarianism. The works by Bentham and Mill collected in this volume show the creation and development of a system of ethics that has had an enduring influence on moral philosophy and legislative policy.
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John Stuart Mill (1806 - 73) formed the Utilitarian Society which met to read and discuss essays. His works include On LIberty and Principles of Political Economy.
Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) set out to theorize a simple and equitable legal system. The law of utility, for which is best remembered, states that the goodness of a law can be measured in accordance with the measure in which it subserves the happiness of hte individual.
Alan Ryan is Warden of New College, Oxford and is currently on sabbatical in Stanford. His other books include Property and Political Theory and Bertrand Russell: A Political Life.
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