Mandeville, LA – To have understood the polymorphous character of pleasure and happiness is of course to have rendered those concepts useless for utilitarian purposes; if the prospect of his or her own future pleasure or happiness cannot for the reasons which I have suggested provide criteria for solving the problems of action in the case of each individual, it follows that the notion of the greatest happiness of the greatest number is a notion without any clear content at all. It is indeed a pseudo-concept available for a variety of ideological uses, but no more than that. Hence when we encounter its use in practical life, it is always necessary to ask what actual project or purpose is being concealed by its use. To say this is not of course to deny that many of its uses have been in the service of socially beneficial ideals..Chadwick’s’s radical reforms in the provision of public health measures, Mill”s own support for the extension of the suffrage and for an end to the subjugation of women and a number of other nineteenth-century ideals and causes all invoked the standard of utility to some good purpose. But the use of a conceptual fiction in a good cause does not make it any less of affection. We shall have to notice the presence of some other fictions in modern moral discourse later in the argument; but before we do so it is necessary to consider one more feature of nineteenth-century utilitarianism.
It was a mark of the moral seriousness and strenuousness of the great nineteenth-century utilitarians that they felt a continuing obligation to scrutinize and rescrutinize their own positions, so that they might, if at all possible, not be deceived. The culminating achievement of that scrutiny was the moral philosophy of Sidgwick. And it is with Sidgwick that the failure to restore a teleological framework for ethics finally comes to be accepted. He recognized both that the moral injunctions of utilitarianism could not be derived from any psychological foundations and that the precepts which enjoin us to pursue the general happiness are logically independent of and cannot be derived from any precepts enjoining the pur- suit of our own happiness. Our basic moral beliefs have two characteristics, Sidgwick found himself forced to conclude not entirely happily; they do not form any kind of unity, they are irreducibly heterogeneous; and their acceptance is and must be unargued. At the foundation of moral thinking lie beliefs in statements for the truth of which no further reason can be given. To such statements Sidgwick, borrowing the word from Whewell, gives the name intuitions. Sidgwick’s disappointment with the outcome of his own enquiry is evident in his announcement that where he had looked for Cosmos, he had in fact found only Chaos.
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