Utilitarianism

Zhang Xin Yu.
Utilitarianism

“Utilitarianism” can most generally be described as the doctrine that states that the rightness or wrongness of actions is determined by the goodness and badness of their consequences. This general definition can be made more precise in various ways, according to which we get various species of utilitarianism.

Act and Rule Utilitarianism

The first important division is between “act” utilitarianism and “rule” utilitarianism. If, in the above definition, we understand actions to mean “particular actions,” then we are dealing with the form of utilitarianism called act utilitarianism, according to which we assess the rightness or wrongness of each individual action directly by its consequences.


If, on the other hand, we understand actions in the above definition to mean “sorts of actions,” then we get some sort of rule utilitarianism. The rule utilitarian does not consider the consequences of each particular action but considers the consequences of adopting some general rule, such as “Keep promises.” He adopts the rule if the consequences of its general adoption are better than those of the adoption of some alternative rule.

Universal Properties in Indian Philosophical Traditions

秦岚(Qin Lan)
Universal Properties

Early Grammarians on Universals of Words and Meanings

In ancient India systematic metaphysics started with a linguistic turn. Ontological concepts and controversies arose in the context of musings on meanings of words and debates on declensions, unlike in ancient Greece, where metaphysics arose out of wondering about numbers, figures, and nature.

In Pañini’s grammar and his early commentaries (between the fourth and second centuries BCE) the three crucial technical terms for a universal—samanya, jati, and akrti—were already explicitly in use. Philosophers of language dabbled in metaphysics since Patañjali’s “Great Commentary” to Pañini’s grammar.

The device of adding a tva or ta (roughly equivalent to the English “ness”) to any nominal root x, yields, as meaning, the property of being x. From substance (dravya) one can thus mechanically abstract substanceness (dravya-tva), from real (sat) and reality (satta).

Universals, a Historical Survey

Universals
Universals

The word universal, used as a noun, has belonged to the vocabulary of English-writing philosophers since the sixteenth century, but the concept of universals, and the problems raised by it, has a far longer history.

Indeed, Plato may be taken to be the father of this perennial topic of philosophy, for it is in his dialogues that we find the first arguments for universals and the first discussion of the difficulties they raise.

Plato believed that the existence of universals was required not only ontologically, to explain the nature of the world that as sentient and reflective beings we experience, but also epistemologically, to explain the nature of our experience of it.

Utopias and Utopianism

Utopias and Utopianism
Utopias and Utopianism

The word utopia was invented by Thomas More, who published his famous Utopia (in Latin) in 1516. More coupled the Greek words ou (no, or not) and topos (place) to invent a name that has since passed into nearly universal currency. Further verbal play shows the close relation between utopia and eutopia, which means “the good [or happy] place.”

Through the succeeding centuries this double aspect has marked the core of utopian literature, which has employed the imaginary to project the ideal. (This is not to deny that More’s own attitude towards the ideal society he imagined may well have been ambivalent.)

The words utopia and utopian, however, have been put to many uses besides the one suggested by More’s book. Common to all uses is reference to either the imaginary or the ideal, or to both. But sometimes the words are used as terms of derision and sometimes with a vagueness that robs them of any genuine usefulness.

Hans Vaihinger

Hans Vaihinger
Hans Vaihinger

Hans Vaihinger, the German philosopher of the “as if,” was born in a devout home near Tübingen. Although he developed unorthodox religious views at an early age, he attended the Theological College of the University of Tübingen.

Vaihinger wanted to be a man of action, but his extreme nearsightedness forced him into scholarly pursuits. He regarded the contrast between his physical constitution and the way he would like to live as irrational, and his defective vision made him sensitive to other frustrating aspects of existence.

Vaihinger eventually became a professor of philosophy at Halle, but failing vision necessitated his giving up his duties in 1906.He then turned to completing his most important work, Die Philosophie des Als-Ob, which had been started in 1876. The volume went through many editions and made the philosophy of fictions well known.

Giovanni Vailati

Giovanni Vailati
Giovanni Vailati

Giovanni Vailati, the Italian analytical philosopher and historian of science, was born at Crema, Lombardy. He studied engineering and mathematics at the University of Turin, where he later became an assistant to Giuseppe Peano (1892) and Vito Volterra (1895) and lectured on the history of mechanics (1896–1899). In 1899 he resigned his university post to be free for independent work, earning his living by teaching mathematics in high schools.

By the end of his life Vailati’s ideas were internationally recognized; some of his writings had been translated into English, French, and Polish, and he was personally acquainted with many of the important scholars of his time. He was forgotten after his death, however, and only since the late 1950s has he received renewed attention.

The main feature of Vailati’s thought is his methodological and linguistic approach to philosophical problems. Rather than propounding anything resembling a doctrine, Vailati presented concrete examples of how to apply his new methods.

Paul Valéry

Paul Valéry
Paul Valéry

As a law student in Montpellier, Valéry published poems and befriended such influential authors as André Gide and Stéphane Mallarmé. As a result of a personal crisis in 1892, he resolved to abandon literature and devote himself to his autodidactical pursuit of knowledge.

While serving in the Ministry of War, and then as private secretary to a powerful businessman, Valéry found time to read and write. In 1894 he began the first of some 261 notebooks in which he developed his matinal reflections for over fifty years.

At Gide’s instigation Valéry began to prepare a volume of poems, and ended up writing La jeune parque (The young fate) (1917), a hermetic allegory of consciousness that established him as an eminent French poet.

Value and Valuation

Value and Valuation
Value and Valuation

The terms value and valuation and their cognates and compounds are used in a confused and confusing but widespread way in our contemporary culture, not only in economics and philosophy but also and especially in other social sciences and humanities.

Their meaning was once relatively clear and their use limited. Value meant the worth of a thing, and valuation meant an estimate of its worth. The worth in question was mainly economic or quasi economic, but even when it was not, it was still worth of some sort—not beauty, truth, rightness, or even goodness.

The extension of the meaning and use of the terms began in economics, or political economy, as it was then called. Value and valuation became technical terms central to that branch of economics which was labeled the theory of value.

Bas van Fraassen

Bas van Fraassen
Bas van Fraassen

Bas van Fraassen was born in Goes, in the Netherlands, on April 5. He lived in Holland until he was fifteen years old, when he moved with his family to Canada. After finishing his undergraduate studies in philosophy (with honors) at the University of Alberta in 1963, he went to the University of Pittsburgh for his Ph.D., which he completed in 1966 with a dissertation on the causal theory of time that was supervised by Adolf Grünbaum.

He taught at Yale University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Southern California before moving to Princeton University, where he has been a Professor of Philosophy since 1982.

Van Fraassen has made seminal contributions to several areas of philosophy, and his work can be roughly divided into three major “periods”:

José Vasconcelos

José Vasconcelos
José Vasconcelos

José Vasconcelos, the Mexican politician and philosopher, was born in Oaxaca. Vasconcelos was active in the Mexican revolution, directed the reform of Mexican education as secretary of education in the early 1920s, ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1929, and subsequently was exiled for a time.

He was rector of the National University of Mexico, visiting professor at the University of Chicago, and director of the Biblioteca Nacional de México.

The sources of his philosophy were Pythagoras, Plotinus, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, A. N. Whitehead, and especially Henri Bergson. Of Latin American philosophers, Vasconcelos is the most original, venturesome, and impassioned.

Lorenzo Valla

Lorenzo Valla
Lorenzo Valla

Lorenzo Valla, the Italian humanist, is best known as the man who exposed the Donation of Constantine and thus undermined a leading argument for papal sovereignty in the secular realm. This fact and the reputation for hedonism derived from his youthful work De Voluptate (On pleasure) have conspired to invest Valla with an air of disrepute that he probably does not deserve.

In particular, this reputation does not do justice to Valla’s efforts on behalf of a return to the spirit of the Gospel or to his respect for Paul and the early Greek and Latin Church Fathers, in which he clearly anticipates later developments.

Nor does it recognize his passion for historical truth and for the defense of plain speaking against what he regarded as metaphysical obscurity and verbalizing. Valla was perhaps the most versatile of the humanists; he initiated a series of attacks upon Scholastic logic, theology, and law, in addition to his contributions to historical and textual criticism.

Luc de Clapiers Marquis de Vauvenargues

Luc de Clapiers Marquis de Vauvenargues
Luc de Clapiers Marquis de Vauvenargues

The French moralist and epigrammatist Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues, was born at Aix-en-Provence. He early revealed a lofty character that despised egotism and pettiness.

Ambitious for glory, he became an army officer at the age of seventeen, despite a weak physique. He served throughout the Italian campaign of 1734. The later German campaign of 1741, especially the harsh retreat from Prague, ruined his health, forcing him to retire at the age of twenty-six.

His hope of a career in diplomacy was dashed by lack of fortune and protection. While vainly waiting at Aix for replies to his petitions for appointment to a post, he contracted a severe case of smallpox that left him disfigured and sickly.

Thorstein Bunde Veblen

Thorstein Bunde Veblen
Thorstein Bunde Veblen

Thorstein Bunde Veblen, the American economist and social theorist, is perhaps best known for his ironic style, a style that was at one with his life. Although he is still thought of abroad as the most influential American social scientist, among social scientists in America his influence has almost vanished.

He is virtually unknown to college students, even if a scattered lot of Veblen’s concepts—most obviously, “conspicuous consumption”—are unwittingly part of their speech and analyses.

Born on a Wisconsin farm, Veblen developed the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of American industrial society in the early twentieth century. He emphasized qualitative relationships in the historical process, and his aim was an inclusive theory of social change.

John Venn

John Venn
John Venn

The British logician John Venn was born at Drypool, Hull, the elder son of the Reverend Henry Venn, a prominent evangelical divine. After early education at Highgate and Islington proprietary schools, he entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1853. On graduating Sixth Wrangler in 1857, he became a fellow and remained on the foundation for sixty-six years, until his death.

During the last twenty years of his residence he was also president of the college. Venn took orders in 1858 and served as a curate in parishes near London before returning to Cambridge as college lecturer in moral sciences in 1862. He married in 1867.

In 1869 he was Hulsean lecturer and published thereafter a work titled On Some Characteristics of Belief (London, 1870), but contact with Henry Sidgwick and other Cambridge agnostics, plus the reading of Augustus De Morgan, George Boole, J. Austin, and J. S. Mill had the effect of transferring his interests from theology almost wholly to logic, and in 1883 he gave up his orders without altogether withdrawing from the church. In the same year he became a fellow of the Royal Society and took the degree of doctor of science.

Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico
Giambattista Vico

Born in Naples, Italy, in 1668, Giambattista Vico is best known for his critique of the Cartesian method and his philosophy of history. Beyond these areas, he is also known for contributions to linguistic theory, legal history, and cultural anthropology. Many have construed Vico as an eighteenth-century thinker who expressed the germ of ideas more fully developed in the nineteenth century.

Thus, for example, Karl Löwith understands Vico’s master work The New Science to anticipate “not only fundamental ideas of Herder and Hegel, Dilthey and Spengler, but also the more particular discoveries of Roman history by Niebuhr and Mommsen, the theory of Homer by Wolf, the interpretation of mythology by Bachofen, the reconstruction of ancient life through etymology by Grimm, the historical understanding of laws by Savigny, of the ancient city and of feudalism by Fustel de Coulanges, and of the class struggles by Marx and Sorel”.

The familiar picture of Vico as the “great anticipator” contains some truth.More recent scholarship, in contrast, has tried to understand Vico as a thinker in his own right. The result has been a proliferation of different and often incompatible interpretations.

Violence

Violence
Violence

“Violence” is derived from the Latin violentia, “vehemence,” which itself comes from vis (force) + latus (to carry) and means, literally, intense force. Violence shares its etymology with violate, “injure.” Violence is used to refer to swift, extreme force (e.g., a violent storm) and to forceful injurious violation (e.g., rape, terrorism, war).

Violence has received some philosophical consideration since ancient times, but only since the twentieth century has the concept of violence itself been of particular concern to philosophers.

Perhaps this is due to the exponential growth in the efficiency of and access to the means of violence in the modern era, to the unprecedented carnage the twentieth century saw, or to the emergence of champions of nonviolence such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Beyond clarifying the concept of violence, philosophical argument has turned to the moral and cultural justifiability of violence to achieve personal, social, or political ends.

Virtue and Vice

Virtue and Vice
Virtue and Vice

Assuming that human agents possess settled dispositions or character traits, some of which are especially deemed worthy of praise while others deserve blame or reproach, moral philosophers have long treated the first sort under the category “virtue” and their opposites under the general term “vice.”

The fin-de-siecle revival of the virtue tradition in normative ethics as a third force, alongside Kantianism and consequentialism, has resulted in focused attention by theorists of all persuasions on the nature and proper role of virtues and vices in any comprehensive treatment of morality. Thus, two consequentialists have produced full-length treatments of the virtues, and there has been a growing appreciation of the key role of virtue in Immanuel Kant’s ethics.

While the attention to virtue among Kantians and neo-Kantians is not too surprising, since much of Kant’s later work was devoted to working out the important role that virtue and character play in morality (the weighty concluding section of the 1797 Metaphysics of Morals is rightly titled “The Doctrine of Virtue”), the consequentialist turn to virtue is, perhaps, more surprising. Jeremy Bentham, for example, gave a rather rude treatment of virtue in his Deontology.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics
Virtue Ethics

In 1930 C. D. Broad first proposed to divide ethical theories into two classes, teleological and deontological, thereby introducing a dichotomy that quickly became standard in ethics. Teleological theories were defined as ones that hold that the moral rightness of an action is always determined by its tendency to promote certain consequences deemed intrinsically good; deontological theories, as ones that deny this claim.

Broad’s dichotomy was widely accepted as being exhaustive, but in fact there are two fundamental classes of normative moral judgments that do not fit easily into it. First, it focuses on rightness or obligation, excluding moral judgments concerning what is admirable, good, excellent, or ideal. Second, it concerns only actions and their consequences, saying nothing about moral judgments concerning persons, character, and character traits.

The contemporary movement known as virtue ethics is usually said to have begun in 1958 with Elizabeth Anscombe’s advice to do ethics without the notion of a “moral ought.” Although her own critique of moral-obligation concepts (viz., that they have meaning only within religious frameworks that include the notion of a divine lawgiver) did not gain widespread acceptance among secular ethicists, her constructive proposal to look for moral norms not in duty concepts but within the virtues or traits of character that one needs to flourish as a human being quickly caught on.

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