Happiness and Utility

Posted on March 18, 2022 by Margie Coughlin

‘Oh man! … can someone else know what pleases you better than you do?’ (Jeremy Bentham) ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side to the question.’ (John Stuart Mill) 

Happiness was the ultimate end of life in the view of some of the most influential ancient Greek, Hellenistic and Roman philosophers. Happiness is also the end of life according to the modern utilitarian tradition – best exemplified in the works of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, but clearly based on deep and lasting influences from both classical philosophy and early modern sources in the Scottish and French Enlightenments. This does not mean either that the view is uncontentious – few Christian sources, for example, between these periods thought of the ultimate ends of mankind as principally concerned with pleasure or happiness – or that it is a clear and uncomplicated idea. What constitutes happiness, how far it is identifiable with pleasure, whether pleasures are comparable and can be calculated or are distinct and in various ways incommensurable – such issues raise often deep philosophical questions about the nature of the good, the character of virtue, and the basis of value in human life. Even when we agree that we want to be happy, it is not clear that we are necessarily envisaging that idea in the same way.

This collection of essays pays tribute to the work of our friend and colleague Fred Rosen, who spent the greater part of his academic life wrestling with the philosophy of happiness. Fred has had a distinguished and versatile career. He spent most of his years as an academic before he retired in 2003 at University College London (UCL), leading the editing of the impressive definitive UCL edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, and being the Director of the Bentham Project, as well as the Chair of the History of Political Thought in the Department of History at UCL.

An excerpt from the introduction of Happiness and Utility: Essays Presented to Frederick Rosen, edited by Georgios Varouxakis and Mark Philp.

Happiness and Utility Essays Presented to Frederick Rosen Edited by Georgios Varouxakis and Mark Philp

About the Editors 

Georgios Varouxakis is Professor in History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London, and Co-director of the Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought. 

Mark Philp is Professor of History and Politics at the University of Warwick, and an Emeritus Fellow or Oriel College, Oxford. He has worked extensively in the history of political thought and on political corruption and realist political theory. 

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