Bentham, Mill e o Utilitarismo Clássico

"The doctrine that the basis of morals is utility, or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong in proportion as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." (John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism)

 

Embora muito do núcleo conceitual do Utilitarismo remonte a pensadores como Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), David Hume (1711-1776) entre outros (Cumberland, Shaftesbury, Gay), o filósofo britânico Jeremy Bentham pode ser considerado o fundador da teoria moral conhecida como "Utilitarismo". John Stuart Mill, seu sucessor, foi intesamente influenciado pela Philosophical Radicalism (Jeremy Bentham [1748–1832], John Austin [1790–1859], James Mill [1773–1836]), embora discorde no que concerne a natureza da felicidade e as motivações humanas. Qualquer reflexão sobre "utilitarismo" clássico, requer uma aproximação da noção de "felicidade". Conforme exposto logo no primeiro parágrafo de sua obra Principles of Morals and Legislation, para Bentham: "nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure", sendo a "felicidade" o simples resultado desta equação. Em seu livro Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill argumenta que a "felicidade" é a única coisa desejável em si mesma (Capítulo IV, Utilitarianism). O Utilitarismo é considerado uma das mais persuasivas e poderosas aproximações da ética normativa e sua justa apreensão deve partir de seu contexto histórico. Os utilitaristas clássicos (Bentham e Mill) ocupavam-se com a reforma legal e social, sendo o utilitarismo uma "ferramenta" para a transformação de práticas sociais questionáveis, bem como leis corruptas e inúteis.

A ideia de uma existência pautada na noção de "felicidade" (mais prazer, menos dor, segundo Mill em sua obra Utilitarianism) é antiga e, na filosofia, remonta ao pensamento sofista (Protágoras, por exemplo). A diferença aqui seria a formulação deste conceito a partir da noção de "prazer". Ao definir a "felicidade" como o triunfo do prazer sobre a dor, Bentham e Mill inauguram o princípio da utilidade e a prerrogativa fundamental do agir utilitarista.

 No trecho que segue, Bentham discurso sobre o seu conceito de "utilidade":     

"I. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our sub- jection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain. subject to it all the while. The principle of utility recognizes this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. Systems which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice instead of reason, in darkness instead of light.
 
But enough of metaphor and declamation: it is not by such means that moral science is to be improved.
II. The principle of utility is the foundation of the present work: it will be proper therefore at the outset to give an explicit and determinate account of what is meant by it. By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever. according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.
 
III. By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappi- ness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the com- munity in general, then the happiness of the community: if a particular individual, then the happiness of that individual."
 
Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation