Herbert Spencer on Utilitarianism - Dictionary of Arguments
Gaus I 413
Utilitarianism/Spencer/Weinstein: Spencer agreed with Sidgwick that established morality was the 'marvelous product of nature, the result of long centuries of growth' with modern liberal societies converging on the same array of utility- promoting moral rules. And he agreed with Mill, though not Sidgwick, that we have reformulated our most fundamental moral rules as stringent rights. Spencer was therefore as much a liberal utilitarian as Mill in so far as he combined a rights-
constrained, maximizing theory of right with a hedonic conception of good. For Spencer, rights were indefeasible logical 'corollaries' of his principle of equal freedom, which stipulated that: 'Every man is free to do that which he will provided he infringes not the equal freedom ofany other man' (1978(1): I, 62).
Gaus I 414
SpencerVsMill: General happiness was best promoted wherever basic liberal rights to life, personal integrity and property were unconditionally enforced, making Spencer's liberal utilitarianism more uncompromis- ing than Mill's.
VsBentham: While Spencer and Mill acknowledged the extensive similarities between them,
Spencer distanced himself markedly from Bentham, disparaging the latter's utilitarianism as merely
'empirical', or unconstrained, and therefore as morally inferior. Being 'empirical', Benthamism
allegedly justified sacrificing individuals in the name of maximizing utility even marginally.
Rational utilitarianism: By contrast, he characterized his own brand of utilitarianism as 'rational' precisely because it purported to derive basic rights from the principle of equal freedom and because these putative logical derivations were indefeasible. But Spencer exaggerates his differences with Bentham, if Rosen and Paul Kelly have interpreted Bentham correctly.
1. Spencer, Herbert (1978 [1879-93]) The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols. Indianapolis: Liberty.
Weinstein, David 2004. „English Political Theory in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
The Man versus the State Indianapolis 2009
Gerald F. Gaus
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004