I've run into some difficulty discussing utilitarianism and the social contract because the typical response is something specific to Mill or Rousseau. It's not quite ad hominem argument -- they're not saying "Mill was a bad person; therefore, utilitarianism is useless" -- but they point to flaws in Mill's work as reasons to dismiss utilitarianism.

Is it possible to separate the philosophy from the philosopher? And I suppose a related question would be: Has anyone tried to update/revise utilitarianism and the social contract?

  • Yes, of course we can. We should do it, actually, and then try to treat a primary source as just another source. And there is a huge literature on both views. For a major updated social contract theory, you've got to read Rawls's Theory of Justice. The book is just amazing. For an update on utilitarianism, you have to read about consequentialism, which is a more generalized view of which utilitarianism is the chief example. – n.r. Jan 28 '17 at 16:16
  • Ideas (in the sense we are discussing) are not eternal, unchanging objcets that exists in the Heaven and incarnate themselves sometimes. We find them into books and lectures; of course, we can ignore the biographies of the men and women that have written the books, but how to study Utilitarianism withour reading Bentham's and Mill's books ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 28 '17 at 19:10
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA How? By reading what was written on utilitarianism before Bentham and Mill, say, by Hutcheson and Hume, and also by reading many works that came after them. More important, not just to read but think through what utilitarianism is all about. The point is, we don't need to read Bentham and Mill to understand utilitarianism. We need to understand utilitarianism in order to understand Bentham and Mill. – n.r. Jan 28 '17 at 20:17
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA . By getting a grounding in classical economic theory or policy studies? Utilitarianism has become two entire academic disciplines, each with a life of its own outside philosophy. Surely someone who understands what is currently being written in Economics has very little to learn from Mill, or even Adam Smith... And anyone in Policy who can't read Economics should step back and learn how to do so. – user9166 Jan 28 '17 at 20:46
  • @jobermark : Does Economics see utilitarianism as an ethical theory? – n.r. Jan 29 '17 at 0:14

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