Although the classical utilitarians’ outlook was universalistic and all-inclusive in principle, international relations were nonetheless not high on their agenda: their central concerns were private morality and public domestic ethics. From Bentham to Sidgwick, the major political interest was on the domestic organisation of society, which included both rules of personal conduct and a collective legal framework. Underlying this narrow focus was the utilitarians’ belief in the ideal of the division of political work. Within this division, depending on the sociopolitical circumstances, an indirect concentration on the local could result in the maximisation of the overall world outcome. Accordingly, the utilitarians elaborated a sophisticated theory on the contingent relation between the scope of the utility principle and that of the institutions within which it was applied. Thus, while fostering a universalist interpretation of the principle of utility (even to the extent of including non-human species), Bentham was nonetheless firm, for instance, in maintaining that the social fact of the habit of obedience, upon which the application of the utility principle depended, was still very much anchored to the domestic dimension, and thus the correlate institutional framework of state sovereignty. Thus, an underpinning assumption of the utilitarians’ rationale held that within the international political constellation of their time, Philosophical Enquiries : revue des philosophie anglophones – décembre 2017, n° 9 – « Cosmopolitisme et utilitarisme classique » 10 the best way to maximise universal utility was to concentrate primarily on domestic governmental policies. In practice, their prescriptions supported an international system based on fairly independent sovereign states, which in being reciprocally exclusive generated an environment of outranking. Classical utilitarians did undoubtedly propose a number of political reforms, such as the codification of international law, the establishment of an international court, publicising foreign negotiations, and new machinery for international treaties, which were certainly in the right direction for the democratisation of international relations. And even more importantly, they elaborated a method for applying consequentialist ethics to international relations based on the balancing of universal principles and social theory which is still viable. However, their works cannot be considered fully satisfactory, for the overall outcome of the international system they envisaged would arguably be sub-optimal by their own measure. The lack of multilevel political participation leading to would-be international political institutions denied the possibility for each individual to pursue fully his or her own well-being and consequently denied the promotion of the general well-being. While the intensity of international interaction during the 19th century was definitely not equal to that of the current level, and therefore the share of individual wellbeing dependent on international or global phenomena was undoubtedly less significant than today, the situation was nevertheless not one of fully self-contained communities. A truly consistent consequentialist prescription would have indicated an enlargement of the degree of political participation to the international domain. And yet, that Sidgwick’s writings do propose a few steps in this direction is an indication of the stark divergence from the Hobbesian state tradition that classical utilitarian thought represents. It is for this reason that an understanding of such a thought is still crucial to any understanding of consequentialist international ethics today.

Classical International Utilitarianism / Marchetti, Raffaele. - In: PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRIES. - ISSN 2493-3090. - decembre:9(2017), pp. 1-15.

Classical International Utilitarianism

raffaele marchetti
2017

Abstract

Although the classical utilitarians’ outlook was universalistic and all-inclusive in principle, international relations were nonetheless not high on their agenda: their central concerns were private morality and public domestic ethics. From Bentham to Sidgwick, the major political interest was on the domestic organisation of society, which included both rules of personal conduct and a collective legal framework. Underlying this narrow focus was the utilitarians’ belief in the ideal of the division of political work. Within this division, depending on the sociopolitical circumstances, an indirect concentration on the local could result in the maximisation of the overall world outcome. Accordingly, the utilitarians elaborated a sophisticated theory on the contingent relation between the scope of the utility principle and that of the institutions within which it was applied. Thus, while fostering a universalist interpretation of the principle of utility (even to the extent of including non-human species), Bentham was nonetheless firm, for instance, in maintaining that the social fact of the habit of obedience, upon which the application of the utility principle depended, was still very much anchored to the domestic dimension, and thus the correlate institutional framework of state sovereignty. Thus, an underpinning assumption of the utilitarians’ rationale held that within the international political constellation of their time, Philosophical Enquiries : revue des philosophie anglophones – décembre 2017, n° 9 – « Cosmopolitisme et utilitarisme classique » 10 the best way to maximise universal utility was to concentrate primarily on domestic governmental policies. In practice, their prescriptions supported an international system based on fairly independent sovereign states, which in being reciprocally exclusive generated an environment of outranking. Classical utilitarians did undoubtedly propose a number of political reforms, such as the codification of international law, the establishment of an international court, publicising foreign negotiations, and new machinery for international treaties, which were certainly in the right direction for the democratisation of international relations. And even more importantly, they elaborated a method for applying consequentialist ethics to international relations based on the balancing of universal principles and social theory which is still viable. However, their works cannot be considered fully satisfactory, for the overall outcome of the international system they envisaged would arguably be sub-optimal by their own measure. The lack of multilevel political participation leading to would-be international political institutions denied the possibility for each individual to pursue fully his or her own well-being and consequently denied the promotion of the general well-being. While the intensity of international interaction during the 19th century was definitely not equal to that of the current level, and therefore the share of individual wellbeing dependent on international or global phenomena was undoubtedly less significant than today, the situation was nevertheless not one of fully self-contained communities. A truly consistent consequentialist prescription would have indicated an enlargement of the degree of political participation to the international domain. And yet, that Sidgwick’s writings do propose a few steps in this direction is an indication of the stark divergence from the Hobbesian state tradition that classical utilitarian thought represents. It is for this reason that an understanding of such a thought is still crucial to any understanding of consequentialist international ethics today.
utilitarianism; international ethics; J. Bentham; J.S.Mill, H.Sidgwick, J.Mill
Classical International Utilitarianism / Marchetti, Raffaele. - In: PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRIES. - ISSN 2493-3090. - decembre:9(2017), pp. 1-15.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11385/177466
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