The return of utilitarianism

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The return of utilitarianism

 KANG KI-HEON
The author is an industry team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) adhered to his philosophy even after death. His will was to use his body for dissection and then to preserve it for public interest instead of a burial. As he wished, his body was preserved and displayed at University College London.

His head was separately displayed and was stolen in 1975. After the incident, the head is separately kept in storage. Having participated in the founding of University College London, Bentham is seated at the student center, greeting students today.

The utilitarianism master’s philosophy can be summed up as “pleasure is the only good,” while “pain is the only evil.” It is so-called quantitative utilitarianism. Until the last moment, Bentham was devoted to the utilitarianism he advocated.

It was John Stuart Mill (1806-73) who developed Bentham’s utilitarianism further. A proponent of “qualitative utilitarianism,” Mill asserted that “it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” He was discontent with qualitative pleasure.

Birth of utilitarianism in England is closely related to the industrial revolution. The citizens that emerged from economic growth needed a philosophy to confront the aristocrats and elites. “The purpose of morality is to procure the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers.” Utilitarianism was a philosophical device to protect the majority from the elite few.

The argument to represent the majority against the minority was intuitive and powerful. Prioritization of the majority over the minority still works as a formula of a democracy. Actually, the history of race, women and sexual minority was a process of fighting against utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is gathering traction because of the pandemic. The government is planning to introduce a “vaccine pass” to give benefits to the fully vaccinated. In other words, the 5 million unvaccinated people will be penalized. A petition opposing the vaccine pass was posted on the Blue House petition board. They argue it was a violation of basic rights to give them a disadvantage because there are people who cannot get vaccinated due to health issues.

The “social distancing” measure that the government boasts of limits the business right of a few business owners for the safety of the majority. Assemblies are banned under the pretext that public’s right to disease control measures should be prioritized. The “vaccine pass” is likely to be introduced with the justification for the majority’s health and safety. The invisible virus is turning back the hourglass of history.
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