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Utilitarianism: For and Against [Paperback]

J. J. C. Smart , Bernard Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Jan 1973 052109822X 978-0521098229
Two essays on utilitarianism, written from opposite points of view, by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams. In the first part of the book Professor Smart advocates a modern and sophisticated version of classical utilitarianism; he tries to formulate a consistent and persuasive elaboration of the doctrine that the rightness and wrongness of actions is determined solely by their consequences, and in particular their consequences for the sum total of human happiness. This is a revised version of Professor Smart's famous essay 'an outline of a system of utilitarian ethics', first published in 1961 but long unobtainable. In Part II Bernard Williams offers a sustained and vigorous critique of utilitarian assumptions, arguments and ideals. He finds inadequate the theory of action implied by utilitarianism, and he argues that utilitarianism fails to engage at a serious level with the real problems of moral and political philosophy, and fails to make sense of notions such as integrity, or even human happiness itself. Both authors are agreed on utilitarianism's importance: it cuts across a number of different philosophical disputes and combines a systematic account of mata-ethical problems with a distinctive and substantive moral stand. It thus is, or involves, philosophy in both the traditional and the narrower, professional sense of the word, and is a key topic (often the first topic) in introductory philosophy courses. This book should also be of interest to welfare economists, political scientists and decision-theorists.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 155 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (1 Jan 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052109822X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521098229
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 73,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Such writers as J.S. Mill, H. Sidgwick and G.E. Moore, as a result of philosophical reflection, produced systems of normative ethics. Read the first page
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A clear guide to Utilitarianism 23 Nov 2003
By A Customer
I'm a student taking a course in political theory, and I regularly use this book. I don't know where I'd be without it!
Split into two halves, the first written by Smart argues the case for utilitarianism. Covering justic, rule and act utilitarianism, average and total happiness and hedonistic and non-hedonistic utilitarianism, it is a comprehensive introduction to the topic.
Williams's critique in the second half is a classic - he argues against utilitarianism for reasons of negative responsibility, Integrity and social choice. This is the book in which he gives the stories of Jim and the Indians and George the chemical scientist, both of which are now included in any discussion on utilitarianism.
This book is referred to everywhere. It's easy to read, insightful and it's not too big to be scared by! It's a must have reference for anyone writing, reading or talking about utilitarianism.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Starting Point 27 May 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This terrific little book was my introduction to ethical philosophy in college. This is, in fact, the best way to introduce anyone to real philosophy: Present an important philosophical problem and let two very intelligent, articulate, and well-educated people of opposing views & good faith argue the merits, demerits, and difficulties inherent in a particular theory. In fairly clear and straightforward prose, Smart and Williams plunge right into the matter and hash it out with meticulous care. Smart offers a sophisticated version of Utilitarianism for our consideration. Williams draws out the implications of it and shows how Utilitarian ethics contains contradictions and potentially repellent outcomes. (Although Williams never makes it explicit in this book, he adheres to a sophisticated modern version of classical virtue ethics, a sort of refined Nicomachean ethics.)
This may not be the last word on Utilitarianism, but it is certainly one of the most intelligent and insightful. A perfect entree to ethical philosophy, that endlessly fascinating & vitally important dialogue about how we ought to live our lives.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb 7 Oct 2004
By snalen - Published on Amazon.com
The reviewer from Berkley could not be more right in recommending this book as an introduction to modern moral philosophy. Smart and Williams are two of the most brilliant and important philosophers of the last century and both are brilliantly clear and engaging communicators. The result is not just good introduction but a book that takes you right to the cutting edge of the subject. Smart contributes a splendidly bold and clear headed statement and defence of a form of act utilitarianism (`the view that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends only on the total goodness or badness of its consequences, i.e. on the effect of the action on the welfare of all human beings (or perhaps all sentient beings)'). Williams then provides a peerlessly brilliant and devastating critique of that same theory. The reader is left with a clear understanding both of why so many people as sensible and intelligent as Smart consider utilitarianism just obviously right and why so many people as humane and thoughtful as Williams think it is just crazy. If you are interested in philosophy, then, it's a wonderfully rewarding read. Indeed it's a great thing to read if you aren't sure whether you re interested in philosophy or not. If you find Williams on consequentialism, integrity and negative responsibility a dull read you will probably find pretty well any philosophy dull and you can safely conclude that the subject is not for you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat more technical than most people will appreciate. 28 Oct 2013
By amazonophile - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a scholarly, technical examination of Utilitarianism. While I read it and appreciated it as a graduate student, the freshmen to whom I assigned it found it impenetrable.
2.0 out of 5 stars Subjective prosa 29 Jun 2014
By Jan Kroken - Published on Amazon.com
First a note: I only read half this book before I concluded that it would be a poor use of my time to read the second
half (this despite it being a quick read) - this needs to be taken into account when reading my review.

If you expect a structured academic analysis, then you will be sorely disappointed. This book is as subjective as
it comes, and the argumentation is brief and selective. The author presents his viewpoint (a positive act utilitarian),
while other variants of utilitarianism are either shallowly and informally argued against, or just dismissed as "I don't
agree with them".

The book is not completely useless (which is why I gave it 2 stars and not 1):
- I assume that for someone who are unfamiliar with utilitarianism, this might be a good way to peek into the mind and rationale of one positive act utilitarian, and thus gain a little insight
- It does present a series of interesting questions and scenarios, so even though the treatment of those is shallow, at least they do provide food for thought...

However, if you are familiar with utilitarianism, and you have thought it through, don't expect this book to give you any significant new insights.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utiltilitarianism for and Against 21 Nov 2010
By S. Noland - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book contains two well-written articals. Smart, a utilitarian, provides answers to some of hte arguments against his position while providing a definate middle ground for those who would ascribe themselves to this theory. Williams uses his anti-theorist credentials and targets utilitarianism and some of its flaws. Over all a good read for peole interested in the subject matter.
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