Among the utilitarians were a few who held supernaturalistic views without permitting them to dictate a theistic ethics.  John Locke, for example, although a theist and a believer in an unchanging divine rule of right and wrong, denied innate principles of morality and assimilated evangelical morality to inductive and empirical considerations.  William Paley anticipated some of Bentham’s system and, while he cannot be regarded as a utilitarian, he is one of the last who compounds features of that position with the Christian framework.  For him, the salient points of moral philosophy included not only the greatest pleasure of the greatest number, but also the doctrine of consequences, the will of God, and the future life.  By conceiving virtue as a “doing good to mankind in obedience to the will of God for the sake of everlasting happiness,” he regarded the Christian sanction of charity and brotherliness as the mainspring of ethics.  When the sensationalistic epistemology was no longer crossed and swayed by inherited religious considerations, its implications for the moral life became unreservedly delineated.  Notions of right and wrong are, then, founded not on an eternal reason and on the created nature of things, but, rather, proceed from sense associations alone.  Hume is the real progenitor of the movement in ethics which is identified so prominently with the names of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.  Hume writes on morals with an entire disregard for supernaturalistic considerations.  His orientation, instead, to sensationalism has won him the designation of the Scots Epicurus.  Bentham, popularly regarded as the founder of the utilitarian school, discarded all theological sanctions and applied these earlier principles in actual practice.

From: Christian Personal Ethics by Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), pp. 39-40.


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