PLSC 118 - Lecture 5 - Classical Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice

Lecture 5 - Classical Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice


Professor Shapiro continues his examination of Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism, with a focus on the distributive implications of the theory of "maximizing the greatest happiness of the greatest number." He engages students in a discussion of a guiding principle of classical utilitarianism, the principle of diminishing marginal utility, and some traditional critiques of this principle. Professor Shapiro examines the capacity of classical utilitarianism as a radically redistributive doctrine. Bentham himself tried to avoid this consequence with his argument that the rich would burn their crops before giving them away, and he differentiated between "absolute" and "practical" equality. Professor Shapiro connects all of these concepts to Reagan's tax cuts of the 1980s, pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, and contemporary debates about economic stimulus.



Bentham, "The Psychology of Economic Man"
Halévy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, part I, chapters 1, 3; part II, chapters 1-3 [optional]
Shapiro, Moral Foundations of Politics, chapter 2 [optional]

Course Media





Low Bandwidth Video

mov [100MB]

High Bandwidth Video

mov [500MB]