Pragmatism is practical, but pragmatism also has problems. What is pragmatism? It might be defined as the quality of being practical–of valuing usefulness and workability. A pragmatic person is interested in the practical solution of problems. They want a solution that is efficient, effective and economical. They want to get the job done in a nuts and bolts, down to earth, ordinary way. And who doesn’t? Most people value pragmatism, and so it should be. We want our gadgets to work. We want things to run on time. We want practical solutions to everyday problems.
However, when applied to social systems, utilitarianism seeks to solve the problem of inequality and injustice by asking ‘what brings about the greatest good for the greatest number?” This motto was coined by the father of utilitarianism, the eccentric Englishman Jeremy Bentham. (1748 -1832) He also observed, “pain and pleasure are the sovereign masters governing man’s conduct.” Bentham’s ideas were expounded and expanded by a young man who was schooled by his father in Bentham’s thought: the philosopher J.S.Mill. (1806-1873) Trivia: Bentham’s dressed up skeleton and mummified head are on public display at Kings College, London. Here’s a pic.
This is a condensed version of a longer article on utilitarianism available here.