Utilitarianism is a philosophic conception of politics and ethics. For the Utilitarian, politics and ethics are interwoven into the science of moral duty; in other words, political philosophy and ethics are inseparable. A political action is valuable only insofar as it keeps in mind the ethical good of the people with which it is concerned; consequently, the welfare of the people in general was the supreme consideration of the Utilitarian philosopher.
To bring about this welfare, two courses of action must be pursued simultaneously: first, all hindrances to the betterment of the people must be removed; second, ideas and laws which will induce the betterment of the people must be promulgated. To accomplish these two outcomes there is needed, obviously, an adequate knowledge of human nature. This knowledge, the Utilitarian says, includes a knowledge of the motives of human action and of the ideal that animates human beings; and in order that one may acquire this knowledge correctly, it is necessary that he seek the facts dispassionately and scientifically through the mechanism of the senses. Superficial analysis should be discouraged, wild flights of the imagination discountenanced, and unverified assumptions discarded, for such mistaken methods produce only haphazard views of social life. Observation, experimentation, and sound generalization are absolutely necessary to the Utilitarian; wishful thinking, random guesswork, and loose generalization must be studiously avoided. “Utilitarian ethics,” said ethicist William L. Davidson, “is analytic, descriptive, and inductive, resting on ascertained facts; and its aim has reference to the right use of the facts, so as to advance social progress and for the concrete purpose of improving the existing conditions of life.” Ethical facts are of infinitely more importance to the Utilitarian thinker than ethical theories, no matter how ideal they may be or what their source.
At this point the intuitional thinker takes issue with the Utilitarian; for in denying the power of innate ideas, the Utilitarian by implication has ignored the Absolute, whether it be in the form of God, a Principle, or an Ideal. But the Utilitarian is not seriously alarmed by the seeming lack of an Absolute in his philosophy, for he believes that if all the ascertainable data of life can be found, analyzed, and applied, the superstructure of Truth will stand forth complete and unassailable. “Know the truth and the truth will set you free” might well be his motto. In the meantime, while the intuitional thinker elaborates rare webs from his inner being, the Utilitarian seeks to know the nature of man- his character, his wants, his limitations, and his possibilities.
The Utilitarian is intellectual. Utilitarians believe: first, that pleasure and pain are the mainsprings of human action; second, that the five senses give them a reasonably correct and complete account of the world around them; third, that all relationships between things in the external world are comprehensible to the human mind; fourth, that cause and effect are natural and not supernatural; and fifth, that ideas are not innate but acquired through experience and education. Utilitarianism as a mode of thinking is rational in its procedure; pragmatic in its attitude toward truth; scientific in its method; and skeptical in its consideration of conclusions. Occasionally he mounts to sublime heights in his perceptions; at times he descends to aridity and spiritual death. But at all times he keeps before himself one purpose- the scientific search for truth.