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Special issue

Utility and Science

Utilité et science
Piero Tarantino

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1Utilitarian philosophy, from its very beginning, has been inspired by the success of scientific practice, as can be seen in J. Bentham’s attempt to model law or ethics more generally on the methodology of the physical sciences, and in J.S. Mill’s account of mathematical objects and reasoning. Similarly, in some cases scientific research has been guided by the utilitarian approach, for example in restricting animal experimentation on the basis of the principle of equity, emphasised by P. Singer.

2Although the relation between utilitarianism and science is an important aspect in the history of thought and turns out to be beneficial to tackling topics at the heart of current philosophical and public debates, it has been largely underestimated and neglected. Apart from a few studies on the influence of mathematics or physics on Bentham and Mill’s thought, and the successful application of the utilitarian view to animal ethics, utilitarianism and science have been regarded as two apparently independent and quite separate domains.

3This special issue “Utility and Science” of the Revue d’études benthamiennes aims not only to throw light on the influence of scientific theory on utilitarian philosophy, on the one hand, and the influence of utilitarian thought on scientific practice, on the other, but also to offer a substantial and longstanding contribution to bridging the gap between utilitarianism and science. The purpose is thus to explore how, in what respect and to what extent the cooperation between the utilitarian philosophy and scientific research was and still can be useful for contemplating crucial questions concerning reality, mind and human behaviour.

4A large part of the issue is devoted to examining, from different points of view, the relation between utility and science in the thinking of the founder of utilitarianism, namely J. Bentham. The role of mathematical and physical sciences, along with their technical applications, is fundamental in conceiving the very idea of utility. As a consequence, the concept of utility reveals its scientific matrix in recent developments in applied ethics within utilitarianism; similarly, modern epistemology appears to be attracted by consideration of the notion of utility, even without a close connection with a utilitarian approach. Furthermore, the emphasis on the idea of utility, underlying utilitarian philosophy, can make a sound contribution to teaching, more particularly the teaching of science.

5The contributors of this special issue of the Revue d’études benthamiennes, who are specialists in different fields in the humanities and sciences, deal with problems at the intersection of philosophy and the scientific realm within a utilitarian framework. The issue attempts to provide historical clarification of the connections between utilitarian thought and scientific disciplines, and to offer a systemic examination of the beneficial effects which the interrelation between utilitarian principles and scientific applications can give. We hope, in this way, to draw attention to the scientific aspects and implications of the utilitarian philosophy and, consequently, to pave the way for an interdisciplinary area of research in which much work remains to be done.

6The idea of a special issue of the Revue d'études benthamiennes devoted to the relationship between utility and science in the larger framework of utilitarianism was conceived at the beginning of 2019; its conclusion was planned for the first part of 2020. However, the unexpected spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced to slow down and postpone the work for the publication of the issue. In a critical historical moment characterized by illness, solitude and death, all the people involved in the project of the issue on “Utility and Science” have tried to carry out and complete it. Through their valuable contribution to the preparation of this volume, they have defended not only intellectual freedom but especially the confidence in the value of ideas for a better future. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the editor of the Revue d’études benthamiennes – Professor Anne Brunon-Ernst – for her wise supervision and tireless support, to each of the authors of the special issue for their generosity in sharing the outcomes of their research and for their constant commitment to the success of the project, and to the editorial board for enthusiastically including this volume in the Revue d’études benthamiennes. Our thoughts go to all victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, to whom this special issue is dedicated.

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Piero Tarantino, « Utility and Science »Revue d’études benthamiennes [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2020, consulté le 08 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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