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Utility and Justice: Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

This article explores the relationship between utility and justice in the ancient Epicurean tradition, and as it developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries following the revival of Epicureanism in the writings of Pierre Gassendi. It focuses on the significance of various allusions to a line from Horace, ‘utilitas, justi prope mater et aequi’ (utility, the mother of justice and equity), which appeared in writings of Hugo Grotius, David Hume, and Jeremy Bentham, and was used to give utility a prominence in modern hought that it had not hitherto received. The article attempts to provide the context for Hume’s belief in the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals that the foundation of justice was utility and for Bentham placing utility at the foundation of his system.


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