Brave New World and Bentham: Ignorance is Bliss

Annie Hajost

Peer Reviewers:Mackenzie Regen & Victoria Mira

Brave New World and Bentham: Ignorance is Bliss

            The piece, Brave New World was written by Aldous Huxley. We read a short portion of the larger novel written in 1931. Brave New World is a dystopian novel set in Loudon about a society that no longer feels pain or the unpleasant aspects of the real world. Citizens in the society are created in “artificial breeding units” and do not have any families or ties to individual people in any way. The drug soma is given to people to help block their feeling of anything unpleasant. In the portion we read as a class, the audience is introduced to a character, Savage, and another character, the controller. In this section, the Savage discovers a book, Othello. He shows interest in this book and asks if the controller had ever read it. The controller says that he has but that he was the only one in this society that has read it. The Savage expresses concern and confusion as to why such an influential piece of work has been kept from the rest of the people. The controller goes on to explain in the rest of the piece that the society needs to be kept from old things. Their goal is to keep the people shielded from all things bad, painful or old. The controller only wants people to be exposed to new things because new is easy and by exposing people to old things like this book, they would not be able to understand.

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This piece emphasizes the struggle between knowing and living with the truth because that makes like worthwhile and the ideal that ignorance is bliss. The ruler of this society believes that shielding their people from things that will make the question the world or work for their happiness is not the life to live. In contrast, the Savage explains that happiness is something that people should work for. He expresses that he would always want to know the truth and pain and art and the old of the world to make his life meaningful instead of having to live in a world of artificial happiness.

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Bentham is an extremely influential philosopher that lived between 1748-1832. He was incredibly smart from a young age and ended up getting his law degree before he was 20. His thoughts on ethics focuses on calculating whether something causes more pain or more pleasure to the people involved. Bentham explains our choices will always cause either pain or pleasure. If Bentham were to look at the society in, Brave New World, he would say that the controller is trying to minimize his citizens’ suffering by keeping them blocked from aspects of life that could cause pain. The controller is arguing that ignorance is bliss for his citizens and with this rational, Bentham would argue that this is an ethical decision because the pleasure provided to the people outweigh the pain they feel. The only question that is left unanswered is how Bentham would feel about artificially influencing people’s happiness. The drug soma is a questionable way of preventing pain and it is not clear how Bentham would feel about this way of managing how people feel.

I replied to Katie Kelly’s post about Bentham and The Unnatural Mother. I decided to review this to compare how Bentham’s views on choices carry over to different scenarios. I disagreed when Katie said that Bentham does not care about the individuals involved in a situation. I disagree with this statement because a lot of the aspect of weighing if the action causes more pain or more pleasure is based on who is involved. I do however, agree that Bentham does not think that actions are based on their character or intentions. This is interesting when I look at Brave New World because the controller’s character is less obvious than his intentions and it is very tempting to try to consider his intentions when deciding whether the choice is ethical.

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