The Signs Of Utilitarianism In Hard Times By Charles Dickens

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Register to read the introduction… The philosophy also emphasised the practical usefulness of things.
This meant that art, imagination, play and entertainment were not valued because they had no practical use. The philosophy therefore encouraged cold calculation and reason over all the things that make human beings diverse and interesting; it erodes peoples’ ability to imagine and
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Dickens was not the only person who shared this view, however, as his good friend and fellow philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, felt ever so strongly about the damaging effect utilitarianism was having on people. He felt that society was threatened by the industrialisation of England.

In 1829 Carlyle wrote Signs of the Times, which criticises the effects of industrialisation. Carlyle argued that people were being reduced to mere machines and that their individual identities were being eroded.
He wrote:

It is the age of machinery in every outwards and inward sense of that word. Nothing is now done directly or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance…Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.

Notice here Carlyle’s concern with the term ‘hand’ and his regret that so little human or humane contact is still in evidence, and that all has been given over to machines.

Throughout Hard Times Dickens refers to the workers as ‘Hands’,
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As the teachings of utilitarianism make humans mechanical, as cold calculation and ‘moral arithmetic’ does not make humans, but a continuous running of machinery and industrialisation.

The town environment is attacked in the novel. Dickens sees the town of Coketown as oppressive and destructive; it is a prison from which no-one can escape:

Nature was as strongly bricked out as the killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets… and the whole unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death.

‘Nature’ is ‘bricked out’ of Coketown. Dickens suggests that the factory/mill domination of the town is unnatural. People are not meant to be confined and kept away from nature. The industrial process emits
‘killing airs and gases’ which produce ‘dead’ people; life is slowly being drained from the people of Coketown – they are being murdered by industrialisation and the owners’ desires for profit and productivity.

Dickens also explores how an environment can shape behaviour. Sissy

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