John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)



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John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

  • Utilitarianism (1863)

  • The six objections

  • Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility

  • Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible

  • (On the Connection between Justice and Utility)

Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible

  • There is no proof in the strict sense.

  • Step 1: Happiness is desired, therefore happiness is desirable.

  • Step 2: Happiness is desirable, and nothing else is. If it were, it would be ‘part of happiness’.

  • Step 3: Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of people.

What Mill tries ‘to prove’

  • General Happiness is the highest good.

  • He does not at all argue for the consequentialist claim that rightness is determined by betterness.

  • ‘Happiness has made out its title as one of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of morality’. What’s left to be done is to show that it is the one and only criterion.

First Step

  • Step 1: Happiness is desired, therefore happiness is desirable.

  • Moore’s Criticism: What an Absurdity

  • Answering Moore: Distinguish proof from ‘proof’

The Parts-of-Happiness Doctrine

  • Step 2: Happiness is desirable, and nothing else is. If it were, it would be ‘part of happiness’.

  • Claim 1: ‘By happiness I mean pleasure and the absence of pain.’

  • Are there other things desired except pleasure (and the absence of pain)?

  • Are there other things besides pleasure desired for their own sake?

  • Friendship, Virtue…

The Parts-of-Happiness Doctrine (2)

  • Claim 2: ‘In being desired for its own sake, it is, however, desired as part of happiness’

  • The Parts-of-Happiness Doctrine leads to a ‘formal’ notion of happiness. Something is part of my happiness if and only if I desire it for its own sake.

  • Such a formal notion of happiness is in tension with hedonism (Claim 1).

Formal Notion of Happiness

  • Problems

  • Desires for things which seem to have nothing to do with one’s happiness

  • Makes Self-Sacrifice (sacrificing one’s happiness) impossible

Hedonism Comes Back

  • ‘To desire anything except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant is a physical and metaphysical impossibility’

  • Questions

  • Can’t I find the idea of something pleasant without (really) wanting it?

  • Can’t I want something (for its own sake) though thinking about it makes me nervous and doesn’t feel that pleasant.

  • Suppose Mill is right in the above. Would it really show that pleasure is the only good?

The Third Step

  • Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of people.

  • A Bad Reconstruction: Everyone aim at his or her happiness. Therefore there is something, general happiness at which everyone aims. Everyone has a father, therefore there is one father for everyone.

  • A Better Reconstruction

The Third Step

  • A’s happiness is the highest good for A.

  • B’s happiness is the highest good for B.

And so on.

The missing premise: A’s happiness is a good for A, but there is more to be said: A’s happiness is a good. And so is B’s and so on.

Therefore: General happiness is the highest good.

Conclusion: ‘If this doctrine (pleasure being the only good) is true, the principle of utility is proved.’

Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility

  • ‘The question is often asked in regard to any supposed moral standard – What is its sanction? What are the motives to obey? Or, what is the source of its obligation?’

  • External Sanctions: Reward and Punishment

  • ‘The internal sanction of duty, whatever our standard of duty may be, is one and the same – a feeling in our own mind; a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty, which in properly cultivated moral natures rises

Ultimate Sanction

  • Challenge: What if I do not have this feeling?

  • ‘On such people morality of any kind has no hold but through external sanctions.’

  • Challenge: What if I have good reasons to think I won’t be caught?

  • Suggestion for Mill’s Answer: On such people morality of any kind has no hold.

Mill’s Views

  • Externalist: Moral beliefs do not by themselves have reason giving force.

  • Cognitivist: Moral statements can be true or false -- and some of them are true.

  • Realist/Naturalist: Moral statements, e.g. it is right to fi, are made true by empirical facts.

  • Consequentialist: Once we have determined what is good, we can (in principle) determine what is right.




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