Philosophy 361 Ethics Darwall Fall 1996 MILL I I Utilitarianism's underlying idea: the morality of action turns on how it figures in advancing human happiness. Although it has roots in views about the unique value of pleasure and happiness that go back as far as Epicurus and the Greeks, Utilitarianism arose in late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe as a doctrine of social reform. (a) Bentham's Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) advanced the principle of utility ("the greatest happiness of the greatest number") as a standard for judging laws and social institutions. (b) John Stuart Mill was probably the most influential 19th- century utilitarian, but, as we shall see, he developed the theory in some different directions than Bentham. II Historical context of Mill's life. Born in 1806. Son of James Mill, a famous economist who was one of the reforming utilitarians of Bentham's circle known as the "philosophical radicals". Educated to become a follower of Bentham, edited Bentham's works, but, after a deep personal crisis (at the age of 20) came to reject Bentham's thesis that quantity of pleasure is the only measure of value. Through poetry, came to appreciate the importance of the imagination. Utilitarianism was published in 1863 after having been serialized in 1861. Mill also wrote many other important works in philosophy, economics, and other areas, including On Liberty, a classic defense of political liberalism on utilitarian grounds. He married the feminist, Harriet Taylor, and published The Subjection of Women in 1869. He died in 1873. III What is Mill's aim in Utilitarianism? (a) Examine the first sentence of Chapter I. Notice several things: (i) he wants to discover a "criterion of right and wrong" (or: p. 2, a "test of right and wrong") (ii) his primary focus is thus on questions of right and wrong (what we morally should and should not do) and what determines this. (b) Who is Mill arguing against? "Intuitionists" who think that custom and moral common sense are the tests of moral truth. (c) What does he mean by a "criterion" or "test"? Note what he says about those who might be thought his likeliest opponents (on pp. 2-3), viz., those who hold that we can know intuitively and directly that some kinds of actions are right and others wrong, more or less irrespectively of their utility. (i) any such intuition must be of some general aspect of the action (e.g., that it is a telling of a lie), which will assume a general principle (viz., any action of that general kind will be wrong, other things equal). (ii) but other things are rarely equal; the actual alternatives that face us in concrete situations can come under different general aspects of different, and conflicting general principles. Therefore, (iii) there must be some single fundamental principle or "if there be several, there should be a determinate order of precedence among them" This, then, must be what he means by a criterion or test. (d) Note also why he thinks such a test is necessary in ethics in a way it is not in other areas. We cannot judge of individual cases in ethics unless we have some principle, whereas, e.g., we can tell that the apple drops to the ground even if we do not employ any general principle, like the theory of universal gravitation, in judging that. Somehow, ethical judgments themselves implicitly assume grounds and principles in a way that the observations that scientific theories attempt to explain do not. Note also the twist he gives to this in calling ethics a a "practical art". Does this already presuppose some form of utilitarianism? IV Utilitarianism may be viewed as an instance of a more general theory of right--consequentialism--which holds that right and wrong can only be assessed by the goodness of consequences. This general kind of theory can perhaps be most easily understood by considering the form called, act-consequentialism. AC: An act is right if, of those available to the agent at the time, it would produce the greatest overall net value. What is distinctive about utilitarianism among consequentialist theories is (i) that it supposes that all intrinsic value is value for someone; i.e., welfare or benefit, and (ii) that a person's welfare or benefit consists in how happy he is or how much pleasure he experiences. Bear in mind that (i) and (ii) are claims about intrinsic value. Next time we shall begin to examine the considerations that drive Mill toward these two claims. For next time: examine closely both his remarks about what is intrinsically good (or desirable) (in ch. ii and iv) and his "proof" of his theory in ch. iv. Ask yourself: what meta-ethical view, if any, might Mill be assuming in his reasoning. What might Mill think value to be if he reasons as he does? How might he think we can know what is valuable?