Mill, Utilitarianism I. General remarks

Basic conception of “morals”

¨  Issue: criterion of right and wrong

¨  = what is the summum bonum (= highest good, that for the sake of which everything is to be done, and which is not pursued for the sake of anything else)

¨  = the foundation of morality

NB: This key claim omitted from your summaries.

¨  Think questions

1.       What assumption is implicit in identifying the foundation of morality with the question what is the summum bonum?

2.       Compare this assumption with Kant’s starting point.

3.       How might one justify or challenge Mill’s assumption?

Importance of the issue

¨  In practical arts (morals, legislation) a general test is epistemically prior to particular judgments.

¨   contrast science (e.g. algebra)

¨   acknowledged by “intuitive school” (supposed “instinct” supplies general principles not particular judgments)

NB: Mill’s point about moral instincts was often misinterpreted.

¨   self-evident foundation needed:

¨   either one fundamental principle of morality

¨   or rule for deciding among various principles if conflict

General happiness principle

¨  Its tacit influence on human feelings steadies the moral beliefs of humanity.

¨  Even a priori moralists like Kant appeal to it:

¨  “So act that the rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings.” (4)

¨  His deductions show only that nobody would choose to incur the consequences of universally adopted immoral rules.

NB: The latter point was often distorted.

¨  Think questions

¨  What is (in)correct in Mill’s stating of Kant’s principle?

¨  What is (in)correct in his description of Kant’s deductions?

Plan of the work

¨  clarification of what utilitarianism is

¨   some illustrations of the doctrine

¨   distinguish what it is from what it is not

¨   dispose of objections tied to misinterpretations

¨   “proof” of it

¨   ultimate ends not directly provable

¨   considerations “capable of determining the intellect .. to give .. its assent” to be given (4-5)