Mill, Utilitarianism IV. Of what sort of proof the principle of utility is susceptible

“Proofs” of first principles (35)

¨   strict proof (= demonstration from first principles) impossible

¨   principles of knowledge confirmable by observation

¨   how are principles of conduct confirmable?

Mill’s “proof” of the principle of utility

                1.1.1 The sole evidence that something is visible is that people see it.

                1.1.2 The sole evidence that something is audible is that people hear it.

              So (1.1) the sole evidence that something is desirable is that people

                          desire it.

               1.2 People do desire their own happiness.

       So (1) the happiness of each individual is a good for that

             individual.

   Therefore, (MC) the general happiness is a good for humanity as a whole. (35)

Evaluation of Mill’s argument

  1. How good are Mill’s ultimate premisses?

                1.1.1 The sole evidence that something is visible is that people see it.

               1.1.2 The sole evidence that something is audible is that people hear it.

               1.2 People do desire their own happiness.

  1. How good are his inferences?

(1.1.1) visible/seen, (1.1.2) audible/hear --> (1.1) desirable/desired

(1.1) desirable/desired, (1.2) happiness desired --> (1) happiness of each a good for that person

(1) happiness of each a good for that person -->(MC) general happiness a good for humanity as a whole

  1. Has he argued for the right conclusion?
  2. Could Mill’s argument be reworked to accommodate objections to his premisses, inferences, or conclusion?

Are other things desired as an end?

¨   virtue (36-39)

¨   desired by some people as an end (NB: object of desire, not a desire)

¨   only because of the pleasure they feel from doing their duty and the pain they feel from violating it

¨   originally indifferent, it becomes part of a person’s happiness

¨   This development is approved by utilitarians, because it contributes to the general happiness.

¨   money or power or fame (37-38)

¨   desire developed because of pleasure of possession

¨   This development is approved by utilitarians as long as it does not interfere with contribution to the general happiness.

¨   generally (38-39)

¨   Acquired desires for something as an end are due to the pleasure accompanying its attainment or the pain accompanying its lack.

¨  So all such acquired objects of desire are part of an individual’s happiness.

Objects of will (39-41)

¨   one’s will may be directed at something other than one’s own happiness

¨   true, but only out of habit

¨   habit formed by perception that the willed action will contribute to the person’s happiness

Evaluative question: Is Mill correct in reducing all objects desired as an end and all objects sought by one’s will to the pursuit of one’s own happiness? (What would be a counter-example?)