Mill, Utilitarianism V. On the connection between justice and utility

The sentiment of justice

 apparently irreducible to expediency (42)

 powerful sentiment

 apparently clearly perceived in particular cases

 its origin: resentment when someone harms one or someone one sympathizes with (51)

 its moralization: acting only when social good demands it (64)

 hence reducible to utility (64)

 but distinguished from mere promotion of pleasure (64)

 consists of kinds of social utilities more important than any other kinds

 more definite commands

 sterner sanctions for disobedience

Cases of justice/injustice (44-47)

It is considered just / unjust to:

 respect/violate someone’s legal right to something

 grant/withhold something to which someone has a moral right (e.g. personal liberty, withheld by slavery)

 give/deny what someone deserves (good if one has done right, bad if one has done wrong)

 keep/ break faith with someone

 be impartial/partial in making a decision (e.g. rewarding, punishing, hiring) supposed to be influenced only by relevant considerations

 treat people equally/unequally (except where utility demands inequality)

Evaluative question: Has Mill included (a) all and (b) only cases where we speak of justice and injustice?               

Expediency, morality, justice (47-50)

 Simple expediency: contributes to general happiness, subject merely of exhortation

Morality (right and wrong): right --> compulsory, wrong --> punishable (by public opinion)

Justice --> a right of definite person(s) correlative to the moral obligation

Consequence: Something is morally wrong if and only if it is socially useful to blame people for doing it.

On Liberty: purely self-regarding actions not immoral

NB: Morality is not merely relative to public opinion.

The sentiment of justice

 = desire to punish someone who has done harm + belief that the harm has been done to a definite individual (51)

 origin: impulse to self-defence, feeling of sympathy (NB: these feelings not in themselves moral)

 in humans (wider sympathies, intellectual ability to give wider range to feelings) impulse to retaliation subordinated to social sympathies (51-52)

 right violated = hurt to assignable person(s) + desire for punishment (53-54)

 disagreements on what is just (punishment, pay, taxes):

 hard to explain if justice is an independent standard

 resolvable by appeal to social utility (55-59)

Justice vs. expediency (59-63)

 justice the most binding part of morality, the part where an individual has a correlative right

 most powerful motives to see it observed and enforced

 “Maxims of justice” (61) follow from basic principle of evil for evil and good for good.

Equality and impartiality also follow directly from the principle of utility:  “equal amounts of happiness are equally desirable...” (62)

Inexpedient social inequalities (status, colour, race, sex) are unjust.

The nature of justice (63-64)

 consists of certain important social utilities

 its maxims overridable by another social duty

 its peculiar sentiment combines two aspects:

1.        natural resentment at harm caused by another

2.        moralization by being made coextensive with what is socially useful

Issues for the tutorial

What is a right? (Cf. Mill’s conception.)

How could one establish what rights an individual human being has and how they should be defended? (Cf. Mill’s appeal to social utility.)

Does Kant’s principle of universalizability amount to acting on maxims whose universal adoption would benefit the collective interest (52-53)?

What cases of apparently unjust treatment does Mill’s principle of utility appear to approve?

How could a defender of Mill’s position reply to these apparent counter-examples?


In what respects are the ethical theories of Kant and Mill:

  1. similar?
  2. different?

Bernard Gert, Common Morality (preview)

Introduction (can be omitted from your summary)

Part I: The Moral System

The moral rules

Justifying violations of the moral rules

Part II: The Moral Theory



Outline of Part I, section 1

       Structure of our “common morality”

       Its scope (who is protected by it)

       The 10 moral rules (NB: definition of key concept in each)