Getting mill right

Journal of Mass Media Ethics 22 (2-3):100 – 112 (2007)
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Utilitarianism and its principal architect, John Stuart Mill, are staples of media ethics teaching and analysis. However, utilitarianism, in its usual presentation, is offered as a simplistic arithmetic formula: Do the greatest good for the greatest number. This quantification approach, when attached to Mill, misinterprets this philosopher and robs media ethics discussions of the rich reflection that an important classical theory can bring. Mill is a particularly suitable philosopher for presentation to students of journalism and mass communication. Mill provides a strong argument in favor of freedom of expression in addition to espousing a moral theory that is simultaneously protective of individual rights while promoting communitarian principles. But it is imperative to get Mill right. This essay attempts to do so and to offer a utilitarian decision tree for those who wish to properly apply Mill's theory in teaching and practice.



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