Reconciling Utility with Liberal Justice: John Stuart Mill's Minimalist Utilitarianism

Dissertation, The University of Tennessee (2001)

Many philosophers have argued that there are two John Stuart Mills. There is the rights supporting liberal Mill of On Liberty, and then there is the author of Utilitarianism. This reading often presupposes that there is no possibility of reconciling these two Mills, since it is purportedly impossible to be both a supporter of liberal justice and utilitarianism. I propose specific readings of On Liberty and Utilitarianism that make this claim far from credible. ;In Chapter One, I address the most common objection to utilitarianism, namely, that utilitarianism cannot support rights at all. Properly understood, utilitarianism is at its core a moral theory that takes at least one right seriously, the right to equal consideration, and this is recognized even by sophisticated opponents of Utilitarianism such as Mark Rowlands. In fact, the noted political philosopher Ronald Dworkin has argued that there is no logical reason why utilitarians are required to accept the most narrow formulation of this right. ;In Chapter Two I offer a reading of Mill's On Liberty. I suggest that there are two primary ways one can misread this work. The first is to insist that since Mill is one of the more important classical economists, he must be a strong supporter of libertarian property rights. The second mistake is to assume that the Harm Principle as raised by Mill in Chapter I of On Liberty is Mill's final word on this issue. ;In Chapter Three, I argue that once Mill's utilitarianism is properly understood his claim that the rights he advocates in On Liberty are utilitarian in nature is both plausible and defendable. Following Rem B. Edwarls, I argue that Mill is not a maximizing utilitarian. Once Mill is read as a moral minimalist, it is not difficult to reconcile his liberalism with his utilitarianism. ;In Chapter Four, I answer the Rawlsian objection directly. John Rawls has suggested that utilitarianism cannot be successfully used to support principles of justice. I argue that Rawls' charges are not as damaging to a Millian theory of Justice as is commonly believed.
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