J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism

Dissertation, Washington University (1994)

Contrary to a widely held view, a coherent and defensible picture of John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism can be constructed. To accomplish this his remarks in Utilitarianism and On Liberty must be interpreted strictly from the perspective of his more fundamental philosophical theories in logic and philosophy of mind. When this is done the principle of utility will be seen in a new light, the confusions associated with his "qualitative hedonism" evaporate, the connection between the principle of utility and morality is made clear, and the power of his proof of the principle of utility is made obvious. ;Mill did not hold the view that the principle of utility is a moral rule requiring persons to maximize utility. Mill's principle of utility is that happiness is the only thing intrinsically valuable and that the measure of value is the preference of those most competently acquainted with the things being compared. There is, therefore, no contradiction between Mill's qualitative hedonism and the principle of utility; for the measure of qualitative differences is the principle of utility. ;The principle of utility is the first principle of morality in that it is the decision procedure for determining whether moral sanctions ought to be employed. The principle of utility is the test for determining when reward and punishment are conducive to the long term interests of the community. It advises us to determine the value of praise and blame by appealing to the feelings and judgment of those most competently familiar with the consequences of the rewards and punishments in question If no sanction for an act is in the long term interest of society, the action is not wrong. ;Mill believed his value theory could be proven scientifically by appealing to his four methods of experimental inquiry. The principle of utility follows from facts about human nature; namely, that pleasure and freedom from pain are the only original objects of desire and that all other desires are caused by associations with these
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