J.s. Mill and the diversity of utilitarianism

Philosophers' Imprint 3 (2):1-18 (2003)
Abstract
Mill's famous proportionality statement of the Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP) is commonly taken to specify his own moral theory. And the discussion in which GHP is embedded -- Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism -- predominates the interpretation of Mill's normative philosophy. Largely because of these suppositions, Mill is traditionally read as a particular kind of utilitarian: a maximizing act-consequentialist. This paper argues that the canonical status accorded to Utilitarianism is belied by the text itself, as well as by its historical context, and that this point largely undermines the orthodox interpretation of Mill. In fact, GHP was intended as the statement of a common creed, acceptable to the diverse class of philosophers Mill counted as utilitarian. Moreover, the discussion of substantive moral theory in Utilitarianism in several respects does not reflect his own view, and the work itself is much less important than it is almost universally taken to be -- though not, it turns out, by Mill himself.
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