Mill's “Proof” of the Principle of Utility: A More than Half-Hearted Defense

Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (2):330 (2001)

Authors
Geoffrey Sayre-McCord
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Abstract
How many serious mistakes can a brilliant philosopher make in a single paragraph? Many think that Mill answers this question by example—in the third paragraph of Chapter IV of Utilitarianism. Here is the notorious paragraph: The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it: and so of the other sources of our experience. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. If the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not, in theory and in practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that each person's happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. Happiness has made out its title as one of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of morality
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DOI 10.1017/s0265052500003009
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References found in this work BETA

What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
The Authority of Desire.Dennis W. Stampe - 1987 - Philosophical Review 96 (July):335-81.
Morality and Action.Michael Thompson - 1996 - Philosophical Review 105 (2):270.

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Taking the Perceptual Analogy Seriously.Michael Milona - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (4):897-915.
On Kant's Idea of Humanity as an End in Itself.Sven Nyholm - 2013 - European Journal of Philosophy 21 (2):358-374.
Guit, Anger, and Retribution.Raffaele Rodogno - 2010 - Legal Theory 16 (1):59-76.

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