The Misplaced Role of “Utilitarianism” in John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

David E. Wright
Texas A&M University (PhD)
This thesis aims to provide the appropriate historical context for interpreting John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism. The central question considered here concerns two views of Mill's intentions for Utilitarianism, and whether the work should be read as Mill arguing for his own version of utilitarianism, or as an ecumenical document expressing and defending the views of many utilitarians. The first view, labeled the orthodox view, as defended by Roger Crisp, is probably the most commonly held view as to how to interpret the document. The second view, labeled the revisionist view, is defended by Daniel Jacobson in a recent article. By examining Mill's place in the history of utilitarianism, his journals, correspondence, and other writings leading up to and after the publication of Utilitarianism, this thesis argues in support of the revisionist position. Furthermore, it is argued that certain portions of the book deserve special consideration apart from other chapters, and this is taken to have implications for the future of research in Mill?s thought. This thesis has four chapters including the first introductory chapter, which outlines the motivations guiding the orthodox and revisionist views. The second chapter provides a general exposition of Utilitarianism, as well as an outline of the primary evidence supporting the orthodox and revisionist positions. The third chapter is a defense of the revisionist position, and it highlights the specific biographical context in which Utilitarianism was composed, as well as evidence from Mill's writings, correspondence, and journals suggesting that he saw the need to write a general defense of the principle of utility and elaborate his theory of justice. This chapter also includes a historiographical analysis of Mill's biographers, which suggests that Utilitarianism is not viewed by Mill's biographers as being especially central to his considered views on utilitarianism. Finally, the chapter includes a section on the early reception and criticisms offered against Utilitarianism, which partly explains why the book has come to be interpreted as it has. The final chapter reviews the evidence for the revisionist position and explains the implications for Mill scholarship in light of the findings of this study
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