Essays On Mill'S Utilitarianism

Essays On Mill'S Utilitarianism-65
One of the most important nineteenth-century schools of thought, Utilitarianism propounds the view that the value or rightness of an action rests in how well it promotes the welfare of those affected by it, aiming for 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the movement's founder, as much a social reformer as a philosopher.Alternative approaches take more seriously the inconsistency of so much of Mill's work with the standard consequentialist criterion of rightness as the maximal promotion of the good.

This conventional interpretation of Mill tends to portray him as an orthodox utilitarian who attempts, heroically but in vain, to accommodate the sphere of rights demanded by classical liberalism.If Mill merely intended to set forward a common "creed" on which all the classical Utilitarians could agree -- albeit by equivocation over its exact meaning -- then GHP should not be taken as the official statement of his own theory, but as a deliberately vague statement of the doctrine uniting the diverse Utilitarian movement.Although this crucial issue is never directly broached in West's volume, its ramifications can be seen throughout the essays.His summary of Mill's moral theory thus conflicts with the standard consequentialist criterion of rightness: [Mill's] doctrine is that an action which breaches no other-regarding duty is never morally wrong, and his theory of moral duties is liberal, not rigorist.Nevertheless the justification for this liberal view, according to Mill, is utilitarian.For instance, John Skorupski contributes an excellent article, "Utilitarianism in Mill's Philosophy," which places Mill's utilitarian commitments within the framework of his overall philosophy.This essay, along with useful articles by Susan Leigh Anderson on the basics of Mill's biography and Gerald Postema on Bentham's utilitarianism, constitutes the first part of the volume ("The Background of Mill's Utilitarianism, he can properly characterize Mill as an empiricist, a liberal, and a utilitarian -- in that order.Most of my attention will be directed to the interpretive essays, the most crucial to the success of such a guidebook.A short and helpful introduction by the editor, Henry West, places these essays in context and offers some basic definitions for readers unfamiliar with philosophical terminology.Wendy Donner seeks a coherent doctrine in her essay, "Mill's Theory of Value," which succeeds at least in calling attention to the Aristotelian aspect of his conception of happiness.West's own contribution, "Mill's 'Proof' of the Principle of Utility," answers the least charitable objections to Mill's most famous argument.


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